What makes a really good afternoon tea? Is it the company you’re with? The surroundings? Is it a really good Earl Grey and a top class scone? For me it’s a combination of all of these things – and something else. You won’t find this ‘something else’ written on a menu, indeed I suspect there are no words to describe it. When an establishment gets all the elements of afternoon tea right: the room, the décor, the tea; they come together to create that something else – something magical and very very special. You will find all this at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin.
I had the pleasure of meeting up with two very good friends for afternoon tea in the Merrion Hotel just before Christmas. It wasn’t my first time there and it certainly won’t be my last. Afternoon tea starts with anticipation long before visiting an establishment, the thought of meeting old friends, the chat and the laughs in relaxing surroundings. On a cold winter’s afternoon we settled ourselves in front of an open fire and blissfully whiled away the hours in the Merrion Hotel. We kicked off with some bubbles but couldn’t resist the offer of some candied almond tea served with a candy cane – it was unusual but absolutely delicious.
Then it was time for the main event.
We started with the savouries – Oak Smoked Irish Salmon on Brown Bread; Cucumber, Cream Cheese and Chive on White Bread; Bridge Rolls with Egg Mayo and Cress and Rare Irish Roast Beef with Horseradish Cream on White Bread. A classic offering that was simply perfect, my favourite has to be the roast beef. You may think it’s impossible to get the classics wrong but believe me I have been to many establishments where the focus has been on the sweet with no regard to the savoury offering. The savoury plate sets the tone and is just as important as the sweet treats that follow.
And speaking of sweet…
There is nowhere in this land of ours that makes Battenberg as well as head pastry chef, Paul Kelly. It looks so incredibly delicate and elegant and tastes sublime. But I digress, firstly let me tell you about the Scones. Plain and fruit, both were served with clotted cream, lemon curd and raspberry jam on a tier with the aforementioned Battenberg, Carrot Cake, Porter Cake and Lemon Bread. Like the savouries, the scones are a classic and there’s no doubt that they can make or break an afternoon tea. The scones are yet another classic that the Merrion Hotel gets just right.
The final tier is where Paul Kelly really comes into his own. Renowned for his ‘Art Afternoon Tea’ where he takes classic paintings and recreates his version on a plate, the festive version was equally as thrilling. Mr. Kelly is a true artist. His work on that final tier elevates afternoon tea at the Merrion Hotel to a whole new level. In creating these works of art, he in no way compromises on taste and flavour – each bite is a delicious revelation. This afternoon tea takes you all the way from the tradition of perfectly executed classics to the cutting edge creativity of Ireland’s leading pastry chef. If you haven’t experienced afternoon tea at the Merrion Hotel, put it on your list for 2016. You won’t be disappointed.
The Merrion Hotel
Upper Merrion Street
T: 01 603 0600
Author of “Food from an Irish Garden”, Fiona Dillon lives with her husband and four children at Hunters Lodge in Co Carlow. Her recently published “Freddy Buttons” series of food adventure books for children (Orpen Press 2015) were written so that Fiona could share the food provenance message amongst young children. Her Freddy Buttons food-themed garden at Bloom 2015 won Fiona a silver medal.
One of Ireland’s best known food bloggers, Fiona documents her back to basics lifestyle through her blog www.fionadillon.com. She is also a feature writer for the Irish Farmers Journal’s Irish Country magazine. As Food Correspondent for KCLR96FM’s The Saturday Show, Fiona shares the latest food news from around the country with her Carlow/Kilkenny listeners. When she’s not busy giving talks on topics such as sustainable living or blogging, Fiona can be found tending to her honeybees or writing the next epic adventure for Freddy Buttons.