Afternoon tea is the most elegant of dining options. It is a ritual that cannot be bettered - the combination of good tea, properly made in a teapot, and served in china cups, crust less sandwiches, a selection of patisserie and the conversation that taking tea sparks – is one of the most civilized ways to spend an afternoon.
It was the Duchess of Bedford in England, who started a craze for afternoon tea - that would see the people right across the British Empire stop for tea in the middle of the afternoon - during a visit to Belvoir Castle asked for the servants to bring her Darjeeling tea with cakes and sandwiches in the 19th Century.
Today afternoon tea has become terribly trendy. With every type of eatery and hotel jumping on the bandwagon and serving stuff far removed from afternoon tea.
Titanic Belfast, the world’s largest Titanic visitor attraction, sitting on the quayside of the Belfast docks, is one of the few places, in Northern Ireland to pay afternoon tea the respect it deserves.
Tea at Titanic Belfast is taken in the ballroom at the foot of the replica Titanic Ballroom staircase, made infamous by the movie Titanic. The room dressed with palms and vases of flowers, feels personal although vast in scale. A harpist playing an Irish Harp, fills the room with a sweet and peaceful sounding music, creating a warm ambiance, that is pleasant to sit in. Waiters dressed in starched navy mandarin collared ship like uniforms are welcoming, ever attendant, and friendly, but not overbearing. The tables are pleasantly spaced, allowing personal conversation without fear of eavesdropping.
We begin our afternoon Tea with a glass of 2002, Heidseck Monopole Champagne - the Official champagne of R.M.S. Titanic, a dry firmly bubbly fizz, that is very easy to drink, and cuts nicely through the richness of the cakes and finger sandwiches. Our choice of Green, Peppermint, and Titanic Luxury House tea are brought to our table, and poured from a great height, to release the perfumes of the tea as it hits the cup. The menus range of loose leaf teas are specially blended for Titanic Belfast, by Northern Irish company, Punjana Tea and other teas on the menu include Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast and a Red Berry Cocktail.
My Uncle, a French Chef de Patisserie, always told me an afternoon tea could rise or fall on the quality of the cakes alone. Titanic Belfast’s selections have the highest Patisserie standards with a balanced sugary sweetness, matched by fresh cream, and fruit. Tiny cakes such as Victoria Sponges, Chocolate Gateau, Apricot tarts, Chocolate Éclairs, and my favourite – perfectly made pretty pastel raspberry macaroons, sat on top of the cake stands, which used pretty blue and white or pink and white printed china plates, while finger sandwiches and scones with organic damson jam, and a rich clotted cream, sat on the next two levels.
The cakes have a soft and very fresh crumb, while the éclairs have a gloriously shiney chocolate coating, hiding a crisp pastry and rich cream. The scones are moist, soft to the bite and filled with raisins. But those little macaroons are simply divine; a tiny crisp shell gives way to a soft spongy filling, with just a hint of raspberry jam.
The bread for the sandwiches is both brown and white, and is crust less and soft. The fillings perfectly sized, so they don’t ooze all over when bitten into are rich and fresh. We have a selection of vegetarian sandwiches, of which the egg mayonnaise is particularly good, and a range of meat, cheese and salmon sandwiches, of which the smoked salmon locally caught and smoked in Belfast at the top of the Skanhill Road, by Walter Ewing stands out for its delicious flavour.
Tea at Titanic Belfast can be taken in parties of two, or more, (with larger parties being accommodated as necessary), seated around starched linened tables, with sparkling cutlery and glassware. It is a thoroughly relaxing experience, completely devoid of the pretence or stuffiness that sometimes accompanies this ritual.
This juxtaposition of the formality of the ritual of afternoon tea, and the beautiful surroundings of the Titanic Belfast Staircase and ballroom sit comfortably together, creating a tranquil ambiance in the room. Some guests are dressed in jeans and shirts, while others have on their Sunday best, and yet, looking around, no one is out of place, and everyone is enjoying the experience, and the opportunity to have their photograph taken on the grand replica staircase, just like Kate and Leo, in the film Titanic.
The staircase itself was handmade by craftsmen in Northern Ireland, and is as close a replica as possible to the original one on the ship. As we took tea, it was lovely to watch everyone from couples, to Grandparents, children and families have their photographs taken on the stairs, faces filled with delight.
Taking Afternoon Tea at Titanic Belfast is an elegant and enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. One I would highly recommend to everyone, especially those who are bringing visitors to Northern Ireland, it is an experience that I have not seen bettered. The sense of history created by the grand staircase, and the Titanic Belfast building itself, as well as peoples deep interest in RMS Titanic bring a unique, soothingly charged atmosphere to Afternoon Tea at Titanic Belfast, that make it very special. It is one I hope you will take the opportunity as soon as you can, to experience for yourself.
That’s it for now …
Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable