Yes, I know. Another one, less than one week since the last one.
Also, it was my birthday today. I know. So soon since the last one. It can only have been… what… a year?
This time last year, well the day before my actual birthday, was afternoon tea in Shanghai. Manchester doesn’t feel quite so exotic… but once again, and thanks to Lockdown rules, celebrating alone.
It means there are no distractions from the cakes.
The Midland has long been a favourite for afternoon tea in Manchester. I love the building and its history.
Opened in September 1903, it was built by the Midland Railway (who we can also thank for afternoon tea in Morecambe) to serve the Manchester Central railway station, its northern terminus for its rail services to London St Pancras.
The hotel was designed by Charles Trubshaw and constructed between 1898 and 1903 at a cost of more than £1 million. In 1908 The Railway News described it as a “Twentieth century palace”. The hotel had a 1,000-seat purpose-built theatre for operas and dramas while a roof terrace provided a venue for string quartet performances.
Bearing in mind that the building is tiled so that the early 20th century smog could be washed off the facade, I’m not sure how popular roof top performances would have been back then.
Adolf Hitler was apparently a bit of a fan of the building though that’s not one of the hotel’s favourite commendations for obvious reasons. American intelligence speculated that the area of Manchester around the town hall was spared from bombing so as not to damage or destroy the Midland.
The much hyped story is that the hotel was where Charles Rolls met Henry Royce leading to the formation of Rolls-Royce Limited in 1904.
I’ve been coming here for years but I faced two surprises when I entered today.
…and two when the waiter said he thought he recognised me. It’s been well over a year since I last darkened the doors and I had long red hair then.
(I’m still sporting the crop I got in Hanoi, complete with grey streaks and my own brown hair. My friends don’t recognise me so kudos to the waiter if he really does!)
But we have more important things to discuss.
While the building is undergoing substantial refurbishment, tea served in the Mount Street restaurant was delicious.
First up, the Burford brown egg and mustard cress on a brioche bun…didn’t spot any cress (which meant it didn’t get stuck between my teeth) and the filling was clearly straight out of the fridge. Not one for sensitive teeth, though the brioche was beautifully soft.
Toying briefly with the idea of a fork for the generously stacked double-decker salmon on rye, I was delighted that I was able to eat this without making a mess – there was, after all, a lot of food to get through.
By contrast, the cucumber and mint creme fraiche was more bread than wafer thin salad but the taste was sharp and fresh, contrasting nicely with the champagne.
The coronation chicken was pleasant though not quite as good as that served by the Thomas Oken Tearooms last week – lacking a spicy kick in my view… (I discovered today that a friend disapproves of sultanas in the recipe – she is utterly wrong)… which was an issue shared by the mustard on honey roast gammon.
I may be biased in my love of heat and spices.
Pausing to drink the champagne before moving onto the scones… thoughts? Worryingly small. Regular readers may remember I am a bit of a scone fan, almost more than the cakes.
However, they were snuggly wrapped in a napkin so served warm which is always a win as far as I am concerned and with exceedingly generous dishes of jam and cream, this looked promising.
…and the promise was kept.
I began to regret eating the plain scone first. I was doubtful that the fruit scone would be as good.
Time for the tea and the Midland offers three of its own blends, my favourite (yes, I have been here often enough to have a favourite) is the Due North… described as a ‘deep and smoky Lapsang Suchong with a touch of whisky. Pretentious? Possibly. But you can smell the smoke as it sits in the teacup.
And the fruit scone… every bit as delicious as the first.
I eyed the cakes… glancing at the menu in an attempt to make an informed choice as what would be left until last.
A friend had advised, on seeing the range (via the medium of Facebook): “Avoid the green one. It looks mouldy.”
I reckoned the green topping was more likely to be pistachio than fungus, though that particular nut isn’t a favourite if I’m honest… which is a shame as it was a pear and salted caramel (both of which are) filling in a choux bun. Salted caramel…mmm.
Even places like The Midland are having a tough time in Pandemic and local Lockdown measures. By the time I embarked on the Pecan Tart, I was the only customer left in the tea room.
I wasn’t entirely convinced by the maple syrup jelly button but the pecan filling and buttercream were delicious.
What would I finish with? It was a tough call between the lemon drizzle cake and the chocolate and orange sacher torte.
I love both.
And it was really nice to have a platter that leaned more towards cake than ganache and mousse even if that is essentially all a sacher torte is – I have no problem with one cake being based on this. (I just get a little bored when they all are).
The chocolate won. It always does.
The lemon cake had been more soaked than drizzled. It was awash. Less may usually be more but in this case, more was definitely, well, more.
And the sacher torte? Delicious. Tangy orange and rich dark chocolate… really, what’s not to love?
The Midland – an old favourite. Keeps it traditional and, when the sandwich fillings are proportionate to the bread, usually gets it spot on.
Champagne Afternoon Tea… £38.