At Edinburgh’s major hotels, afternoon tea gives us all the chance to experience a window into the high life without paying for a suite – or splashing out on a Michelin-starred tasting menu with wine flight. Elsewhere the city enhances the afternoon tea experience with late-Georgian architecture, innuendo and speciality brews. You thought it was all about sandwiches and scones? Pffft.
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The Signet Library is a gorgeous space – dating to 1822 –within the even older Parliament House just off the Royal Mile. It’s used as an events venue but the lower part of the library is home to Colonnades, a tea salon launched in June 2015. Cake, sandwich and scone standards are sky high; the surroundings are effortlessly grand. If George IV was at the next table, you wouldn’t be surprised.
Eteaket is a 21st century take on a classic tearoom; the speciality here is the tea menu. This offers dozens of varieties – some classic like Silver Needle white tea, some gimmicky like spicy chilli rooibos. The afternoon tea ritual comes with sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and mini-cakes but Eteaket really affords the opportunity to educate your palate with something other than Tetley and a dash of semi-skimmed.
This is a classy New Town hotel, comprising three late-Georgian period townhouses, and the service standards are precisely what you would expect in such elevated surroundings. You don’t have to be resident to enjoy its afternoon tea however, served by hotel butlers. The clotted cream is from Devon, cakes are assorted, sandwiches are select. ‘And a wee glass of Maillart premier cru, madam?’
This is the saucy one – on the walls it has line drawings of topless ladies with aprons, girdles and naughty things to pop in your mouth. Decoratively, it’s another modern interpretation of an old-school tearoom; afternoon tea sees assorted delights arrive on a handsome, three-tier stand. The choice of tea is decent although there’s an austerity to Mao Feng green that seems anomalous with jammy scones. Best stick with Darjeeling Earl Grey.
Ask anyone in Edinburgh, ‘Where should we go for posh afternoon tea?’ and this is the answer. The Balmoral is the iconic hotel with the clock tower; its Palm Court is your destination. Décor is lush, there’s an amuse bouche before you even get into the sandwiches, and the overall experience means the bill is not begrudged. Yes those are potted palms; yes that’s a harpist on the balcony.
Edinburgh’s old Hilton Caledonian benefited from a refurbishment not too long ago bringing a new name – and a new look to parts of the interior. Peacock Alley is its spacious lobby lounge with the Waldorf Astoria’s signature peacock motif featuring in the decoration. Order the beautifully presented afternoon tea and you get inventive sandwiches, assorted scones and clever pastries, while a pianist tinkles gently in the background.