Witty, football crazy, home of the Beatles and a centre for British shipping. Liverpool is a city defined by well-worn clichés, but there is much more to her than that, especially when it comes to afternoon tea. Outside of London. there are more listed museums and art galleries in Liverpool than any other English city and that is just one indicator of a strong cultural heritage backed by recent urban regeneration programmes. For retail therapy, Liverpool is England’s top destination, and along with the great shopping, and trendy bars, comes a food scene that is contemporary, exciting, constantly evolving and able to hold its own with the best establishments in the UK.
The London Carriage Works
The Hope Street Hotel – named for the street at the centre of a super-cool Georgian quarter full of elegant eateries, playhouses and boutique spaces – is home to the multiple-award-winning The London Carriage Works (TWCW). This low key, highly acclaimed establishment puts its energy into execution and when it comes to afternoon tea, this means perfection. Having won praise and awards for their modern food utilising local, organic and seasonal ingredients, TWCW puts the same classy integrity into their thoughtful afternoon tea menu. Served in their lounge – an elegant mix of black leather sofas, exposed brickwork and natural light from the huge windows – the celebratory tea menu starts with a warming glass of prosecco (or champagne) followed by a parade of delicate finger sandwiches, scones with fresh berries and clotted cream, and finally rich crumbly cakes and old fashioned delicacies from the patisserie team. The unrushed, and seriously unpretentious approach at TWCW elevates the best of English tea tradition into contemporary fine dining without any fuss or frills, but all the fine china and food you can wish for. Their cakes are superb, their scones are memorable, and somehow they make even the most humble fruit loaves seem luxurious.
Hard Days Night Hotel
Afternoon tea in a Beatles-inspired four star hotel in Liverpool sounds touristy but if you like the sound of elegant, almost abstract 1960s rock-and-roll nostalgia via tasteful black and white photography, subtle leather and dark wood and a thoroughly sophisticated afternoon tea then this is the one for you. Hard Days Night Hotel is a cocoon of luxury in historical building in Liverpool’s original mercantile business district. You take your tea in the hotel lounge where traditional and re-imagined seasonal afternoon tea menus are on offer. If you go with tradition you’ll find an excellent array of the usual suspects (sandwiches, scones, cakes) unusually served on triple tiers of frosted glass. Expect the traditional likes of a Battenberg or a Victoria sponge, lime and blackcurrant macaroons or a chocolate slice. The cakes are not made by a dedicated chef, the menu does not find ways to enhance or improve the classic items, and there are are not 50 exotic teas to choose from, but it’s still a very good traditional afternoon tea offering with a huge dollop of essential popular culture and style, not to mention the Beatles’ back catalogue playing quietly in the background, which alone makes it an essential afternoon out for fans.
For an impeccably old-school experience that floats high above all others in Liverpool, head to the 34th floor of the West Tower. At 300 feet above sea level you’ll be rewarded with floor to ceiling views of the City and Mersey River on one side and the Welsh mountains in the distance on the other. This iconic fine-dining venue offers a fine choice of standard, champagne and luxury afternoon tea menus (there is also one for children and – with some notice – a gluten free option tool). The luxury menu is more of a high tea, with as much champagne as you need to enjoy a sumptuous Caesar prawn salad alongside a beautifully presented traditional three tier feast. The soft finger sandwiches have all the fillings you’d expect, and freshly-baked sultana and buttermilk scones are served with jam made on the premises like everything else. The prettiest range of tiny cakes and tarts will be boxed if you are defeated before you get to them. From their perfectly starched linen to the excellent food served with thoughtful precision, Panoramic 34 clearly does not rely on the view to carry the occasion but you are allowed to enjoy it without ever feeling rushed.
Cuthberts Bake House
Cuthberts Bake House is owned by New Yorkers who take the English tea tradition seriously, adding a bit of Yankee flair (and good coffee) to the mix. A charming afternoon tea is served on vintage china with a choice of loose leaf tea or the house blend coffee. The Cuthberts hipster vintage style is cheerfully enforced with with traditional net curtains, and cornices, festive bunting and fairy lights. Locals – from students to suits – love the homely warmth and generous portions of their famous afternoon tea. Instead of sandwiches there are mini rolls and bagels with tasty fillings that include Camembert and cranberry alongside more traditional fillings like roast beef and horseradish. The all-butter scones come with clotted cream and home-made jam and the cake selection (all baked in-house) includes a seasonal mix of florentines, macaroons and fruity Victoria sandwich cake, and house specialities like the celebrated red velvet cake or the salted caramel and hazelnut tart. You certainly could wear a hat and gloves to this vintage treasure, but you won’t wish you had if you don’t. Bottom line: the cakes are divine, the service is efficient and polite and on the whole it’s a memorable experience.