James Martin isn’t just one of Britain’s most-loved TV chefs, he’s also the owner of a handful of highly-rated restaurants across the UK.
His Manchester restaurant, based in the heart of the city centre, is one of the standout destinations of the Great Northern Warehouse just off Deansgate.
It’s an elegant venue with low-lighting and a brick arch ceiling, with plenty of luxurious flourishes, tailored toward visitors looking for a classic dining experience.
Appropriately, the afternoon tea on offer is precisely that: a high-end showcase for this delightfully English meal. It’s available on Saturdays only, so it’s best to book in advance to ensure you get a table.
The venue is spacious, making for a truly relaxed, laid-back experience, helped in no small part by the charming staff, who offer up in-depth knowledge about every element of the day’s offerings without ever overstaying their welcome.
There’s a vast choice of teas, ranging from peppermint to passion fruit to Earl Grey, and, of course, classic English breakfast, all provided from local tea company, Tea From The Manor.
If you’re a stickler for tradition, the English breakfast will certainly impress – it’s a full-bodied pot of loose-leaf tea, gentler and smoother than the high street brands, and perfect for sipping over the course of an afternoon.
But the food is where this afternoon tea menu truly shines. Arriving on an ornate but understated golden cake stand, you’re met with three tiers of sweet and savoury snacks, easily enough for two hungry guests.
The middle row contains four very different sandwiches – fresh cucumber, watercress and cream cheese on light white fluffy bread; hot smoked salmon, avocado and lime; smoked corn-fed chicken and truffle mayonnaise on a sage and onion roll; and finally, some thick slices of honey roast ham and sauerkraut on a thick treacle and fennel bread.
This treacle bread is something very special indeed, baked to deliver a crunchy bite that gives way to a soft dough, full of darkly sweet flavours that pair beautifully with the honeyed ham.
This is what makes afternoon tea at James Martin such a special experience. It marries traditional elements with a series of expert innovations, without ever going too far.
You’ll find a menu full of simple touches, such as hot-smoking the salmon to make it flake better then matching it with avocado and lime, that elevate a simple sandwich into something that not only nods to classic methods but improves on it by some measure.
The sweets are equally delightful. There’s a sticky toffee choux bun with a gloriously gooey filling; a sublime white chocolate, lemon and raspberry bar (a series of hard-hitting flavours, each more delicious than the last); a cute little chocolate and orange pot; and a brightly-coloured pistachio and olive oil cake, topped with blackberry butter cream and fresh berries.
And that’s even before you get to the scones, which manage to achieve the perfect midpoint between fluffy and crumbly. They’re warm, dense and ever-so-slightly spongy, with a fresh buttery mouthfeel that works wonders with the homemade raspberry jam and clotted cream (cream on first, jam second, obviously).
Afternoon tea at James Martin is a remarkable event. It’s traditional enough to impress the afternoon tea aficionados, but with a series of remarkable flourishes that could wow even the most intrepid diner – not to mention an attention to detail that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
And if you fancy making a day of it – it is the weekend, after all – they even offer a champagne afternoon tea, which comes with a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne, or a bottomless prosecco afternoon tea, for all you party people.
Afternoon tea is served from 1pm-4pm on Saturdays at James Martin Manchester, Great Northern.