Steeped in tradition or a more modern take - we've got more teas than you can shake a finger sandwich at
March 1842, and famous actress Fanny Kemble (who'd previously married a US plantation owner – a bad move for an abolitionist) has been summoned, through a number of private and mysterious invitations, to the sleeping quarters of Anna Maria Russell, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, at Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.
What Kemble finds is no "Tipping The Velvet" tryst, or even the beginnings of a haughty Victorian murder mystery, but a small and select group of ladies busily employed in the shamefaced consumption of tea and sandwiches.
You see, back then it was common to eat only two meals a day, breakfast very early and dinner late due to the political and sporting affairs (and simply affairs) of their old men. So the Duchess, sick of spending her afternoons as hungry as a wolf locked in a cabbage van, invented "Afternoon Tea".
And lo! Bedford’s ritual was perpetuated across the land until no Victorian dame worth her cage crinoline would go without a brew and a cucumber sarnie around four o’clock.
Some 173 years later and Bedford's afternoon ritual is maintained every time mum's over and wants to do "something nice".
We’ve rounded up some good ones that you can enjoy today but we've not included the so-called afternoon teas that are basically some food presented on a tiered cake stand - and don’t even get us started on the concept of a “Gentleman’s” afternoon tea. Pfff.
Play with the flavours and fillings all you like but a proper afternoon tea should have one tier of sandwiches and one tier of little cakes and if it doesn’t have a third tier of scones, jam and clotted cream then we’re sorry but it’s not the one.
Here is our pick of the afternoon teas on offer in Manchester
What: Cloud 23
Where: Beetham Tower, 303 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4LQ
How much: £28 or £38 with a cocktail, £55 with bottomless Champagne
The highest of all the high teas is on floor 23 of the Beetham Tower - which also houses Manchester's Hilton Hotel. Zoom up in the super-fast lift to Cloud 23, a glam cocktail bar with magnificent views over Deansgate and beyond. Along with the classic cucumber and cream cheese and smoked salmon sarnies, there’s a leftfield pesto chicken one and a dinky feta and tomato tart too. Sweet stuff includes a strawberry and cream cup, a slightly garish red berry and matcha Battenberg, citrus tart and colourful macarons. The cocktails at Cloud 23 - with Manc names like Ena Sparkles (Champers, citrus, pineapple and cherry) and Twisting My Melon, Man (vodka, melon, cucumber, lemon and mint) - are worth adding to the party while you’re up there. But let's face it, it's the view you're here for and you'll struggle to better it in all of MCR.
Where: 100 King Street, Manchester M2 4WU
How much: £25 or £40 with a glass of Taittinger, £34 with a glass of Gotham Prosecco
Not quite as goth or, er, Batmanny as the name suggests, Hotel Gotham is a five-star hotel with bedrooms decked out in leather, fur and monochrome stripes. Afternoon tea is taken in the top floor Honey Restaurant with views over the stunning listed buildings of King Street. Among the usual smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, Gotham steps up its egg mayo by using duck eggs. Horticulture-themed desserts include lavender and honey macaron and a strawberry and rosemary frangipane tart as well as a mango and passion fruit cheesecake and a salted dark chocolate brownie. Look out for limited-edition special afternoon teas too. This week there’s a pink one in honour of afternoon tea week (August 9-15).
What: Grand Pacific
Where: 50 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 1EN
How much: £23 or up to £29 with various choices of fizz and cocktails
Grand by name and grand by nature, the ostentatious restaurant space formerly occupied by much-missed Room (and even longer before that, celeb haunt Reform) has been the “colonial-style” (eek), Grand Pacific for a good few years now. GP’s afternoon tea is suitably eccentric, served on an art deco style golden pineapple cake stand. It features lobster butter slathered crumpets and tuna and salmon tartare alongside the more conventional finger sandwiches. Somewhere between sweet and savoury and very Manc is an additional Eccles Cake with creamy Lancashire cheese. Sweets include a passion fruit brûlée, jasmine tea bread with rose jelly and cream, and a coconut rum trifle.
Where: Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester M2 5GP
How much: £28 or £35 with Prosecco
Not just any old white sliced for these artsy finger sandwiches; artisan bread like sour cherry, potato and rosemary, and brioche feature here. Fairly typical fillings include smoked salmon, rare roast beef and corn-fed chicken with truffle mayonnaise. Buttermilk scones come in plain and apricot form with Cornish clotted cream and The Library's own strawberry and vanilla preserve. Pâtisseries include opera cake, pistachio and strawberry choux and very black Black Forest gâteau. Add a glass or a bottle of champagne instead of Prosecco if you fancy.
What: The Lowry
Where: 50 Dearmans Place, Salford M3 5LH
How much: £39.99 for two
Salford’s own five-star hotel is celebrating 25 years in business this year and boy has a lot changed for Greater Manchester’s other city in that time. The Lowry’s River Restaurant has always had impeccable chefs in the kitchen so you can guarantee the quality of the afternoon teas here. Rather than stay too classic, this one plays with flavours. Sandwich fillings include tuna with avocado and heritage tomato and goats cheese with new potato and truffle. As well as the sweet scones with cream and jam there is a parmesan scone with bacon jam and whipped brie. Desserts include apricot and Grand Marnier gateau and a passionfruit and pink peppercorn cheesecake.
What: The Midland
Where: 16 Peter Street, Manchester M60 2DS
How much: £28 or £38 with a glass of Bouche Cuvée brut Champagne
Probably the Manchester afternoon tea most steeped in tradition is that of The Midland Hotel, which opened in 1903. Over a hundred years of tea and scone fancying has gone on under this iconic roof and a recent refurb has retained that old-fashioned charm. You’ll find those all-important cucumber sandwiches as well as HRH’s own coronation chicken, Burford Brown egg mayo and more. There’s a choice of scones with Devon clotted cream and Mrs Darlington’s jams and sweets include the likes of a dark choc and orange “Jaffa cake” and a duck egg custard tart with Scottish raspberries. Gluten-free, vegan, veggie and kids versions are all on the menu too. The Midland even has its own “private blends” of tea.
What: Richmond Tea Rooms
Where: 46 Sackville Street, Manchester M1 3WF
How much: £20.95 or £26.95 with a glass of bubbly
If a regular afternoon tea just won’t cut it, how about one down the rabbit hole in an Alice In Wonderland themed tea room? Richmond Tea Rooms has long been a Gay Village institution, originally named after the street it was on, it has since moved to a bigger venue on Sackville Street. It’s also upped the ante over the years and now holds regular tea parties hosted by the cream of Manchester’s flamboyant drag queens - think Liquorice Black and Anna Phylactic. Cakes and sandwiches are your classic afternoon tea fare and there is a wide range of teas including Blue Lady and Lotus Rose. Vegan and GF options are available for an extra £2.
What: San Carlo Gran Cafe
Where: Basement, Selfridges, 1 Exchange Square, Central, Manchester M3 1BD
How much: £14.95 or £24.95 with Champagne
This glam Italian cafe underneath Selfridges is not just about brunch, souped-up sarnies and pasta but it also does impeccable homemade Italian desserts. It’s this expert patisserie that makes SCGC’s afternoon tea a cut above. Think torta alla pistachio, strawberry tart and carrot cake all in miniature form. There are no finger sandwiches here though, you’ll find open-faced sandwiches, antipasti and even mini lasagne in the savoury selection. We’re letting them off for the lasagne because the cakes are so good.
Where: Sugar Junction
Where: 60 Tib St, Manchester M4 1LG
How much: £22.95 with a hot drink, £24.95 with a glass of Prosecco, £25.95 with a cocktail
This long-standing vintage-style tea shop in the Northern Quarter has quietly done its adorable thing since 2011, staying true to its original kitsch ethos despite the area’s ever-changing culinary landscape. Sandwiches here are mini open muffin-style rather than the classic finger, along with fruit scones with all the usual gubbins and a range of mini cakes baked in house. Sugar Junction’s full-sized cakes are the stuff of Manchester legend so you can be sure you’re not getting palmed off with a zhushed-up Mr Kipling here.
What: Vintage Ambiance Monton
Where: 188 Monton Rd, Eccles, Manchester M30 9PY
How much: £15 or £19 with bubbles
This cutesy cafe in Monton (Carlo) is one of many reasons to move to this Salford suburb. VA’s nostalgic “high tea” is served with a choice of English Breakfast or Earl Grey tea (upgrade to fizz for £4pp). Scones are sultana with strawberry conserve and clotted cream. Cakes include mini éclairs, strawberry mille-feuilles, raspberry macarons and chocolate and hazelnut cream puffs. Savouries are mini quiche, finger sandwiches with pulled ham hock, smoked salmon and the classic cream cheese and cucumber and a free-range egg mayo open sandwich. You can book with a crowd for your own private afternoon tea party. Vegan, veggie, kids and GF options are available but some require 48 hours notice.
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