Manchester is a vibrant and energetic cultural hub producing excellent music, art and theatre. The city’s role as a major industrial centre, and then as a glitzy football centre, has meant it is not associated with fine dining but rather as a party place. In fact Manchester is brimming with new, fresh eating establishments that offer a wide range of exciting contemporary fine dining options. When it comes to afternoon tea, there are a few traditional, historical venues, but there are plenty more options in the way of excellent modern locations that deliver stylish, memorable experiences and some that completely redefine afternoon tea as a glamorous, gastronomic adventure.
The Lowry Hotel
The luxurious Lowry hotel – overlooking the River Irwell in the Chapel Wharf area – has set the trend for contemporary excellence with a minimalist style that has raised the bar in Manchester’s fine food revival. Afternoon tea is served in the River Bar & Grill – a vibrant sun-soaked venue of clean lines and understated luxury in shades of mint and bronze. Their innovative afternoon tea menu emphasises the extravagance that makes this English tradition special and has earned The Lowry a special award for excellence from the Tea Guild for 2013. The champagne afternoon tea features an amuse bouche of rhubarb meringue and prawn cocktail. The usual finger sandwich suspects are all done very well and presented with service that is efficient, charming and so attentive to detail that it might be called impeccable. Scones come in plain or cinnamon and apple varieties and there is an impressive range of Jing Teas and Herbal infusions. Awe is earned with a selection of desserts, cakes and pastries which include such inventive delights as a show-stopping Blood Orange Trifle and Pomegranate Macaroons. Whether you opt for the champagne or classic option, The Lowry does a fine, deliciously modern interpretation of afternoon tea.
Opus One bar and restaurant is located in the Radisson Blu Edwardian on Manchester’s Peter Street. The handsome Victorian exterior of the historic Free Trade Hall is contracted by the modern opulence of the interior. Opus One is dominated by a luxurious crimson from the red velvet swivel chairs to the dramatic lighting. For afternoon tea the tables are set with crisp white table cloths, bathed in natural light from the feature windows. The well-dressed staff provide glamour as well as subtle efficiency, and they are kind enough to box any leftovers for you to take home. Opus One offers three different types of afternoon tea, there’s a Traditional version, a Gentleman’s Afternoon tea, with options to add champagne or beer for special occasions, and a tailored package option for bigger groups. The traditional menu is an enhanced version of classic items. Finger sandwiches come in a variety of flavours, and there is a choice of plain or fruit scones with clotted cream and Tipton strawberry jam as well as an array of cakes and pastries. The Gentleman’s version includes a pork pie, miniature fish and chips and hot Yorkshire pudding with a superb cake selection that may include pavlova, blueberry frangipane and chocolate fudge cake.
Cloud 23, in the Deansgate Hilton, is a unique place to enjoy a memorable afternoon tea. This is not any old bar, it has a great location and the sensual ambience of a secret hideaway in the sky. Cloud 23 has – as the name suggests – a dramatic penthouse setting with floor to ceiling windows to frame stunning views across Manchester. This trendy bar is known for inspirational cocktails served to a very chic clientèle but it is also known for refined and decadent afternoon teas. Like the bar design, that somehow manages to mix luxurious drapes and soft lighting with clean modern lines and granite tones, the tea menu infuses contemporary style into timeless classics. The selection of tasty and dainty finger sandwiches, fresh scones and classic cakes that are served for afternoon tea should feel out of place in such a trendy setting but somehow it works. Cloud 23 not only does fine things with Victoria sponge and chocolate éclairs, but if you call ahead to arrange it, they can provide an equally delicious experience that is either vegetarian or gluten free.
The Midland Hotel
The grand old Midland Hotel – in the heart of Manchester’s city centre – has an impressive 100-year history of hosting royalty and rock stars. It may be known as the place where Rolls met Royce but these days the Midland is a bit frayed at the edges and faces competition from a number of new boutique hotels. For old world ambience and a thoroughly traditional afternoon tea, it remains a good choice. The indulgent afternoon tea menu is served in the other-worldly Octagon Lounge with Moorish lanterns and dramatic arches. To start with there’s a complimentary glass of Marsala wine, to be sipped on while selecting from a range of traditional and exotic leaf teas. The delicate sandwiches come with some with subtle twists, such as the apricot, cucumber and cream cheese combination and a “Salmon Symphony” on pumpernickel Bread. The sultana scones are good, served with organic strawberry and a fruit compote. The top tier of cakes are pure tradition in the form of a Bakewell tart, a chocolate slice and a French fruit tart.
Browns is one of England’s oldest restaurant chains and they offer a very good afternoon tea at all 27 of their venues but their flagship in Manchester is special. Browns Manchester is in the Edwardian baroque building that originally housed Parr’s Bank and then was home to the Athenaeum – a famous bar in its time. The sophisticated interior is dominated by dark wood, exposed piping and gleaming bottles, with grandeur added by the high ceilings, marble pillars and chandeliers. They offer a range of choices in afternoon teas, from the traditional to the champagne and “A Most Unusual Afternoon” served with a Hendrick’s gin and tonic. All of these include a fine selection of finger sandwiches: smoked salmon and crème fraîche, egg and watercress, cucumber and cream cheese. Their fruit scones come with strawberry jam & clotted cream. In a selection of mini desserts you might find salted caramel profiteroles, Victoria sponge cakes, and the celebrated Browns winter cherry and almond Eton mess. All of this comes with your choice of tea or coffee and swift service that is both professional and friendly.
The Teacup Kitchen
The Teacup Kitchen, owned by DJ Mr Scruff, is in Manchester’s bohemian Northern Quarter. Known for freshly prepared meals and delicious home baked cakes it also serves some of the finest loose leaf teas available in the UK and recently won ‘Best Casual Dining Venue’ in Manchester’s Food and Drink Awards. This popular venue takes British tradition seriously and afternoon tea is served from midday each day. The menu changes seasonally but is always fresh and comprised of three tiers of home-made finger sandwiches, savouries, miniature cakes, scones and fruit tarts served with a pot of loose leaf tea or a glass of bubbly. Current favourites include a crisp and tangy cheddar & smoked pepper quiche, and a zingy passion fruit meringue tart. Service is friendly and informative, and tea is served with timers so you can get the perfect brew. The red interior is old fashioned in the best possible way, with clean design and stylish attention to detail. This casual location is perfect for those seeking all the delicious traditional comforts of afternoon in a sleek and trendy setting.
Great John Street Hotel
The Great John Street Hotel is an eclectic town house hotel that was once a Victorian school house in the heart of Manchester’s shopping district. Afternoon tea is served on their comfortable lounge area amid an eclectic combination of rich textures and cushions, leather and velvet chairs and an interesting collection of decorative objects. Their decadent tea menus include the option of a Gin tasting session alongside the “Ladies Tea” ( traditional or champagne) or the “Gentleman Jack”. The manly, savoury tea menu is named after a bourbon whisky cocktail (although you can have it with wine as well) and it includes canapé sized savouries (a mini burger, a fish and chip skewer and a home made scotch egg) as well as a dessert menu and as much tea or coffee as you want. The ladies version is more traditional with finger sandwiches, scones and a very decadent cake selection, all three tiers decorated with flower garnishes and edible decorations. Which ever version you choose, this is a top notch tea served with eccentric warmth in unusual surroundings.
For an afternoon tea that is far from the norm, look no further than Grand Pacific – the sister bar to Australasia – Manchester’s premier food destination for socialites and celebrities. The ‘Asian High Tea’ is served as per tradition – on handsome silver stands at lovely white tables with wicker chairs in a glittering room lit by both crystal chandeliers and neon lights. Instead of crust-less sandwiches and cakes you get a stunning collection of sushi, nigiri and other exotica. Scones are replaced by noodles and seafood, followed by wonderful sweets that include panna cotta, sweet spring rolls and ‘friands’ – a very light sponge cake. The beautiful tea ware from Jing and the theatrical presentation of what amounts to edible art works, makes this a memorable and very different way to enjoy an afternoon in glamorous surroundings.