Birmingham is internationally known as a bright and warm city with some of the finest dining in England. “Brum” as it’s known to locals, is brimming with art and culture in cutting-edge developments that are breathing new life into the city’s industrial past. Once known as a place to get a good curry, Birmingham now has four Michelin-starred restaurants. There are many cool new eateries that specialise in gastronomic flair and casual elegance. The city’s reputation as a foodie haven was enhanced when named by the New York Times as one its top destinations to visit – based on the dining scene. For afternoon tea the best hotels and chic new establishments compete to offer the finest, most exclusive experience, alongside the best in old-fashioned luxury.
Hotel La Tour
Hotel La Tour is a small independent hotel in the heart of Birmingham that combines stylish modern design with an old-school approach to afternoon tea classics. Served in the opulent Alvar bar with its long copper and granite-topped bar, high backed velvet chairs, oversized lamps and glamour photos from the 50’s─ afternoon tea is a distinctive affair. Service is attentive and highly informative, and you get the feeling they want you to have the best experience possible. If you fancy a cocktail you can have champagne, prosecco or choose from their extensive cocktail list – the Earl Grey Bellini is a good choice to accompany the three tier tea menu. There’s no faulting the top level sandwiches but they pale in comparison to the Welsh Rarebit Dip (with croutons) that comes with them. The middle layer has warm scones with a choice of jams and the bottom layer is a delightful spread of sweet treats. Expect fresh versions of old classics, like a home-made jammy dodger, or a perfect piece of lemon cake. With so much to savour, this is an experience that stands out for ambience, presentation and taste.
Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar
Leave the children and the sneakers behind if you take tea at the futuristic new champagne bar on the 25th floor of the iconic Cube building. Afternoon tea is served daily in the Laurent Perrier Champagne Bar with champagne (of course) and wrap around views of the Birmingham skyline. The bar is decked out in chrome and padded leather – on the seating and walls – and is connected to Marco Pierre White’s steakhouse next door – as part of the vibrant, contemporary Indigo hotel chain. The champagne afternoon tea includes Laurent Perrier Brut or Rosé Brut to accompany the food menu designed by Marco Pierre White. The precise sandwiches are filled with all-English ingredients and the sultana scones are served warm with seasonal preserves. Marco’s daily cake selection follows traditional lines, with items like Bakewell tart and carrot cake. The tea menu is good, but the superb scones and the selfie-demanding view along with great service combine to ensure a great experience and a memorably indulgent afternoon tea.
Hotel du Vin
Hotel du Vin in Birmingham is the chain’s largest hotel and it oozes traditional charm. Located in an ornate Victorian red brick building that was once the Birmingham Eye Hospital, the hotel features a sweeping staircase and elegant granite pillars. A stylish afternoon tea is served in a lovely, softly-lit vintage-style lounge – located off the bar. The fireplaces and framed pictures give the experience a lovely romantic feel. You can choose a traditional spread or – perfect for a long afternoon with the girls – the G’nT which comes with a prohibition-style gin and tonic served in a tea cup. The sandwiches and scones, with clotted cream and strawberry jam are accompanied by a selection of bite-sized cakes. These may include petit fours, macaroons, chocolate brownies and lovely light madeleines. The service is charming and very accommodating if you have any special needs. The sofas and chairs are most comfortable, and the crisp, white table cloth, linen napkins, silver cutlery and pretty blue and white tea service, all lend an air of special occasion that is not let down by the food.
For a break from the city head out of Birmingham to the New Hall hotel and spa – just 20 minutes by car – for an exquisitely old-fashioned afternoon tea in glorious surroundings. New Hall is 800 years old and the four-star country house hotel is moated and surrounded by 26 acres of attractive grounds. With a days notice given, a traditional afternoon tea can be enjoyed in the grand drawing room where the dark wood panelled walls and elegant lounge furniture create a an elegant ambience of old world graciousness. In winter the lounge is warmed by a crackling fire and in summer it is filled with sunlight thanks to the high windows that command a great view of the grounds. Both the Royal (served with champagne) and the Traditional menus include a spectacular line-up of home-made treats, including classic finger sandwiches (filled with cucumber, smoked salmon etc.) freshly-baked scones with clotted cream and preserves, and a lovely array of special sweets that may include a lemon and lime meringue tartlet, blackcurrant macaroons or a tonka-infused chocolate mousse with your choice of freshly-brewed leaf tea or coffee. This is all served on the finest china by discreet staff with the effect of making you feel thoroughly spoiled.
Aria – Hyatt Regency
The glass exterior of the four-star Hyatt Regency in down town Birmingham makes it look like an office block but the interior is an airy haven of calm sophistication. The calm décor (neutral colours, white tiled floors, crystal chandeliers and the occasional tree) is bathed in natural light from the glass ceiling. Tea is served in Aria, at restaurant tables draped in white linen, by staff who are both efficient and charming. The Aria afternoon tea is served on elegant tiered stands laden with a selection of traditional British finger sandwiches and warm fruit and plain scones with lashings of strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. The sweet selection includes an ever-changing range of dainty French pastries, fruit tarts and cute desserts. Both the traditional and the champagne tea menus offer your choice from an impressive collection of Jing Teas with fanciful names like Flowering Dragon Eye and Jade Sword. Not to worry, Assam, Darjeeling, Earl Grey and a selection of coffees are also available.