Restaurant of the month: La Nostra, Epping
PUBLISHED: 16:03 19 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:03 19 June 2017
Afternoon teas are back on the menu at Epping's La Nostra, and jolly lovely they are too
There’s something so quintessentially British about afternoon tea. What’s not to like about dainty finger sandwiches, sumptuous cakes and scones (complete with clotted cream and strawberry jam of course) served on a cake-stand alongside tea from a proper teapot poured into bone china cups. It’s a tradition that dates back to the Victorian era, and while at first it might seem a little odd that the Epping-based Italian restaurant La Nostra, has just launched an afternoon tea experience, upon further investigation it turns out that the place has previous form with the tradition, as owner Sharmila Bholanath explains.
“Prior to becoming La Nostra two and a half years ago, this building was home to the Epping Tea Rooms,” explains Sharmila as we settle ourselves at a table at the back of the cosy, wood beamed room that makes up the main floor of the restaurant, with stairs leading to a smaller dining space above. “When I took the place over we did continue the tradition for a while but then it kind of petered out. But just recently lots of people have been asking for it to return as nobody else around here does it properly - so afternoon tea at La Nostra is back by popular demand.”
To prove her point Sharmila jumps up from the table and leads me to the front of the restaurant where a mother and daughter sit enjoying the vestiges of what has clearly been a veritable feast. “Absolutely wonderful,” says Annabel, the daughter. “And so lovely to have tea in a proper bone china cup,” adds the mum. The two very satisfied customers concur that the area has been sorely lacking in the afternoon tea department and La Nostra’s re-launch has come not a moment too soon.
It’s evident that much attention has been paid to detail when it comes to serving the afternoon tea, with everything from the crockery and the cutlery to the sandwich fillings and cake baking being scrupulously overseen by Sharmila. “It’s not only got to taste right, it has to look right too. I’ve scoured all the local antique shops, charity shops and car boot sales for teapots, cups and saucers and stands. They’re all mismatched, but that’s the look I wanted, really quaint and traditional.”
For the cakes and scones, Sharmila has employed the services of a local lady baker. “She’s fantastic. In fact, her cakes have even been served to Prince William and Prince Harry. She does everything from classic Victoria sponge and lemon drizzle cake to red velvet and coconut gateaux. The sandwiches and panna cotta, which we serve in shot glasses, we do ourselves.”
Birthdays, baby showers, christenings and wakes, La Nostra is happy to host afternoon tea for all manner of occasions. Indeed, Sharmila is currently planning a Father’s Day afternoon tea party, where dads can wash down the specially tailored sandwiches and cakes with a glass of beer (prosecco and champagne are always on offer).
Afternoon tea aside, it’s business as usual for La Nostra, with the wood-fired oven churning out authentic pizza, while the chefs produce all manner of delicious Italian fare. Lunchtimes remain a particular bargain when you can grab a pasta or pizza for just £5.95, while evenings, especially the weekends, have a more celebratory ambiance with Sharmila’s lively choice in music further helping to set the mood.
“It’s all about people eating well and enjoying themselves in a cosy, intimate environment,” confirms Sharmila, who was originally an investment manager before buying the Epping Tea Rooms on an impulse and thus embarking on a radical change in career. “We’ve got a late license, til 12.30am, so that also helps create a great atmosphere.”
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