In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different. The words of the legendary Coco Chanel must have been firmly fixed in the creative mind of The Westbury’s pastry chef Ray Encarnacion in designing The Art of Millinery Afternoon Tea, I thought to myself ascending the grand staircase and clapping eyes on his inspiration.
Five exquisite headpieces capture your attention immediately, and a lobby which is the epitome of glamour at the best of times becomes almost like a catwalk. As an icon of Dublin style, drawing fashionistas and beautiful people in on a daily basis, The Westbury is the natural home of a high tea ritual honouring the immense talents of the Council of Irish Fashion Designers.
With heels tinkering on the finest marble and shimmering chandeliers leading the way to our window-side table in the Gallery, the inimitable glow of Grafton Street in the autumn sunshine set the scene for afternoon tea in one of the city’s most iconic settings.
Settling in and soaking up the buzzy ambiance of a full house, the ever so comforting background music of Champagne corks popping and flutes clinking made it feel like a celebratory Sunday. Tiffany blue bespoke China had me feeling Golightly-esque, but more pearls of Coco’s wisdom would spring to mind many times throughout the afternoon.
The best things in life are free. The second-best are very expensive. The Art of Millinery experience can fall into the latter bracket if you decide to splurge on a Dom Perignon pairing for €80 a head, but there is also the option of adding Perrier Jouet Champagne for €59 each and you can, of course, forego bubbles in favour of tea for €47.
We opted for a glass of Brut and Rosé for contrast and although I am one of the few Millennials who isn’t enamored with the pink stuff, it turned out to be a better match for the tower of treats which arrived before us, both overwhelming and utterly inviting all at the same time. But first, tea.
I’ve scarcely seen a more elaborate tea selection and was pleased to be offered guidance on the best match for each tier by our extremely helpful and knowledgeable waiter. Taking his advice and starting with black, I can never bypass the creme de la creme of teas – Ronnenfedlt Irish Whiskey Creme – and its honeyed vanilla notes always hit the spot.
Across the table, a pot of Jasmine Pearl brews for several minutes before unleashing a flurry of aromatic florals upon pouring, much to the delight of my tea connoisseur companion. As someone who is Coffey by name and coffee by nature, I was delighted to see a range of caffeine hits included in the price, and a frothy almond cappuccino was the perfect foil for a buttery Madeleine.
As Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance, the selection of savoury bites and nicely sized, well-risen scones was understated and refined. A hat tip to the classics comes in the form of Egg Mayonnaise on milk pan and a malted loaf baked Limerick ham finger sandwich with punchy sundried tomato relish which was rather more-ish indeed.
The cucumber sandwich is given a makeover, with a quenelle of Fresh Crabmeat and Smoked Salmon laced with a tart lemon aioli sitting atop thinly sliced brown soda bread. By far the standout of the savouries, a plump and subtly sweet brioche bun overflows with tender cuts of Roasted Chicken tossed in a deliciously earthy truffle mayo – they had me at truffle and this was an indulgent offer I couldn’t refuse.
Unleashing my sweet tooth at last, a sour cherry filled chocolate pearl cracks perfectly under the weight of my dainty pastry fork, oozing on to a devilishly dark single origin Madifloro Chocolate Tartlet. An homage to a rustic Aran Davina Lynch creation topped with partridge feathers, this delight had many feathers to its bow indeed and would tickle every dedicated chocolate fiend’s fancy.
Being the proud owner of my own collection of headpieces, I couldn’t help but swoon over the pill-box style, Wedgewood blue Wendy Louise creation I would love to don myself, and its Cheesecake counterpart held up its side of the bargain in the flavour stakes.
More of a cloud-light mousse than cheesecake was encased in explosively flavoursome dehydrated blueberry spray, which mirrored the powder blue hue of the piece. A buttery sablé breton base unfortunately couldn’t quite cope with its showstopping topping so this was greedily devoured with a spoon.
If the kaleidoscopic éclairs of Fauchon have taught us anything, it is that choux is a deserved holder of the title of most elegant pastry. In this instance, a well puffed Profiterole cradled a deliciously autumnal filling of pear creme patissiére. An even more beautiful sight than the stunning Aoife Kirwan headpiece it embodies – this was seasonal choux couture and I may have commandeered both for myself, unapologeticaly.
An elegant chocolate pearl here, a ganache-coated and cocoa dusted almond there (I would eat these by the bagful), the team at The Westbury have clearly heeded Madam Chanel’s advice on accessorizing – before you walk out the door, take one thing off – in crafting masterpiece creations.
A third chocolate-based temptation came in the form of a tempered cup filled with a poached apple spiked Caramel Ganache which had been whipped to airy espuma-like consistency. Based on a Lady Gaga style cloak designed by Margaret O’Connor, this dessert echoed the dramatic piece with the flavours of all hallow’s eve married seamlessly.
Finally, a truly accurate reflection of Leonora Ferguson’s yellow silk and wire lace piece, a golden shot was the last to take to the stage. Like the last rays of summer in a glass, a delicate web of spun sugar sat atop Coconut Clotted Cream infused with an exotic Bacardi rum gel – paradise found for lovers of coconut like myself and just sharp and bright enough with hints of pineapple to cleanse the palate after our fashion-forward feast.
To finish as we began, Coco advised that some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity. I take my hat off to the Westbury and their talented pastry team, who have managed to create patisserie which is visually stunning without reliance on the smoke and mirrors of food colouring, fondant and overly elaborate sugar craft and as much consideration and pain-staking attention to detail as a talented milliner would employ.
There is nothing vulgar or garish about the intricate creations served in one of Dublin’s most magnificent settings, they echo the elegance of their surroundings and the timeless luxury of the Westbury itself perfectly. Doing justice to their millinery muses both in presentation and flavour execution, the Art of Millinery creations are are as pleasing to the palate as the eye with no substance sacrificed on the altar of style.
Lovers of fine food and fashion, take your front row seat for this must-have A/W afternoon tea.
2 Balfe Street
T: (01) 679 1122
Growing up with the name Darina, I was constantly asked if I could cook like my namesake. I am the only person to have contested both Masterchef and the Great Irish Bake Off and am passionate about discovering and creating delicious things – I can sometimes be caught in the act on TV3’s Six O’Clock Show. Working with TheTaste allows me to satisfy this craving and marries my food fascination with my love of writing and ranting.