The Bluebell is one of those unassuming places that you would pass by without a second glance. I have to admit to doing just that on a few occasions. It sits in a row of shops, bookended by an Insurance company at one end and Iceland at the other. Apart from a six foot wide logo emblazoned on the window (which I missed) there is nothing to give you any idea what may be inside.
What is inside is plenty of space, good access for wheelchairs or prams and a choice of tables. There are a range of sizes to suit whether you are on your own or with a group of friends. The tables are clothed and set with matching china, it really is most welcoming. We took a seat at a table for two next to the door, as it was the only one free, busy wee place filled with folk that know it is here! Almost immediately we were fussed over and asked if we wanted to move away from the door as there was about to be a table free further inside. We declined, happy enough where we were, but this level of consideration for customer comfort is very rare.
In fact there is an awful lot of things about the Bluebell that are becoming increasingly rare in hospitality. The service from all the staff was so friendly, but also efficient. We were given time to read the menus, but didn't really need them. Lisa who served us knew the whole menu off the top of her head and was able to talk knowledgeably about everything on it. The friendliness was, I do not apologise for using an overused cliché, enough to make us feel special. You actually felt welcome and that all the staff were pleased to look after you rather than 'just doing a job.'
The tea set on the table was put to good use as I ordered a Peppermint tea, my philistine friend went for a Coke, I know, I know terrible isn't it!
We both decided to try the Bluebell toastie which we ordered as our drinks arrived. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of having to strain my tea, it made the whole experience a bit more of a treat, something a bit out of the ordinary from teabags or a pot with a filter inside, I just liked the theatre of it all.
The toasties arrived a short time later and so engrossed in conversation with Lisa was I that I forgot to eat beyond my first mouthful. We were discussing the beautiful honey, oat and milk bread which is made just for the Bluebell to a shhh, whisper “Top Secret Recipe” They are the only place you can get this amazing bread which on it's own is enough of a reason to visit. Eventually I realised that I needed to actually eat my lunch and got stuck in. The sandwich was well filled with chunks of chicken that looked freshly carved, no processed wafer thin rubbish would do here. The bacon was thick and crunchy and tasted great. The fresh lettuce and tomato were generously piled in and completed an impressive sandwich. The bread, so good I am coming back to it, was light and full of flavour which served to compliment the filling effortlessly rather than distract from it.
The sandwiches were washed down with the Peppermint tea, which I had now been forced to share with my little buddy. She had been converted and on her return visits I am proud to say has steered away from sugary carbonated beverages.
We were offered further drinks and our satisfaction, no delight is better, with the food was confirmed by the staff in a friendly chatty way. What we also decided on was that we wanted cake. We were directed to a cupboard at the end of the shop where we were introduced to all the cakes, again we were provided with loads of information about the ingredients, how they were made, whether the recipe was a family secret or not, even who baked them. Go into Starbucks and see if the staff know where their cakes are made!
I settled on the Coffee & Walnut cake, whilst my now Peppermint tea guzzling companion went for a Gingerbread loaf. The generosity of the portion was again splendid and they appeared on beautiful china plates, which again added to the slightly Alice in Wonderland tea party-esque feeling I was having. The Coffee & Walnut cake was a triumph , light and fluffy, full of flavour a dream of a cake. The Gingerbread was the same, as it was the end of a loaf my friend got double portion, which was good as I got to try some! This was again beautifully soft and packed with flavour, the butter (fresh curls no pre-packed portions here thank you very much) added a touch more moisture, but I wasn't needed.
Everything about Bluebell was exceptional, the service, the sandwiches, the cake all far better than the exterior suggests. In my humble opinion the Legendary Willow team Rooms don't hold a candle to the Bluebell and this is everything and so much more than I had hoped for from the Strathcarron Tea Rooms. It would appear not all Tea Rooms are created equal.
Just under £20 for two sandwiches, cakes and drinks is not cheap, but when the quality is this good you still get outstanding value for money. If you are in Stirling and want lunch, or just tea and cake just walk a little bit further than usual and find the Bluebell, you wont regret it.