At Edinburgh Foody, we’ve been impressed by the Heritage Collection’s food at Modern Two and Portrait Café for some time. We’ve followed their work with the Signet Library too and afternoon tea there is an August tradition. So we were delighted to be invited to afternoon tea and a gin tasting at Colonnades, the new venue at the Signet Library, last week.
Gin is always a good way to start
The library, always an elegant space, has had a make-over. There are new carpets, sparkling new silver ware and new tables, some using ornate columns originally part of the library’s heating system as pedestals. They’ve kept the mirrored table tops that gave the space glamour, and the light colours that suited it so well.
The library is owned by the WS Society, an association of Scottish solicitors, and one of the oldest professional organisations in the world. The members, Writers of the Signet, were originally responsible for documents that were sealed with the royal seal, or signet. The association’s symbol, the signet itself, and the letters WS appears not only on the carpets but also on the new silverware. The Signet Library is still a functioning library and the use of the association’s symbols is a nice way to remind us of its history.
Before sitting down at our own shiny table, we tasted gin. Heritage Portfolio has worked with Edinburgh Gin to create gins infused with teas. They are a gentle reminder of the teas they are named for. Tonic brought out the citrus in Earl Grey while the spices in Chai Spice was most obvious in the neat dram. The gin made with the WS own signature blend was delicate and fresh. The in-house mixologist, Craig Bonner, will use this as a foundation for new cocktail creations.
After nosing and tasting gin, and catching up with friends in the foody community, we were ready for afternoon tea. I refreshed my palate with a glass of prosecco, one of several types of fizz available to put a bit of sparkle into your experience. To whet our appetites, we were offered choux puffs filled with cheese cream. A very nice amuse bouche.
The first course, so to speak, was savouries.
Mini Aberdeen Angus burgers in brioche buns were fun and tasty. I enjoyed the smoked apple wood cheese tartlets with their crisp pastry and gentle celery crunch. Not everyone likes celery – I do! – but its presence here was subtle, not overbearing. The tomato and plum chutney added a sweet note. A tiny prawn cocktail with coriander and mango salsa was cute, crunchy and crisp, with a pleasant taste of the sea.
The middle tier contains a lovely goats cheese mousse in a cucumber cup, gin-infused salmon bound to an oatcake with a deliciously dill-flavoured cream cheese. The mini mozarella, tomato and basil spear was also lovely.
On the sandwich tray were traditional egg and cress on white bread, topped with half a quail egg and caviar, and Scottish ham on brown bread. Ham isn’t my favourite thing, but the mustard mayo stopped it from being dry and an asparagus spear added contrast.
Enter the sweets
Afternoon tea isn’t all about the sweets, but they are very important. The stand we were brought elicited an admiring ‘oh!’ from me. It looked impressive: a vide range of pretty delicacies.
This time we started at the bottom, with the scones, and worked our way up. Plump, fluffy plain and fruit scones with lashings of clotted cream and strawberry and Champagne jam is really a very nice way to start the sweet proceedings. It was gorgeous.
I enjoyed the passion fruit and mango éclair. The flavour was fresh and punchy – mango so easily disappears.
I got very excited about the rhubarb fool because rhubarb is one of my favourite things and something I don’t eat nearly as much of as I should. The fool was lusciously smooth, beautifully tangy and came topped with compote and a dehydrated rhubarb wafer. I sincerely hope someone decides to start selling dehydrated rhubarb wafers by the 50 grams. A better snack I couldn’t imagine. The entire sweet was perfect.
And talking of perfect things, let me move on to the Belgian chocolate and sea salted caramel tart. It’s better than it sounds, and I know that to a lot of people that sounds amazingly good. While a fan of chocolate, I’m not a devotee, so I can normally take it or leave it. This tart, I cannot leave: it was wonderful, the balance of flavours just right, the pastry crisp and flaky, the caramel properly oozy and the chocolate full of dark chocolate notes. This is probably the best chocolate tart I’ve ever had.
The lemon meringue tart was also flawless. I loved the sweet meringue and the tart lemon filling. It’s difficult to keep a demure, lady-like face and not bop up and down on the chair in glee when so many of yur favourite things are placed in front of you on one place. Especially when they are executed perfectly.
The mille feuille with cream and strawberries was great. The crisp pastry sheets are perfect vehicles for fresh, summery strawberries and there’s nothing like cream to bring it all together.
The final temptation was a square of blood orange jelly (made with agar agar) which delivered a concentrated blood-orange flavour which cleansed the palate and was a very satisfying end to a cake stand that was even more impressive in the eating than it looked at first sight.
When Matthew Oates, the pastry chef, came to our table to say hello, I was almost too full and too awed with his skill to speak. An espresso woke me up from a pleasant cake-induced delirium and ended a very special evening.
Colonnades opens its doors to the public on June 4th. For June and July, they are running an introductory offer: afternoon tea for two (without champagne) for £50. Quote LE29250 when booking.
Colonnades opens at 9 am for breakfast and also offers lunch. Afternoon tea can be booked from Noon onwards.
Telephone: 0131 226 1064