In the early nineteenth century, it was usual for people to take only two main meals a day – an early breakfast and dinner in the evening. Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is credited with introducing a pot of tea and a light snack after complaining of a sinking feeling during the afternoon and invited her friends to join her. Other social hostesses followed suit and, before long, fashionable society in Britain was taking afternoon tea.
Most hotels, and some restaurants, still offer this ‘naughty but nice’ treat of finger sandwiches (no crusts please) and selection of cakes, traditionally including scones. A sophisticated way to pass the afternoon after a morning’s shopping maybe? My kind of day!
We went along to the four star Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel to see what they had to offer. Their afternoon tea starts at £38 for two (£60 for two with one glass of champagne each) and is inspired by all things Mancunian – something close to our hearts at I Love Manchester.
The tea has been launched in conjunction with the hotel’s new photographic murals in the lobby which proudly display some of Manchester’s most iconic landmarks and people including Jack and Vera Duckworth, the Gallagher brothers, Emmeline Pankhurst and Steve Coogan to name a few.
The Brasserie restaurant on the fourth floor has large windows and fantastic views across Piccadilly Gardens and manages to make the often criticised Gardens look a hundred times better than they actually do at ground level – a truly remarkable feat!
Unfortunately, the restaurant interior itself doesn’t have the same vibrant energy. The tired brown furniture and carpets may have been fashionable in the 1970s but could do with a bit of a modernising and freshening up.
The afternoon tea was the polar opposite. We loved the Patak’s (Leigh, Greater Manchester) Coronation Street chicken wrap, just the right amount of spice. The Bury black pudding Scotch egg with Kellogg’s (UK headquarters in Manchester) corn flake crumb was missing one vital ingredient – there was no egg in the middle, leaving us wondering why it was called a Scotch egg. Other than this minor omission the meatballs were well spiced, herby, and the cornflakes added a good crunch.
Of the more classic finger sandwiches, the best on offer was easily the Cheshire cheese and Boddington’s chutney, with ham and tomato relish not far behind, although it would have been nice for this one to have had a Manchester theme too. Prawn and tarragon mayonnaise was less successful. I couldn’t place the herb at first as it tasted so unusual with the prawn, but not a mix I would hurry back for. And Roy Keane definitely wouldn’t approve.
Sweets next. Manchester tart had beautifully light and crumbly pastry, with custard which was creamy but not too sweet. I’m not usually a fan as I don’t like bananas in cakes but this was an exception it was that good.
Vimto mini trifle tasted just so. I can’t stand the stuff (sorry Manchester), but my daughter gobbled them both up so a big thumbs up from her. Jaffa cake (made using the actual biscuits produced McVities of Manchester) was a little dry but the flavours were spot on. And finally, my favourite, the triumphant scone! Crumbly but not too dry doesn’t really do it justice, but with clotted cream and Duerr’s strawberry jam (Wythenshawe), it was simply fantastic!
I should mention the actual tea itself which was served in a lovely clear teapot with loose leaf tea. I stuck with classic English Breakfast. There is also an option to upgrade your tea with a glass of prosecco or champagne. Champagne please!