GOOD AFTERNOON TEA
Afternoon tea conjures up lazy summer days, lounging around a lovely garden, nibbling on dainty sandwiches and followed by sweet treats like scones and cakes while drinking real tea served in china cups. It will be served on silver tray stands and crisp white linen so the whole occasion feels like a ceremony.
If celebrating something special then a couple of glasses of bubbly to start or finish it all off takes it to another level. You won’t need a big feed at dinner after you have had all that and you will be arriving home only fit for bed. It is something we take for granted as part of our culture but it has an interesting past.
It was the English upper classes who started it in the 19th century when the long gap between a traditional noon lunch and a strictly 8.00pm dinner had to be filled to deal with the rumbling tummies around 4.00pm. With half the world then colonised by the British including here in Ireland the tradition spread quickly and it became all the fashion to entertain guests you maybe did not want for either lunch or dinner.
A sort of halfway house of hospitality. High tea is a more substantial affair served after a working day from 5.00pm just to add some confusion. My favourite in Ireland is the timeless Hunter’s Hotel in Wicklow where they have been doing it for five generations and serving it to the good and the great for a couple of hundred years now. You need to have it outside in their manicured garden on a sunny day to really be swept away to another era. Locally I like Bellinter House outside Navan. In the home of afternoon tea itself nothing tops the Ritz in London with all its glamour and a serious level of technical culinary prowess.
It does not always have to be that degree of fancy, it is just as much about the setting and the company you are in that makes it memorable. Content wise the classic choice is a selection of cucumber, smoked salmon, prawn, ham, cheese and egg mayonnaise sandwiches on both white and brown buttered bread. Tuna and crab are popular additions too.
Crusts will certainly be removed and they will be cut into finger sized two bite pieces. Each filling should have an extra complimenting flavour like a herb, sauce, relish, mustard or salad which will add to the visual presentation of the display also. A mix of open and closed sandwiches is fashionable now as well especially with our whole grain wheaten Irish soda bread. These days there are sometimes several flavours of bread used but I think this is going over the top. It would be better to have some coeliac friendly versions and of course we have to list all the allergens too with so many people carrying other even more serious food intolerances.
We also must cater properly for the vegetarian and vegan customers now for an afternoon tea. On the sweet front the sky is the limit. At the high end the pastry department will roll out the barrel and the sheer array of goodies will entice you to the limit. I think less is more so something with pastry like a mille feuille or a fruit tartlet, then a slice of a light creamy sponge or cakelike creation like a scone, definitely a chocolate element option with say a quality brownie and maybe a biscuit or two is all you need. Price wise you can splash the cash but a decent afternoon tea should be in the twenty five Euros mark per person. Double it if you want a glass of champagne thrown in.