Leeds is a brash and confident northern English city reaping the benefits of a decade of redevelopment. The milling town was once on its knees but now boasts a modern skyline dominated by glass and steel towers. Down-town Leeds is a shopaholic’s paradise – known around England as the “Knightsbridge of the North” – and the streets are filled with retail temptations of all descriptions. After shopping to your heart’s content, the city offers a wide range of clubs, pubs and cafés to take the edge off. There many new eateries boasting fine contemporary cuisine in keeping with the city’s reputation for cutting-edge couture. Despite the overwhelmingly modern flavour to the food scene in Leeds, a handful of venues faithfully preserve the time-honoured British tradition of afternoon tea.
If you nurture any fantasies about being a Downton Abbey-esque lady who does tea, then head to Oulton Hall, a 20 minute drive outside of Leeds. The only five star hotel in Yorkshire, Oulton Hall is the epitome of understated luxury and contemporary style in a beautifully restored mid-18th century mansion with gorgeous gardens, imposing statues, a golf course and a spa. Their Yorkshire Afternoon Tea is a stately affair served by a butler in the drawing room. There is nothing stuffy or old about the drawing room, tastefully decorated in soft shades of blue, grey, lilac and brown with contemporary furnishings offset by wood panelling. The approachable head butler supervises a stealthy army of immaculate waiters who set the tables with silver tea sets and pretty plates ready to receive the food brought on tall silver stands . There is a good selection of teas (or Moët and Chandon champagne ) to go with the rhubarb-studded house scones, an army of neat sandwiches and a nice selection of pastries and traditional Yorkshire tea loaf served with Wensleydale cheese. If the weather is good, you can take tea on the terrace, and a walk around the grounds is highly recommended.
The Mansion Garden Room
The Mansion has a prime setting in a tree lined drive at the edge of Roundhay Park and their Garden Room Café looks out over 700 acres of landscaped garden. Dating back to early 1800s the grade II listed building has a handsome portico façade and a sweeping staircase. Recently redecorated, the Garden Room is a golden haven of light and luxury that makes you want something bubbly in your glass. Mixing clean lines, polished glass and luxurious fabrics in green and brown with period details, the décor hits just the right note between period style and modern finesse. The award winning chefs have designed an afternoon tea menu (available with a glass of Le Dolci Colline prosecco) that favours fresh local ingredients. Their attention to detail can be tasted, for instance, in the free range egg mayonnaise sandwiches that are lifted by chives and crisp baby gem leaves. Light and crumbly fruit scones come with clotted cream and Bracken Hill strawberry jam and the cake selection is a heavenly ensemble of dainty delights.
For a decadent afternoon tea in an elegant setting, Woodlands – a luxury boutique hotel with lovely landscaped grounds on the outskirts of Leeds city centre – is a very good choice. Subtle luxury, modern lines, neutral colours and old-world charm are the hallmarks of Woodlands, just three miles from Leeds city centre. The building was constructed for a local textile mill owner in 1871 but has now been restored with contemporary décor, combining minimalism with vintage romance, which makes it a popular spot for weddings. The restaurant, overlooking the rolling lawns, specialises in modern British food with a preference for local and seasonal ingredients. Afternoon tea is served with a choice of Indian, Chinese and Yorkshire teas or coffee, with prosecco and liqueur coffee on offer as well. Finger sandwiches (egg and chive, cheese and chutney, ham with mustard and smoked Scottish salmon with lemon mayonnaise) are served on white and brown bloomer bread. The scones are warm, fluffy and served with Chantilly cream and strawberry jam, and a mini-cake selection includes a carrot and walnut cake alongside seasonal fruit tarts.
Harvey Nichols Café and Bar
Harvey Nichols Café and Bar is a much-loved Leeds venue that recently celebrated its 17th year as a leading destination for hungry city shoppers. With spectacular views over the city’s rooftops, the fourth floor Café and Bar is the best venue for an indulgent afternoon tea for anyone shopping in the historic Victoria Quarter. The iconic café has been given a stylish makeover to reflect the trends in the shop floors below. The new design makes the most of the strange ceiling with multicoloured lights piercing through it. The blue neon look is completed with distinctive blue leather seats, metallic highlights and dramatic mirrors. Head Chef Head Chef Lee Heptinstall is another champion of seasonal ingredients and his afternoon tea menu can be savoured with a decadent glass of champagne or traditional hot tea . The menu includes a selection of tasty finger sandwiches and a scone with preserves and clotted cream. The array of dainty cakes and mini desserts includes the likes of lemon meringue pie, orange drizzle cake and chocolate brownies to name just a few.
The Queens Hotel
The most iconic and traditional venue for afternoon tea in Leeds is the Queens Hotel in the city centre. The 1930’s Art-Deco hotel has a prime spot over-looking the city square, and although it has seen better days, it still retains a pleasant air of faded glamour. The staff are incredibly helpful and their service alone makes afternoon tea a pleasurable way to while away an afternoon. Served in the bar where the décor is a striking combination of purple, yellow and black, the food is presented on on white linen covered tables. The bar is a cosy haven from the city outside and there is no pressure to rush as you make your choice of tea or coffee from the menu. All the fillings in the tasty sandwiches are sourced locally and the sultana scones, with raspberry jam and cream are beyond reproach. They favour tarts in their dessert selection and you can expect to end your tea at The Queens on a high note with a frangipane almond or fresh fruit and custard tart.