Driving through the postcard-perfect village of Enniskerry on the first sunny day of Irish Spring, it was hard not to pull over and marvel at just how picturesque our little country is. Entering Powerscourt Estate, a long and winding road beckons you to park up and gaze upon the majestic Sugar Loaf Mountain, rising from the rolling green glens like a cone volcano from Lord of the Rings.
As Irish hotels go, Powerscourt Hotel has long been my precious and the Palladian splendour has always proven itself worthy of the drive from Dublin. Having experienced every other aspect of Powerscourt’s offering, from many magnificent meals in Sika Restaurant to the joy of awaking to it’s stunning surroundings, Afternoon Tea in the Sugar Loaf Lounge was the final frontier for me and the perfect way to take in the unrivaled views on such a glorious day.
With floor to ceiling windows spanning two floors, the Sugar Loaf Lounge is dotted with mahogany furnishings, plush carpets and ornate golden chandeliers – an ambiance of sheer luxury. To begin, a slender flute of Ayala Champagne perfectly toasted my birds-eye view of the sprawling glen. Ayala is Bollinger’s little sister, a low dosage Champagne which to my mind totally compensates for the sugary indulgence of Afternoon Tea. With Ayala, Afternoon Tea at Powerscourt is offered for €52 per person, or €39 without.
With my gold-plated Wedgwood china tea cup pleasingly filled with aromatic African Solstice rooibos tea, filling the air with hints of vanilla, I was presented with a tower housing what I must note was a very impressive savoury offering indeed. A selection of four creative and inviting sandwiches epitomised Powerscourt – unapologetic grandeur and extravagance, classic in conception with contemporary execution. For the first time in an Afternoon Tea ritual, my mind wasn’t entirely preoccupied with dessert.
Anything even mildly evocative of the festive season makes me smile, so I was immediately drawn to a glistening brioche bun filled to the brim with smoked turkey, generously coated in rich cranberry mayonnaise. Smokiness immediately elevated this moreish bite and played beautifully with brioche’s inherent sweetness and the subtle nod to the pairing in the mayo. Delicious – no more, no less.
It was refreshing to see a veggie option that doesn’t rely on the staples of egg or cheese, with roasted butternut squash, kale and pistachio pesto, on a delicate house made croissant which flaked at the mere suggestion of a knife. Conducive to eating elegantly? No. Worth the flakey mess? Yes. Not every five star establishment crafts their own croissants, so these mini beauties are a real treat and a welcome break from the crustless white bread often doled out for Afternoon Tea.
Next, malty rich Guinness bread was topped with lightly smoked salmon – an ode to classic Irish flavours, brought up to date with creamy whipped avocado dotted on top. A seriously indulgent slice I heartily enjoyed, it is hard to see how traditional salmon and cream cheese on white could compete with this update.
Finally, hearty seeded Powerscourt loaf flanked red onion marmalade coated roast beef. This place clearly has an aversion to the dry finger sandwiches of old as there is not an anaemic, limp slice of roast beef in sight but instead ample cuts maintaining tenderness. Radish shavings added a pop of colour and freshness, less overwhelming than traditional horseradish, allowing the filling itself to do the talking.
These are sandwiches you actually would order and wholly enjoy – can anyone say that about a cucumber sandwich? While afternoon tea traditionally was a tide you over meal, Powerscourt’s is a knock you over one, in terms of flavour and setting.
Scones, both dried cranberry studded and plain, were beautifully short and flakey, served with Wicklow jam from nearby Kilmacanogue. I was pleased to see my favourite, clotted cream, as well as a ramekin of sunshine yellow lemon curd presented along side. This zesty number perfectly cut through the butteriness of both the scone and the sizable dollop of clotted cream I am known to slather on top.
I loved the size of the scones, which are too often bulbous and overwhelming, a more petite version is more consistently baked and allows for extra thick application of your vice of choice, be it clotted cream or fine butter. Powerscourt’s butter of choice is Meggle, a grass-fed Alpine treat with subtle sweetness and nutty notes, mascarpone-like in texture – noteworthy enough to ask after.
A final twist in the classic meets contemporary high tea at Powerscourt, is a choice of two desserts which are brought after the savoury formalities. This is genius, in my opinion. Far from curtailing the offering, it allows for more carefully crafted sweet treats with the guest receiving exactly what they would like. No one really wants four pre-ordained mini desserts, at Powerscourt you are asked to choose the ones that excite you and enjoy them wholeheartedly.
This also allows for anticipation, delayed gratification and a second wave of delight that comes from the arrival of food! Finally, each of the five desserts on offer were quite ravishing, so not having to stare longingly at them for the entire meal was probably a good thing. A choice of Mango Bavarian Cream Cake, Apricot and Chocolate Gateaux, Autumn Fruit Panancotta, Caramel Mousse and Giant Blueberry Macaron lay before me. At Powerscourt, expect stunning patisserie, not stodgy cakes. Not every Afternoon Tea can claim this victory.
My first choice, Caramel Mousse, presented on a gold palette revealed itself to be an aerated cloud-like cocoa scented outer layer with a caramel mousse centre, sitting on a wafer thin salted butter shortbread. I issued a demolition order on this patisserie delight – layers of luscious mousse with incredible lightness and the perfect saline foil. A gold star for this trillionaire’s shortcake-like wonder.
Finally, a smurf-like, playful Blueberry Giant Macaron was welcomely light in contrast to the bold caramel companion. Filled generously with creme chantilly and a pop of fresh blueberry, the bright flavours of this flamboyant delicacy complimented the sun-soaked afternoon entirely, bringing the feast to a close.
Funnily enough, Powerscourt could easily coast by as an Afternoon Tea destination on the merits of it’s panoramic views alone. People will pay good money to sit and gaze upon the Sugar Loaf and Powerscourt could rest on their laurels safe in this knowledge. This is defiantly not the case here, with a truly unique Afternoon Tea experience on offer in terms of food, each element – savoury, scone and sweet – is a reflection of Powerscourt’s five star status. There is no sandwich for the sake of it and no stodgy cake merely employed to fill a space on a tower.
If you are wondering if you too should make the pilgrimage to Powerscourt, I would wholeheartedly recommend that you do so for a spot of Afternoon Tea. Perhaps on my next visit to the Garden of Ireland I shall scale the Sugar Loaf…but back in the land of reality, I would be tempted to once again conquer the sugar laden, whilst luxuriating in one of Ireland’s most scenic Afternoon Tea experiences. A word of warning if you do take my advice however…you won’t want to leave.
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Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. With that(and greed) as the ultimate motivator, I realised that baked goods make excellent bribes and an obsession was born! I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake off, fuelling my desire to focus on food in a serious way. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.