Friday, 24 April 2015

Review: Afternoon Tea in the Merrion Hotel

The taking of afternoon tea has become incredibly popular in recent years and it is something that I like to treat myself to from time-to-time. Sitting down to dine on delicate sandwiches and an array of fresh scones and beautiful cakes and pastries is definitely something that ticks all my boxes. I am also an ardent tea devotee, so welcome any opportunity to relax in nice surroundings, sipping my favourite beverage from a good china teacup. I should admit that normally, when I’m at home, I’m a tea-bag in a mug gal, but every now and then it’s nice to pretend that I’m a little bit more refined.

In line with the growth in popularity of afternoon tea, there are increasing numbers of hotels, country houses and other establishments offering their take on this particular meal. I was recently in Dublin, attending a few foodie events and met up with friends who suggested going to the 5 star Merrion Hotel, one of Ireland’s top hotels, for afternoon tea.
 
This is a truly beautiful hotel, located in a row of magnificent Georgian buildings on Upper Merrion Street; a stone’s throw from the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland. There is nothing ostentatious or vulgar about the Merrion, but rather it possesses an air of quiet grandeur and understated elegance – a perfect place to have afternoon tea.
 
The Merrion is also home to the largest private art collection in Ireland and it is from this that Paul Kelly, Executive Pastry Chef, has drawn his inspiration, basing the cakes and pastries which form part of the afternoon tea on the paintings that adorn the hotel’s walls.
 
On offer as part of the Merrion’s ‘Art Tea’ are a selection of savouries, breads and cakes and the Merrion Art Tea pastries.
 
As you would expect, there are a number of different teas to choose from with coffee also available for those that prefer it. Whilst there are familiar tea blends on offer like Assam, Oolong and Early Grey there are also a couple of slightly more unusual choices. Feeling in adventurous mood, I decided to go for the Irish Malt Assam blend which I drank without milk. This was an unusual tea, unlike anything I had previously sampled; with a deep malty flavour that was almost smoky on the palate. The tea was complex in flavour and with its background notes of whiskey was almost masculine in character – I absolutely loved it. It was utterly delicious!
 
There are plenty of lighter teas, including green teas, on offer for those who prefer something more aromatic with a floral hint. If iced tea is your thing, or if you’d like to try a matcha green tea based mocktail, these are also on the beverage menu.
 
Egg Mayonnaise in Brioche Rolls
Once the tea was poured, we were presented with a 3-tiered stand containing a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones and various preserves including clotted cream, lemon curd and the most intensely flavoured raspberry jam.
 
Sandwiches included all of the following per person:
  • Chicken & Pesto on Sunflower Bread
  • Smoked Salmon on Brown Soda Bread with Horseradish Cream
  • Cucumber with Cream Cheese & Chive on Tomato Bread
  • Brioche rolls with Egg Mayonnaise
  • Roast Beef on White Bread
Each of the respective breads used for the sandwiches was perfectly chosen to complement the filling it contained. It’s hard to pick my favourite sandwich because all were extremely tasty, but if pushed I’d have to say that I the egg mayonnaise rolls were delicious… but in truth, all were fabulous.
 
Fruit Scones filled with Raspberry Jam & Clotted Cream
Both the plain and fruit scones were lovely and although they had arrived warm to the table, they had cooled by the time I got around to sampling them. This did not affect the flavour (and they tasted even more wonderful when topped with both jam AND cream) but they were heavier in texture when cooled, so I would recommend eating whilst still warm. The preserves that were provided were top quality; the lemon curd was creamy and lemony with just the right balance between sweet and sharp; the jam was bursting with the flavour of raspberries and the clotted cream… well, who could have a difficulty with something so rich, creamy and totally self-indulgent?
 
Cakes on offer included all of the following:
  • Battenberg Cake
  • Lemon Cake
  • Porter Cake
Lemon Cake with Lemon Curd
Two slices of a delicately textured Battenberg cake with were given to each person. These were not slices of the usual pale pink and yellow Battenberg Cake that most of us are familiar with but rather, were vividly-coloured versions based on a painting by Dublin-born abstract artist Sean Scully which is on display in the Merrion’s drawing room. Being a fan of marzipan, which a traditional Battenberg is usually covered in (and also was here,) I loved this version! The Lemon and Porter cakes were both lovely, with the latter being served as an individually baked mini-cake rather than in slices from a loaf as it is normally. This version reminded me more of a tea brack rather than a traditional porter cake but this aside, it was full of fruit and tasted delicious.
 
Where the Merrion’s afternoon tea really distinguished itself was in its finale which consisted of three beautiful examples of the finest patisserie that were directly inspired by specific artworks in the collection on display in the hotel.
 
Raspberry & Passion Fruit Tart
We were served:
  • Raspberry & Passion Fruit Tart inspired by Futile Defense (Fabricated Evidence) by John Boyd
  • Rosewater & Orange Mousse on a White Chocolate Feuilletine inspired by Roses and Temple by Patrick Hennessy
  • Chocolate Trinity inspired by Rath Moorea by Pauline Bewick
Each of these offerings had a number of elements to them which resulted in sweet delights that looked beautiful on the plate and excited the taste buds in terms of both flavour and texture. It was obvious that despite their miniature scale, a lot of attention to detail and love had gone into making each. My favourite of the three was the Rosewater & Orange Mousse which was rather surprising given that I am not normally a fan of rosewater as I find it can be overpowering, swamping out all other flavours in a dish. Here, however, its inclusion was well judged being also evocative of the ethereal atmosphere present in the painting which inspired the particular pastry.
 
Rosewater & Orange Mousse
Afternoon tea in the Merrion Hotel was a wonderful experience and thoroughly enjoyable. I would have no hesitation in recommending it as everything we ate was delicious. There was a playfulness to the foods that we were served which, in my opinion, strikes just the right note for an afternoon tea. Service was exemplary – staff were attentive without being obtrusive and were extremely knowledgeable and informative about both the food and artwork. Strongly recommended!
 
I should also mention that if you are unable to consume all the delights on offer in one sitting, the staff will be more than happy to pack up any leftovers for you to take home and enjoy later.

Art Tea is served from 3pm to 6pm, Monday to Thursday and 2pm to 4.30pm Friday to Sunday. Price: €39 or €55 with a glass of Champagne (per person).
 
The Merrion Hotel
Upper Merrion Street
Dublin 2
Tel: 01 6030600