SUNDERLAND may not be an embarrassment of riches when it comes to independent coffee shops.
But what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality.
Take Serendipity, for instance. The fact this delightful tea shop isn’t just a Wearside branch of a national brand means it can try out quirky ideas, test new teas and create an atmosphere that’s far removed from faceless chains.
There’s a touch of the Aladdin’s Cave about this venue, with plenty of trinkets and kitsch decor to catch your eye, from a mismatch of vintage tea sets and hand-knitted tea cosies, to flying ducks on the walls and bunting festooned about the place, which makes you feel like you’re taking your seat at a high tea party.
In between the deli to the front of the business, and seating area to the rear, there’s a gift shop sandwiched between the two where you can pick up unusual and Sunderland-themed gifts.
We’d pre-booked for afternoon tea – you need to do this 24 hours in advance as everything is baked fresh to order – but this is just one of the options available.
If teas aren’t your tipple, you can pick up a sandwiches, priced from £3.60, which boast inspired monikers such as Great Eggspectations, The Hangover and Last Mango in Paris, jacket potatoes, soups and salads.
We all let out a collective “oooh” as we sat down for our afternoon tea for three, which was charmingly chintzy.
The quirky theme continues with the teas which are blended specially for Serendipity and have home-brewed titles such as The Mint Mackem and The Wearside Warmer.
Food-wise you get three tiers. The bottom layer is laden with a base of sandwiches with a range of fillings including tuna, egg, chicken and smoked salmon. The middle tier holds sweet treats including pretty pastel-coloured macarons, chocolate brownies and cupcakes.
The cakes were moreishly gooey and definitely had that home-made freshness to them.
At the top of the cake stand is a mixture of savoury and sweet scones which you can smother in lashings of butter, jam and cream at your leisure.
Because the tea room has a drinks licence, we were able to enjoy a cocktail with our tea.
My favourite from the cocktail menu was the Elizabeth Taylor.
Served in a teapot, it’s a smooth blend of gin, violet syrup and lemonade which tasted like a boozy packet of Parma Violets. Like its namesake, it had an air of sophistication.
You can have a cocktail as part of your afternoon tea or it’s £4.95 for a cocktail on its own.
Overall, prices for afternoon tea start from £15 for a classic afternoon tea, rising to £20 for a cocktail afternoon tea and peaking at £25 for a champagne afternoon tea.
We had a child-free afternoon, but for mums with buggies in tow, this is a particularly child-friendly venue with prettily-decorated dedicated baby change facilities and plenty to keep rug rats amused while you tuck into this slice of nostalgia.