Afternoon tea is (still) kinda a big thing right now in South Wales. I’m forever hearing about newly-themed afternoon teas popping up at hotels and restaurants in and around Cardiff and the stronger the trend gets, the more creative the themes become. Forget traditional tea served in dainty, vintage teacups or cake, macaroons, scones and finger sandwiches served on Cath Kidston-esque plates (although if that’s what you like, Pettigrew Tearooms is a great bet). We’re talking the likes of the Roald Dahl-inspired afternoon tea at Bryn Meadows Hotel and Spa, featuring delights like snozzcumber sandwiches, whizz-popping chocolate spread and Bruce Bogtrotter’s chocolate cake. Meanwhile, the Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea at Laguna Kitchen and Bar in Park Plaza Hotel offers mini venison burgers, chorizo scotch eggs and sirloin-stuffed Yorkshire puddings, whereas the Afternoon Tea at Chai on Wellfield Road, Cardiff features an unconventional assortment of pakoras, onion bhajis, samosas & bombay aloo.
It’s lovely to be so spoilt for choice when it comes to going out for afternoon tea, but sometimes all you want is something simple and fuss-free. This is exactly what I liked about the afternoon tea at the Senedd, the National Assembly for Wales building in Cardiff Bay. Of all the places I would’ve thought of to go for afternoon tea in Cardiff, until now, the Senedd wouldn’t have been one of them – I didn’t even know they served food. Come to think of it, I’ve never even been inside the Senedd before.
Based overlooking the water in Cardiff Bay, the Senedd is the home of the debating chamber for the National Assembly for Wales. Formed in 1999, the National Assembly for Wales is a devolved assembly consisting of 60 democratically elected Assembly Members (AMs). Together, they represent the interests of Wales, have the power to enact Welsh legislation and hold the Welsh government to account – the Welsh equivalent of the UK parliament in Westminster.
Officially opened on St David’s Day 2006, the Senedd is an impressive building standing on a concrete plinth consisting of columns, beam and slabs. The building is open to the public from 9.30am until 4pm on weekdays, and from 10.30am until 4pm on weekends, when you can enjoy a guided tour of the building and watch the Assembly in action.
Oriel café at the Senedd
Serving light meals and snacks, the Oriel café is situated on the first floor of the building, boasting beautiful views over Cardiff Bay through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls.
The glass walls represent the transparency of the Assembly’s work and the glazing allows natural light in, while the window panels open automatically to ventilate the building. It was a hot, sunny day when we visited the Senedd, but we felt comfortably cool while inside the building.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Senedd this year, the café has introduced an afternoon tea option. Costing just £14.95 per head, it’s on par with most afternoon tea experiences in Cardiff, if not a little cheaper. This is served from 2pm – 4pm from Monday to Friday.
Funnily enough, you don’t actually have to order tea. In fact, we were feeling a little lethargic due to the heat that day and so we ordered a couple of lattes. Served in a traditional long glass, they were indulgently creamy and satisfying.
Now, on to the main attraction – the food. A simple white three-tier cake stand featured a layer of sandwiches, a layer of mini quiches and an assortment of four Welsh cakes, two chocolate cupcakes, and two fruit scones accompanied by jam and clotted cream. All of the food is produced in-house except for the chocolate cupcakes, which are sourced locally.
The sandwiches were cut into rectangles with the crusts removed and we each had a salmon sandwich, a ham sandwich, a beef sandwich and an egg sandwich. Meanwhile, the quiches were made using Welsh cheese and there were two different varieties – one with chilli and one with leek, if I remember rightly.
Smothered in sugar, with a slight hint of cinnamon, the Welsh cakes were packed with raisins and tasted just like the ones you can buy in Cardiff Market.
The chocolate cupcakes consisted of a rich, moist chocolate sponge topped with chocolate frosting and finished with a delicate chocolate decoration. As we bit into the cupcakes, there was a tasty surprise as a sweet chocolate sauce oozed out from the centre.
Meanwhile, the scones were among the best I’ve ever tasted; packed with plump sultanas, they tasted amazing topped with the fresh clotted cream and strawberry jam. We left these until last and we were feeling pretty full by this point, but there was no way we were going to leave a single crumb. I’m salivating just thinking about it!
Having polished off our afternoon tea, we went for a brief tour of the building. As it was past 4pm, the Siambr (debating chamber) was locked. However, it is usually open to the public and provided the AMs aren’t present, you can sit in the chamber and even have a selfie in the First Minister’s chair. Our guide was very upbeat and informative, telling us lots of interesting facts about the Senedd and the Welsh Assembly; I never knew you only needed 10 signatures to get a petition debated in the Siambr!
At the centre of the Siambr is a beautiful steel funnel lined with aluminium piping, which houses a mirrored lantern that reflects natural light downwards into the Siambr. The exterior of the funnel is lined with curved timber, which extends to meet the roof of the building.
Constructed using steel, the roof is lined with timber on the underside and has a seamed finish on the top. It supports the funnel, lantern and a free-floating roof cowl that rotates as the wind changes, drawing warm air up the funnel and out of the Siambr.
Meanwhile, those beautiful slate steps you see outside the Senedd (in the first photo in this post) were constructed using slate from Cwt-y-Bugail, near Llan Festiniog.
It was lovely to indulge in a spot of afternoon tea at the Senedd, and I would happily return to Oriel café again in future. We relished the opportunity to escape from the hot sun, and the hustle and bustle of nearby Mermaid Quay, to sit in the cool, relaxing atmosphere of the Senedd for a couple of hours instead. If you are thinking of popping down to the Senedd for afternoon tea yourself, I highly recommend booking a tour as well; the architecture is pretty impressive and it’s really interesting what you can find out about this landmark building – we only went on a brief tour, and I still learnt a few new things.
To book afternoon tea and a tour, call the National Assembly for Wales on 0300 200 6565, email email@example.com or pop into the Senedd for more details. Afternoon tea is available Monday to Friday from 2pm – 4pm, and bookings must be taken before 12pm on the day you’d like to visit.
National Assembly for Wales
0300 200 6565
I was invited to enjoy complimentary afternoon tea for two at the Senedd; however, I was not obliged to write a positive review of my experience.