GOD I hope we enjoy the scones,” I said, staring at the stark, dominant architecture of Oxford’s former prison towering above, trying not to pay too much attention to the original Punishment Cells, kept intact for badly behaved guests or unappreciative diners perhaps?

Luckily we were neither, mainly because our time there, under the spurious auspices of British Tea Week (August 14-18), meant that I found myself drinking an Aperol spritz under a parasol in the gardens of The Malmaison Hotel and eating every last morsel of the vast tea we were presented with.

Despite the threat of incarceration looming over us, the ambience is very relaxing, an oasis of calm and tranquility, in sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle just a few metres away as people dine in the Oxford Quarter, shop in the Westgate or wait for a bus on New Road.

And yet here we were, with hardly a sound to be heard on the huge lawn that frames the back of the opulent hotel, except the scraping of knives, the tinkling of ice cubes, hushed conversation and the clink of cups being placed back in the saucers.

The outside space is a blessing actually, because the dining room is situated in the basement of the hotel, so rather dark in the summer months.

Perhaps to encourage guests and fellow inhabitants to embrace the sunshine and venture outside, Malmaison offers an enticing and good value afternoon tea menu, soon to be joined by the Italian Tea which boasts a Campari Gin & Tonic during Afternoon Tea Week.

We were pleasantly shaded as we chose our tea flavours, presented solemnly in a box by our waiter. Earl Grey for me, raspberry and blueberry for the girls.

We’d opted for the full works, so waited in anticipation, having forgone lunch, tummies rumbling blatantly.

And thank God we had because there is no way we could have managed such a vast feast otherwise.

It also meant we could tuck in with gusto, as the two-tiered cake stand approached, laden down with goodies.

We’d ordered one normal and one veggie tea, there even being a vegan option available for those that wanted, meaning no one batted an eyelid.

But a word of caution – those expecting a traditional English repast might be a tad disappointed, because this Afternoon Tea definitely has an American twist thanks to our friends over the pond.

So instead of cucumber sandwiches there were tiny burgers, miniscule bagels and mini sub rolls. The burgers, plain or mushroom, were as good as they get, literally. The beef patties were home-made, beautifully seasoned and cooked and nestled in itsy-bitsy brioche buns complete with red onion, slices of tomato, cheese and lettuce. More, more, more.

The bagels boasted smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese and then an egg mayonnaise sub roll that needed more salt and pepper.

Little strawberry shakes in petite milk bottles with recyclable striped straws tasted like they used to in my childhood, not thick and malty but frothy and fruity.

The top layer of the cake stand groaned with delicious offerings such as the individual Bakewell tarts whose crusty, nutty, almondy, flaky finish was just perfect, the pastry crumbly.

The salted caramel chocolate brownie was another instant hit, thick, dirty, soft, chewy and glossy, it clogged in all the right places.

The double chocolate cupcake was an odd choice though I thought considering we’d just eaten a thick chocolate brownie – why not a sponge of another flavour, there are so many others to choose from, so I left it, being rather chocolate-ed out and moved on to the seasonal cheesecake.

It featured a shot glass with a vibrant red jelly topping, yoghurty filling and ginger biscuit crunch at the bottom.

The Luisiana slider followed fast on its heels – another caramelly, biscuity, chocolate square which was also a must.

Which meant that when our waiter reappeared carrying a basket of freshly-warmed fruit and plain scones and a tiny pot of strawberry jam and crusty thick Cornish cream, we almost balked, until they were placed on the table and the alluring sweet, just baked smell wafted up into the non-existent breeze, washed down with endless cups of tea.

It was with reluctance therefore that we had to leave the sanctuary of the Malmaison gardens, even if we had narrowly avoided the Punishment Cells.

But I reminded myself that as it’s Afternoon Tea Week in just a few days, there was no reason why I couldn’t sneak back and do it all again.

After all, for £19.95 for the full Afternoon Tea, £27 with a glass of champagne or a cocktail, there’s no excuse not to.

What’s a little Campari between friends?

Katherine MacAlister