A nice cup of tea. In our house, few traditions are quite as sacred.
After all, is there anything as restorative as a strong brew served in a tactile mug, and enjoyed in good company?
I pondered the power of a good ‘cuppa char’ as we drove towards Edinburgh’s Prestonfield House, an unapologetically luxurious five-star hotel with a white exterior, to sample their new Autumn Harvest Afternoon Tea. Little did we know that it would be an experience that exceeded all expectations, satisfying both my cravings and those of my plus one – a self-confessed tea addict.
The entrance of Prestonfield alone would not have looked out of place in one of J. K. Rowling’s magical yarns. Harvest displays covered every inch of the hallway, with gourds of all shapes and sizes placed perfectly alongside seasonal flowers. Historic portraits observed each guest that stepped over the threshold. I half expected one to ask me for a secret password before continuing up the stairs.
If only these walls could speak, I thought, as we made our way through the Tapestry Room, where guests were enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon in splendid surrounds. History oozed from every nook and crannie. From the intricate tapestries and Chinoiserie lacquer cabinets, to the highly decorated ceilings, this building – which was built by Kings architect Sir William Bruce in 1687 – certainly had a story tell.
Ellie, our attentive server, led us to The Leather Room, an intimate living room space which was originally the state bedchamber. The warmth of a log fire kissed our cheeks as we sat down on a sumptuous sofa, finding ourselves enveloped by walls which were panelled with 17th-century leather from Cordoba. It was theatrical. It was otherworldly. It was a room made for historic celebrations.
Like kids in a sweet shop, our eyes widened as they met the menu. Keen to live out my own Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dream, I ordered the Scottish Fudge Black Tea which promised ‘an enticing sweet aroma of toast and caramel with the strong authentic taste of creamy fudge’. My plus one, meanwhile, opted for the rather more sophisticated ‘Champagne of teas’, the First Flush Darjeeling. Sadly, we were both driving so couldn’t enjoy the Champagne on offer (a glass of Billecart, Salmon Brut Réserve, available for a supplementary £15pp). We swiftly agreed that next time we would order a taxi.
After a few sips our delicious tea, Ellie had brought through a spectacular Afternoon Tea. It was an autumnal feast for the eyes. Flashes of red and orange drew my attention to some particularly beautiful sweet treats sitting on the top deck…
But first, to the savouries. We began with a savoury pumpkin cheesecake and roast onion royal, with crystallised fig. The spices were punchy, and I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Paul Hollywood smacking his lips, delighting in the strength of flavour. Nutmeg and cinnamon married magnificently with the mellow sweetness of fig.
To follow? A crowd-pleasing haggis croquette which was served warm. To this day, I’ve not met anyone who dislikes a haggis croquette. Happily, I can report that not a morsel of ours was left untouched. Restaurant manager, Cameron Ross, popped his head around the corner to ensure we had everything we needed. We certainly did. In fact, we were being spoiled rotten.
It was time to turn our attention to the sandwich layer, where not a cucumber slice was to be seen. First up was a deliciously salty pulled Ayrshire ham, Arran mustard mayonnaise and apple chutney sandwich which was easily my favourite. The beetroot cured trout gravadlax with horseradish cream, orange relish and organic sunflower seeded open sandwich was wholesome and earthy, while their unique take on peanut butter and jelly – a cauliflower satay and pumpkin jam sandwich – was a beautiful balance of sweet and savoury, crunchy and smooth. Last up was a tangy whipped Applewood smoked cheddar and marinaded Monkton Garden tomato open sandwich which will no doubt be a favourite among turophiles.
Sitting pretty on the next layer were four scones – two plain and two fruit. All of them had been baked to perfection, and sprinkled with a generous helping of brown sugar, giving them delicious bite. But easily the most impressive part of the Afternoon Tea was the top layer of cakes. The standout for us both was the caramel apple. The work that had gone into creating this delicate sweet was, in itself, a remarkable feat. An optical illusion, the two small ‘apples’ could have fallen straight from a tree. Inside, however, was a smooth, moreish mousse with a thin biscuit base.
A maple and pecan choux – which featured a delicate lattice maple leaf on top – instantly took me back to happy memories of Canadian autumns, while the carrot cake and citrus mascarpone packed another punch of October spice. Though we were nearly defeated, the final treat – a clementine and chocolate tart with piped chocolate through its centre – was a masterclass in pastry work.
Had I known that the perfect Afternoon Tea was served just five minutes from the centre of Edinburgh, I’d have frequented this beautiful venue long before now. It was an opulent, theatrical experience and a culinary triumph. I can say with absolute certainty that, henceforth, my home-brewed builder’s tea will never quite cut the mustard by comparison.
Prestonfield’s Autumn Harvest Afternoon Tea is served from 12 – 6.45pm from Sunday to Thursday, and 12 – 4pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Prices start from £50pp, or upgrade to Champagne Afternoon Tea at £65pp.
For more information, please click here.