You’ve had a busy day, you’re in town with bags full of shopping and you badly need a sit down. Or perhaps you’ve got a well-deserved day off and need somewhere central to while away a couple of hours with a friend or three, over a pot of tea and something pretty to eat.
I have a suggestion for you: Café Royal on Nelson Street. Whether you’ve been before or you’ve walked past it a million times on your way to the Grainger Market, you may not know that they do a simply beautiful afternoon tea, up there with some of the nicest I’ve ever had.
Tea at Café Royal is served 2:30 – 5:30pm and costs a mere £17 for two people, which, when you consider the presentation, the location and the quality of the food, is a steal. Let’s start with the presentation. The table is set, the staff faff around arranging an abundance of side plates and cutlery. My mum, who I’ve taken out for an early post-work bite to eat, looks impressed.
Then the tea pots arrive, filled with a tea of your choice from the tea menu. This is closely followed by two tiers of food; one of open sandwiches, the other of pastries and cakes. These are accompanied by a further slate platter of warm mini quiches. Half mozzarella cheese and tomato and half full of peas and asparagus. I’m not crazy about quiche but I actually really enjoyed these. The sandwiches, on toasted bread, had a variety of toppings; pastrami and a spicy red pepper sort of salsa, smooth cream cheese topped with thick fresh salmon and a ribbon of cucumber and finally creamy egg mayo garnished with thin crispy slices of sweet prosciutto bacon. Once we were satisfied we’d showed the sandwiches who was boss we moved on to the dessert layer. After a few sips of tea to cleanse the palate, naturally.
The cakes were fabulously colourful. We’re talking miniature éclairs filled with what tasted like hazelnut/chocolate fresh cream. Like Nutella or Ferrero Rocher. And I mean *really* filled. One delicate bite and it all bursts forth messily. But it’s far too nice to waste time worrying the chocolate now on your plate and chin. That’s what napkins are for, right? There were also two neon pink raspberry macaroons, the perfect texture and the right amount of chewiness, the two halves sandwiched together with an almond goo and a surprise centre of raspberry pulp. Sounds a bit weird and experimental but I can assure you that the experiment paid off. They’ll be giving The French Oven a run for their money!
There were two dinky Kilner-type jars containing fresh whipped cream and strawberries with little bright pink sherbet-y dollops of meringue in a nod towards a deconstructed Eton mess. A little bit too much cream and not enough pieces of fruit but nice anyway. Finally a couple of scones. Not served with pots of jam and cream like regular teas, but rather already filled with jam and dusted with icing sugar. I suspected they might be a smidge dry without the cream but they were utterly lovely.
I really felt that the Café Royal chef was putting actual thought into these little morsels of heaven which is not always the case with afternoon tea. It can sometimes seem a bit forgotten about or done in a rush to match the offerings of competitors. Perhaps it’s easy for some chefs to focus on a main menu and then assume it’s okay to merely knock up a few sandwiches and a scone and wipe their hands of the matter. Clearly not the situation at the Café Royal. My compliments are offered to the chef, and indeed every member of staff I encountered whilst there. One of the waiters in particular was very attentive and brought us extra hot water and milk without having to be asked. Suspect my mum fancied him a bit.
Café Royal is one of my very favourites for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, but now I know they do afternoon tea too I might as well just move in. Definitely one to go back to. If only so my mum can coo over the staff again.
Check out the Café Royal website and make sure you pop in on your next trip to town for some afternoon delights. More of Sarah’s musings can be found over at www.sarahbosson.com and if you’d like to request that she reviews your venue, you can email her directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.