It has been some time since I last had afternoon tea… 1st March in Kuala Lumpur. The planned tea in Bangkok was cancelled as a result of Coronavirus Lockdown.
So with a five month gap between afternoon tea opportunities I have to say I was fairly excited when Ms Marple texted me while I was on my morning walk to ask if I fancied high tea in Morecambe this afternoon.
(Yes, still living (and working) in a shed in Preston, the housesitter moves into her new house in a few weeks).
The Midland Hotel in Morecambe has only recently reopened following Lockdown and it has long been a venue that I’ve wanted to visit for afternoon tea.
The building we were heading for was the second iteration of the Hotel, this one having opened in 1933. However, it took some time to reach this point.
In 1846 the ‘Little’ North Western Railway company obtained permission to build a hotel as part of its scheme to construct a railway linking the new port of Morecambe with Yorkshire.
The hotel was designed by Edward Paley, a local architect and cost the grand sum of £4,795 including furnishings. It was a two-storey building of grey stone with green shuttered windows and contained forty bedrooms. It stood in its own spacious grounds and catered for a clientele referred to as the ‘carriage trade’.
Known initially as the North Western Hotel it became The Midland Hotel in 1871 when the Midland Railway took over the ‘Little’ North Western Railway.
(Which makes me wonder if that’s how The Midland Hotel in Manchester got its name).
In January 1932, plans were approved for a new hotel to be built on the seafront at a cost of just under £72,000 which would mean the existing Victorian building would be replaced with a more modern structure.
The owners of the hotel saw Morecambe as an opportunity to make a new departure from traditional hotel design and selected the architect Oliver Hill to provide “a building of international quality in the modern style”, i.e. Art Deco.
Work commenced in August 1932, with the new building rising from the lawn in front of the old hotel before the latter was eventually demolished.
At the grand opening, one guest (whose statue is in Miller Park in Preston) the Earl of Derby, said of the new hotel “it is a magnificent building, which set an example for others to follow.”
Immediately after its opening the Midland became THE place to stay and quickly attracted the wealthy middle classes from across the north of England. Socialites came from even further afield, in pursuit of luxurious escapism. Notable visitors included Coco Chanel, Sir Laurence Olivier and Noel Coward, along with many of the actors and musicians performing at town’s Winter Gardens.
The hotel was requisitioned for use as a military hospital during the Second World War and during the eighties, the hotel was used as a location in the filming of episodes of the TV series of detective stories Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
However, Morecambe’s popularity as a seaside town declined and so did The Midland’s fortunes. It finally closed its doors in 1998 standing derelict and facing calls for demolition until 2006 when the Manchester development company took on the restoration.
The hotel reopened in 2008.
After being mothballed for most of 2020, The Midland is encouraging new and returning visitors.
The Hotel has retained many of the original Art Deco features and afternoon tea was served in glass walled terrace giving the most stunning views out across Morecambe Bay.
I enjoyed some fabulous afternoon teas while I was travelling but none of the venues offered views like this.
Thanks to Covid-19 precautions, service is a little different to the usual approach. Tables are not laid until diners arrive and the staff place the crockery and cutlery on the table for you to lay your own placings.
But how was the food?
A traditional array of sandwiches… tuna with a spicy kick, salmon, honey roast with mustard and (of course) egg mayonnaise fillings, leaning to generous, served on fresh bread with the crusts removed, naturally.
Nothing particularly imaginative but very tasty.
Previous readers may remember that I think it’s important to get the scones right, and I do prefer more than one scone. The Midland offered a plain and a fruit scone – both light and fluffy.
These were served with strawberry jam and a delicious tangy lemon curd with clotted cream. At this point, Ms Marple and I discovered there was no problem with seeking refills of either tea or scone accompaniments.
And then, to the cakes… with neither mousse nor ganache to be seen and an emphasis on actual cake.
Yes, there was a tart – filled with pannacotta and topped with a raspberry jelly. Serving it in a pastry case was a different approach to serving it in a glass.
Next… decisions, decisions… a very light cream filled and chocolate covered profiterole, leaving plenty of room for an individual Victoria sponge.
And finally… the coconut slice – a light sponge baked with dessicated coconut and filled with a chocolate cream.
At £21 for the afternoon tea with an additional £4 if you fancy the prosecco, the meal is very good value
The food served at The Midland in Morecambe matched almost any of afternoon teas I ate while I was travelling, but the views, especially as it was such a sunny day, really set it apart..