Last week, we were showing of Edinburgh to a friend who was thinking of coming here to study. We went all over town, had lots of good food, saw campuses galore and ate, ate, ate. To top off Saturday afternoon, we had afternoon tea at the Balmoral (just awarded UK Tea Award of Excellence 2001, one of only two in Scotland).
Afternoon tea at the Balmoral is a formal and correct affair, but a very pleasant one. It was my second visit for this particular ritual but it will not be my last.
The Palm Court at the Balmoral is a lovely space, all tall ceilings and grandeur, palms in all the corners and an enormous white glass chandelier. The walls are bedecked with elegant dark wood panels and Scottish colourists. In one end there’s a grand piano and a harp sits on a small balcony overlooking the room. Both are played regularly. It is soothing and faintly amusing since the tunes played are often classic rock or pop songs which are almost unrecognisable when transposed to an unexpected instrument and context.
The restaurant in the Palm Court used to be called the Bollinger Bar. It still has one large Bollinger engraved mirror, but recently the sponsorship has changed. I’m not sure that I think the Tanqueray #10 Bar has quite the same ring to it, even if it’s a very good gin. Luckily, they still offer champagne cocktails and champagne afternoon tea. It’s just what you need after a tiring day shopping or drinking coffee. (A quick look at the website shows that the name hasn’t changed. Hm. What’s the gin all about, then?)
Afternoon tea gives you your tea of choice – I enjoy the Famous Edinburgh – as well as sandwiches, scones and cakes. We had the full experience and started with a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvée, as fresh and bubbly with a definite hint of apple. Once we had chatted leisurely and finished our champagne (much to my disappointment – I’m still looking for an ever-flowing glass), our tea was brought out.
The staff at Palm Court offer entertainment as part of the service. The pouring of tea is an art and a spectacle that adds to the pleasant anticipation of goodies to come. And the goodies are good. The snacks that go with the tea come on a three-tiered cage stand, starting with savoury at the bottom and going increasingly sweet towards the top.
The sandwich selection is traditional and tasty: tender fingers of beef and horse radish, salmon and cucumber, egg mayo, brie and grapes on a selection on white and brown breads. There’s a sprinkling of crisps on top of the sandwiches, which I thought was unnecessary. I’m not a fan of crisps and sandwiches. Sandwiches are good enough on their own.
The second layer offers delightful little scones, cinnamon, plain and fruit. The cinnamon scones are to die for and works incredibly well with dollops of clotted cream and strawberry jam.
The third and top layer of the afternoon tea cake stand of joy, harbours tasty morsels of cake. Blueberry cheese cake, blueberry almond tarts, a chocolate tiffin so rich that you’ll have problems eating anything after it, and what may be a Victoria sponge, if Victoria sponge was all about raspberries and cream, and not about sponge.
I have yet to complete an afternoon tea at the Balmoral. There is too much on the stand, too much on offer. Not so much that I want to ask for a doggy bag (which I have seen people do) but certainly enough that I don’t usually need dinner after. Just a good long nap. It’s wonderfully relaxing and very tasty.
At £23 for the standard and £37 if you want to start with a glass of Special Cuvée, afternoon tea at the Balmoral isn’t something you do every weekend. It is a lovely treat, though, and a very nice way to relax after a busy day. They do vouchers that make a very nice gift!*
Bollinger Bar at Palm Court, Balmoral Hotel
1 Princes Street
Edinburgh EH2 2EQ
Tel: 131 556 2414
* Thank you for the Christmas present, Corinne! It totally rocked.