Afternoon Tea at The Exchange Hotel, Cardiff

For Valentine’s Day we braved the blustery freezing weather for a brisk walk around Cardiff Bay followed by Afternoon Tea at The Exchange Hotel.

The Exchange Hotel, Cardiff

I’ve been eyeing up The Exchange Hotel since it’s recent renovation. I’m quite taken with the history of the Cardiff Bay area and the rise and fall of the coal industry in South Wales so this is my favourite urban area if the city. Before it was the Exchange Hotel, this was the Coal Exchange, which was constructed between 1884 and 1888 and was where the first £1,000,000 cheque in the entire world was signed in 1904. This was the commercial hub of the biggest coal port in the world and must have been such a vibrant and busy building – as important as the New York Stock Exchange for its time. Then, like most of Cardiff Bay, it fell into disuse. The death of the coal industry destroyed Cardiff’s urban waterfront and it has taken it a long time for the redevelopment programme to transform this area a commercial and tourist destination. Walking through Cardiff Bay now compared to when I was a child in the 1980s is a staggering difference.

The waterfront has had the biggest facelift and the Exchange Hotel, set a little bit back into a more residential area is still surrounded by empty buildings and abandoned lots. I’m looking forward to more regeneration in the future, but The Exchange Hotel has made an impressive comeback. Tucked away behind towering buildings, offices and apartments, the front of the structure is impressive and imposing.

The spacious Grand Hall with it’s iconic Welsh ceiling.

We were directed to the Grand Hall for our Afternoon Tea, where a rolled out red carpet walks you through the hall and into an alcove where a dozen tables are set up. It’s spacious, with large tables, yet still manages to be intimate. The tables had a tea light and a sprinkling of red glitter hearts on them (which are terrible for the environment, rose petals would have been much better!). Our server was polite and attentive. Despite it being Valentine’s Day and a special Valentine’s Afternoon Tea being advertised, there was only one other couple eating. I wasn’t quite sold on the atmosphere as to be honest, I thought it would be a lot busier even though it’s a Wednesday afternoon. It felt empty and despite a beautiful piano standing at the center of the Grand Hall, cheesy pop music was blaring. Classical would have matched the ambience a little better.

A little bit of romance at The Exchange Hotel.

We had initially intended to get the prosecco afternoon tea, but I’ve been holed up with a nasty cold for a week. Although I was feeling better, I didn’t really want to deal with alcohol so we just had the traditional afternoon tea. The tea was brought out piping hot and immediately, or we could have chosen to have coffee if we wanted to stray away from tradition. The afternoon tea itself came out just a few minutes later.

Afternoon Tea at The Exchange Hotel

The sandwiches were salmon on wheat bread, cheese and pick on white bread, ham and mustard in a croissant and beef and horseradish in a wrap. They were all fresh and yummy, with good flavours and an interesting variety.

We had some issues with the scones unfortunately, they looked fantastic and were still warm, but they were soft and crumbly, with a dusting of flour. Now I don’t want to be a scone snob (is that a thing?) but a scone should be firm enough to actually put the cream and jam on. If it crumbles, you’re left with a soggy, inconsistent mess and unfortunately, that was the case. It was actually perfectly delicious, but we ended up with crumbly scone all over the dishes and our hands coated in flour and we couldn’t consistently put our cream on. You are meant to eat your scone with your hands, not a knife and fork, so by putting a dusting on the top, you’re just dusting someone’s hands. If this was Great British Bake Off, these scones would definitely have failed on the texture and I think they were seriously overworked. They were still delicious, with the exact amount of clotted cream needed and a little pot of local made jam but in a high class establishment serving afternoon tea, I expected better form from the scones. Okay, I am definitely a scone snob.

The Exchange Hotel’s sweet section was lovely and each item was decorated with a little heart for Valentine’s Day. There were a lot of sweets – far more than we could actually manage. Lemon tart, almond tart, carrot cake, an incredibly rich chocolate and biscuit concoction and a lovely touch of a heart shaped welsh cake too.

The sweet selection from Afternoon Tea at The Exchange Hotel (Click right or Left!).

It was a good choice for us, as I wanted something light and traditional. The setting is beautiful and it really has been well restored, but the atmosphere was just a little off and lacked intimacy. For the first half of the Afternoon Tea workmen in boots were clomping around the hall yelling at each other, which certainly didn’t help set the scene for romance. It seems like there are definitely still improvements going on, but I’ll be back!

We spent £16 each on the Afternoon Tea (it would have been £20 had we gone for Prosecco) and felt it was good value. The service was excellent and the location stunning. Whilst it wasn’t quite perfect, the Exchange Hotel is definitely worth a visit and Afternoon Tea there is a delightful light treat that I’d be happy to recommend to others.

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