I love a bit of pomp and ceremony so I have always enjoyed the rituals associated with afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is about so much more than the food and beverages that are served. The setting and surroundings are also important and I have found that the very best examples have allowed me to escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life for a few hours and are a relaxing interlude in what is an otherwise busy and often hectic life.
If I’m being completely honest, I have begun to feel that there is something a little bit ‘samey’ about the afternoon teas that I have experienced recently. In one respect, this is understandable as most afternoon teas work to the same template; a selection of sandwiches followed by an assortment of sweet treats and scones with clotted cream and preserves. All served with tea… LOTS of tea! Perhaps I am suffering from afternoon tea fatigue but really what I am looking for is something that stops me in my tracks and makes me go ‘wow’.
Mount Juliet Estate located in Thomastown, County Kilkenny recently launched a new Spring Afternoon Tea and I went along with a number of other invited guests to check it out. During our visit we were given an exclusive tour of the property and were shown some of the newly refurbished and extremely comfortable bedroom suites before sitting down to enjoy the afternoon tea in one of the Manor House’s luxurious drawing rooms.
The afternoon tea was developed by Head Chef Ken Harker of the estate’s Michelin starred fine dining restaurant, The Lady Helen and included a wonderful selection of delicious homemade pastries, sandwiches and scones. I could feel my enthusiasm for afternoon tea being reawakened as I sipped my Assam Tea from an elegant china tea cup and nibbled on the delicious sandwiches which were on one of the three tiers of the beautiful cake stand.
Ken explained that he deliberately decided to ‘keep it simple’ with the sandwiches but his passion for using the highest quality produce was evident in each one that we ate. I particularly liked the Ham Sandwich which was served with a tangy relish on some Waterford Blaa, a bread which was awarded a Protected Designation of Origin by the European Commission in 2013. The sandwich used some of the best ham that I have tasted in a long time and was a joy to eat.
An open Smoked Salmon & Cucumber Sandwich was also superb and had been made using a generous amount of organic salmon which was locally smoked and supplied by Duncannon Smokehouse. I also liked the mature cheese used in the Cheese & Tomato Sandwich which was served on a soda bread which had been made in-house. The sandwiches successfully showcased the excellent local produce that had been used to create them and although they seemed simple were each packed full of flavour.
Further treats were in store as we moved on to the attractively presented and skillfully made selection of pastries. I loved every single one of them but was particularly taken with the Macaron which had been constructed to look like a mini-burger. Filled with a chocolate truffle ‘burger’, custard ‘cheese’, basil ‘lettuce and some strawberry jam ‘ketchup’ this was a playful interpretation of a classic macaron which made me giggle with delight when I first laid eyes on it.
The rest of the pastries were in keeping with this whimsical theme and included an outstanding and intricate mini Opera Gateau, a Raspberry ‘Dome’ Tart filled with pastry cream on a crisp sponge base and some rather quaint looking Pistachio Religieuses. Religieuses are a French pastry made with two small choux pastry balls, one larger than the other filled with a flavoured pastry cream (in this instance pistachio). They are then joined together with some more piped pastry cream and are said to resemble nuns. This version was incredibly tasty.
The playfulness continued with a Rice Krispie topped Lemon Madeira Cake and a bottle of Fruit Cordial to which prosecco had been added to create some fizz. This, we drank through a straw.
The afternoon tea finished with some Fresh Buttermilk Scones which were served still warm from the oven. I topped mine with a large blob of clotted cream and some jam which had been made using fruit grown in the estate’s walled garden. The scone was light and fluffy and packed full of plump sultanas.
I loved the Spring afternoon tea at Mount Juliet and in my opinion Ken Harker has created something that is not only great fun but is also thoroughly delicious. I loved everything about it. Priced at €22 per person, the afternoon tea represents unbelievable value for the quality of food that is on offer. It is served Monday to Sunday in a variety of reception areas in the Manor House including the Morning Room and Major’s Bar which is named after Major-General Sir Hugh McAlmont and Major Dermot McAlmont who at one time, both lived at Mount Juliet.
As I left Mount Juliet Estate after a memorable afternoon, I realised that I had rediscovered my love for afternoon tea and can’t wait to return again. I would recommend it without hesitation.
Niamh believes Ireland produces some of the best food in the world, and travels around the country; seeking out the best food producers, and places to eat.
An accomplished cook and baker, Niamh is also a previous MasterChef Ireland finalist. During the competition she had the opportunity to cook in some of Ireland’s top restaurants and experience life on the other side of the kitchen pass.
Working with TheTaste allows Niamh to write about her experiences and to share her passion for food and cooking with a wide audience.
Visit Niamh’s blog The Game Bird Food Chronicles.