If the words ‘afternoon tea’ conjure up soggy white bread egg or cucumber sandwiches and cup cakes (which we used to call fairy cakes) with lurid icing, sprinkles and silver balls that chip your teeth, then think again. To be honest this is more or less what I thought I’d be in for. So we went for our afternoon tea yesterday with little idea of what to expect. Luckily, though, we had the sense to forego lunch beforehand.
For us, afternoon tea has rarely figured in days out but, having been given a present of a voucher for this in the cafe of the Gallery of Modern Art Two in Edinburgh (run by Heritage Portfolio), we set out to enjoy our cucumber and sprinkles. Surprise number one was when we discovered we could have a large cup of coffee instead of our choice of a selection of teas. From there on our preconceptions rapidly disappeared
The surroundings too were interesting to take in as we settled ourselves then munched our way through the offerings placed before us. The atmosphere is slightly Victorian tearoom – well, it is a sandstone Victorian building in a Baroque style, built originally as an orphanage. Attracting our attention was a frieze of photographic prints from the gallery collection – the Paolozzi family, Eduardo being a highly regarded sculptor and artist; one or two with Picasso; a gathering of Surrealist painters; and a number with Gabrielle Keillor and Roland Penrose. The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art owns a world-class collection of surrealist art, its collection of rare illustrated books, catalogues, and other ephemera by surrealist artists being one of the best in the world as the gallery acquired part of the Roland Penrose Collection and Archive, and a significant bequest by Gabrielle Keiller.
Hot on the appearance of our coffee came a slate platter with cups filled with the soup of the day (watercress and courgette – delicious), dainty cheese scones with chilli jam and goats cheese, and three different types of brown bread sandwiches – salmon and lemon crème fraiche, ham and wholegrain mustard, and brie with peperonata and spinach. All delighted our tastebuds with their variety of flavours. This was no traditional afternoon tea, but a refreshingly modern take on the old favourite. Everything was made freshly for us – the description being ‘scratch kitchen’ (the reason afternoon tea has to be booked beforehand) with everything cooked, baked or assembled made from scratch. Fresh and seasonal produce are used where possible.
The slate platter cleared, a cake stand made an appearance with an array of goodies that had me wondering how we were expected to munch our way through the contents of its three tiers. A tour around came up with mini fruit scones with cream and berry jam, cherry bakewell, caramel shortbread, apple and berry crumble, lemon posset, and orange macaroon . My waistband was under strain at the glorious sight of it all.
The scones seemed a good place to start. No butter but berry jam (strong flavour of cherry with a delightful hint of tartness) and thick cream. That went down well.
The cherry bakwell was what took my eye next – adored the cherry and almond flavour, followed by the orange macaroon, then the apple and berry crumble.
The caramel shortbread I left on the cake stand, looking decidedly lonely by this time, as I tucked into the lemon posset and finished off with the slight tartness of the physalis whose skirt of leaves looked rather artistic against the remains of berry jam on my plate.
Feeling well satisfied by now, and in my mind thanking daughter for an afternoon with a difference, and such a lovely afternoon tea – a memorable pre-Easter treat.
So if you intend to be in or around Edinburgh and fancy giving yourself a wee treat, or can persuade a daughter, son or husband to treat you (or give you a café gift voucher), then head for the Gallery of Modern Art Two, sit back and be tempted. You won’t be sorry.
Have a great Easter, folks, whatever you decide to do.