Afternoon Tea – Colonnades at the Signet Library, Edinburgh (No Tots)

I’m not a raver, in terms of overly enthusing about things, or in terms of big fish/little fish dance moves, but occasionally you feel the need the rave.

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The savoury platter

On a weekend in Edinburgh with friends I experienced an afternoon tea that was above and beyond. Food, setting and service were impeccable. And considering how much women in particular spend on afternoon teas a few limp sandwiches don’t cut it any more. Several years ago I had an excellent tea at The Dorchester (which was my all time favourite), and I’ve tried teas at Harrods and other famed establishments, but this Scottish tea beats everything I’ve tried before. Yes, you could take your children here (there is a lovely change table in the ladies toilets!) but it was an indulgent treat to leave the little ones at home.

The setting was the elegantly Georgian ‘Colonnades at Signet Library’ in Parliament Square. The building was completed in 1822 in time for King George IV’s visit to Edinburgh. He described the upper library as “the finest drawing room in Europe” so I’m not alone in my praise.

The building is a real library, home to the Society of Writers to her Majesty’s Signet (also known as the WS Society), an association of Scottish lawyers. As all the texts are online this stunning space can now be used for others purposes, such as hosting fabulous afternoon teas. Everyone’s a winner.

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Interior of the Signet Library

When we arrived we were invited to select our first choice of tea. I’m used to ordering just the one pot, but at the Signet you’re encouraged to try different teas with different food courses. How civilised. For the savoury course I ordered ‘Russian Caravan’ tea which tasted of earthy smokiness. This is a Chinese tea, but its name comes from the camel caravans that traded along the old silk and spice routes, and the smoke from the campfires which scented the tea on its journey. I found the smoky flavour strangely comforting, like a peat fire.

We were brought our fizz and an amuse bouche, a red pepper soup. I’m never that overwhelmed by soup as an amuse bouche, unless it’s somehow magnificent, but that’s as far as any criticism goes, if it can even be called criticism.

The savoury platter looked wonderful. As each piece was described you could tell that the chefs care about food, and have an imagination. We weren’t presented with a tray of sandwiches, but a platter of little dishes in their own right: haggis, neeps & tatties pie; duck rillette & blood orange squash; chestnut & sage wellington; salmon & poppy seed éclair; beetroot & goats cheese tart; prawn cocktail shot; and chicken, pesto & rucola and applewood cheddar & tomato chutney sandwiches.

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The sweet platter

To accompany the sweets I opted for a light jasmine tea, and the sweet platter was also a thing of beauty. Macaroons, dark chocolate flower pot crumbles, mango and orange jelly, white chocolate truffles, lemon tarts, and raspberry cheesecakes, with freshly made fruit and plain scones served with clotted cream and jam. What a joy that people still care enough about food to serve up morsels like this. After the sweets we were brought a third round of tea, this time my choice was a simple peppermint, and my friends and I carried on chatting and catching up for another hour. This demonstrates how civilised the experience was, not rushed at all.

The Signet library is next to the original Scottish Parliament so it takes five minutes to nip through security and take in a bit of history to make you feel virtuous after all the indulgence.

In terms of taking afternoon tea in the UK, the bar has been set notably high.

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Afternoon Tea is served Monday- Friday 1pm to 7pm and 11am to 7pm on Sundays, with last booking for afternoon tea at 5pm. £30 per person, £37 with bubbles. For a limited time, afternoon tea will also be available on Saturday 6th May and 10th June 2017 from 11am – 5pm.

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22 Comments

  1. Reply

    joylovestravel

    March 28, 2017

    Splendid surroundings and I am drooling just looking at the food…

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      March 28, 2017

      It was such a treat. Three cups of tea without interruption! 😉

  2. Reply

    Anabel Marsh

    April 9, 2017

    This is the second good review of this I’ve read recently! Very tempted……

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 9, 2017

      It was truly very good. Very good!

  3. Reply

    WanderMum

    April 11, 2017

    This looks fabulous! I do like an afternoon tea and this one looks rather imaginative and colourful too. Thanks for linking #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 11, 2017

      Very indulgent!

  4. Reply

    Wherejogoes

    April 11, 2017

    I confess afternoon tea is my favourite meal and this one looks *fantastic*. I may have to keep looking at the pics throughout the day! A few things I love about this – the fact you can sample different types of tea, the Scottish elements of the haggis, neeps & tattie pie, the soup amuse bouche is very unusual and the price is really reasonable! Combined with a beautiful room and the most elegant looking cakes and patisserie. Great idea to combine with a visit to the Scottish Parliament I am definitely doing this next time I am in Edinburgh. #CityTripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 11, 2017

      It was a pretty perfect combination. And I’d still like to get my hands on more of that Russian Caravan tea!

      • Reply

        Wherejogoes

        April 11, 2017

        I’m going to look out for that in future! Top tip!

  5. Reply

    Kat @anaussieinsf

    April 11, 2017

    Oh yum! I wish I’d known about the Signet Library when I was in Edinburgh (about eight years ago now), it’s one of my very favourite places in the world. That and I can’t pass up a great dessert. I can see why King George had such high praise for the building as well, the inside is gorgeous! #CityTripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 11, 2017

      It was new to me and I know a lot of afternoon teas in Scotland!

  6. Reply

    Ladies What Travel (@LadiesWTravel)

    April 11, 2017

    Ah I love old libraries like that (my dream is to have one at home – think big I say ha ha!), and looks like it makes a wonderful setting for an afternoon tea! #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 11, 2017

      I think you need a stately home!

  7. Reply

    Tanja

    April 11, 2017

    beautiful place for some tea:) #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 11, 2017

      It truly was!

  8. Reply

    Marta - Learningescapes

    April 11, 2017

    This looks absolutely wonderful! I recently had afternoon tea in Dublin (with kids, they have special family menus) and loved how elegant everything was. The food was delicious too and as you say, it is quite rare, despite the cost! I would definitely try this, next time in Edinburgh #citytrippin

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 11, 2017

      Where do you recommend in Dublin. An afternoon tea menu for kids sounds spot on. I may be over there soon.

  9. Reply

    Cultural Wednesday

    April 11, 2017

    Books and cake, my kind of place! #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 14, 2017

      Can’t ask for much more!

  10. Reply

    Alex

    April 13, 2017

    Oh. Bloody. Wow. I’ve never been a fan of afternoon tea, apart from a good scone I struggle to get excited by sandwiches with the crusts cut off. A) I’m not 4 anymore and b) the crusts are the best bit! However, this bad boy is totally playing my bagpipes! We’re back in Edinburgh in October, I’m totally booking us in for the chestnut Wellington. Thanks for raving (big square, little square) or I’d have never have known! #citytripping

    • Reply

      tots2travel

      April 14, 2017

      It was a delight. Book it!

  11. Reply

    Ahila

    April 15, 2017

    The venue itself would tempt me to go for the afternoon tea. Such a lovely library! However, the food and its presentation that you describe, especially the different accompanying teas, tempts me more and I will surely bookmark it, for whenever I get to revisit Edinburgh #CityTripping

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