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.
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.
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.
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.
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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