Thursday 8 April 2021

Afternoon Teas I Have Enjoyed ...

Tea by train!

(On board the Statesman train)
Afternoon tea has become trendy in recent years and is marketed as an English (or British, I am not sure which) tradition. While a cup of tea and perhaps a piece of cake or a couple of biscuits has indeed been a tradition for as long as I can remember, with the "cream tea" an occasional special treat, I am fairly sure that the concept of the afternoon tea has developed and spread relatively recently.

At the very least an afternoon tea should include tea (well ... there are some who take coffee or even a cold drink) and scones or cake, but the better teas include small sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and cake. Some include sausage rolls or some other such savoury treat along with the sandwiches. These are often served on a three-decker plate, although this is not essential and the courses may be brought separately, or on several plates. Sometimes sparkling wine is an optional extra, or even gin (but the only time I ever tried to arrange a G & tea the firm offering it went bust and we did not get it).

I list below the afternoon teas that have made it into this weblog, that is those we have taken during a rail adventure: indeed the first on the list, the North Yorkshire Pullman, was the very reason for taking the adventure. There have also been teas enjoyed in Stamford, accessed by walking to Burghley House on one occasion and The George Hotel on another. There are now other places in town offering afternoon tea, so maybe we shall have to try those once everything is up and running and we are not away ... but they cannot appear here, of course!

Click on the headings to read the full story of the adventures:

The North Yorkshire Pullman

This was the biggest afternoon tea I have ever had, as well as being delicious. The scones were enormous and I made the mistake of helping out my wife by eating half of her scone, with the result that I was unable to finish my piece of cake - the only tea in this list that I could not finish.

Bucks Fizz was served at the start of the tea which was taken on board a restored Pullman carriage on the steam-operated preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Marco Pierre White's New York Italian in London

Possibly the weirdest tea in this list, sort of English tradition with an Italian twist via the USA. Not as filling as some, but very nice indeed. Like the North Yorkshire tea above, this one was a gift and we would probably never have discovered it if we had not been given the voucher. Well worth discovering, but not quite what you expect - not that we knew what to expect!

Fortnum and Mason, London

We took advantage of a two-for-one offer on afternoon tea at this famous London store during the pandemic of 2020 when shops and restaurants were open but struggling for trade and having to restrict numbers of customers. This brought the price of the tea down to very expensive from the extremely expensive that it normally is. There was, however, an unlimited amount to eat and drink from the tea menu so although I did not leave anything on my plate there was more I could have had if I had wished. As in North Yorkshire, no dinner or supper was required after this tea! Even the long walk back to our hotel did not work up another appetite. Delicious, and an experience everyone should have at least once.

In passing, I ought to mention that we did once enjoy tea at The Wolseley in Piccadilly, having been given a gift voucher for it, and that was similarly very good and nicely served but the atmosphere, despite the staff's best efforts, was of rush and haste simply because the demand is so high and people are coming in and going out all the time. Fortnum and Mason, at least when we went, was more calm and unhurried.

The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh

The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh is one of the best hotels we have ever used, and probably the best we have used in Britain, and the afternoon tea offer is fitting to that status. The booking is for two hours, which sounds like plenty for a tea, and it is, but there is so much and it is so enjoyable that the time passes very quickly. We opted for a glass of Champagne and there is an included glass of water as well as a wide choice of teas. There is a selection of savouries and some interesting sandwiches as well as the scones and cakes. The atmosphere in the traditional palm court was calm and unhurried (although I cannot say whether it would have been so outside the pandemic when the hotel would have been busier). Again, no dinner needed that day.

The Royal Hotel, Bath

A cream tea with Champagne was included in a hotel/spa package at The Royal Hotel in Bath. As dinner was also included, it is as well that this was a simple cream tea and not one of the multi-course afternoon teas described above. Two (relatively small) scones each with jam and clotted cream, a pot of tea and a glass of fizz - a lovely addition to a relaxing day. All high quality stuff and served in the bar, so to make it relaxing it is important not to choose a busy time - this bar is used by people waiting for trains at the station across the road, especially after work, so at 5.30pm it can get too busy to find a table, and certainly to relax. But then, maybe that is a bit too late for cream scones if you have a dinner booked for the evening! Treat this tea as a (slightly late) substitute for lunch and all fits in nicely!

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