Around the World in 80 Cakes #23 Manchester’s Free Trade Hall

After a couple of hours at both the Manchester Art Fair (where I didn’t spend long) and a lengthy wander around the city centre making the most of the sunny day, I headed to the Radisson Edwardian for afternoon tea.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Manchester geography the Edwardian is virtually next door to the Midland Hotel and these two were generally in my personal top two for afternoon tea for many years, at least until the Lowry started upping it’s game.

The Edwardian stands in what was the Free Trade Hall built as a public hall between 1853 and 1856 by Edward Walters on land given by Richard Cobden in St Peter’s Fields, the site of the Peterloo Massacre. It was built to commemorate the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. It’s also been a key site for entertainment and signs of its history can be spotted throughout the building. It’s a fabulous building.

I hadn’t been here for an awfully long time so I was looking forward to a return.

Afternoon tea is served in the Library. An arty set of shelves with a suitable array of books on design and fashion is placed centrally to confirm the setting. (I’m sure it used to be the steakhouse).

Armchair with a solitary bookshelf behind.

Choice of seating includes comfortable armchairs upholstered in a hard-wearing navy velvet (though larger parties have the option of charcoal sofas) with low coffee tables or more traditional tables and leatherbacked chairs. Having walked through more crowded streets than I’ve been used to for quite some time, I opted for an armchair at a distance from other diners.

The Library team had clearly been stung by the online reviews about stewed tea. That was not going to be an issue today. My teapot arrived within minutes of the prosecco poured in a 1940s style champagne glass. Attention was focused on everybody’s drinks and teapots. There would be no builders’ brews served this afternoon.

Tea and prosecco.

To the sandwiches and first to be sampled… wafer-thin salmon and a slither of cream cheese on sour cherry bread. The bread was delicious but a more generous filling would have meant the flavour of the fish and cheese didn’t merely waft past.

Left to right: Salmon, courgette, chicken and beef – detailed descriptions in the text.

Next was a robata grilled courgette with pesto on sourdough. Again the bread overwhelmed the filling, as it almost did with with the chicken served in truffle mayonnaise, though actually mayonnaise was the strongest flavour, even against the potato and rosemary bread.

A superb and creative selection of bread and if the fillings were a little more generous, these sandwiches would be difficult to beat. I’ve come to the Edwardian for years and have generally thought its sandwiches are among the best. The variety in the bread and the fillings aren’t your usual or traditional options but I like to taste what I’m eating rather than get a hint. It’s afternoon tea not a 1980s Dulux advert.

The rare roast beef with horseradish didn’t even cause a flicker on my tongue – I had to check the menu to verify what I had eaten. (Yes, I am used to spicy and hot curry but I’ve never smoked so my tastebuds haven’t been destroyed).

I’d thought some of the online reviews I’d read before visiting were a little harsh in their criticism of the sandwiches but, four sandwiches in and eyeing the two tiny scones, I was thinking that I might be calling in for fish and chips on the way home.

Balancing the cream

The plain scone was perfect: still warm. The strawberry jam was virtually liquid and ran off the scones. Devonshire style devotees would not have stood a chance trying to add it to the cream. It was getting messy applying the jam and then the cream Cornish style, but it tasted amazing.

The apricot scone was the same but with apricots, obviously. Seriously, though… the same perfect texture but generously filled with soft melt-in-the-mouth apricots.

At this point I noticed the problem with oh so stylish black napkins…

Icing sugar spatter as opposed to a star patterned napkin.

… you’d think I was five not 45.

The scones were filling so I paused over the prosecco before embarking on the cakes.

I started with the coconut mousse with ginger lime jelly and pressed pineapple – the softness offset by a toasted meringue which is utterly wasted on me as I detest meringue. The fresh and refreshing flavour of the coconut was a fantastic palate cleanser before moving on to the richer cakes.

Coconut goodness

The pistachio and strawberry choux bun was delicious (and I’m not the greatest fan of pistachio), light pastry generously filled with cream.

With two cakes remaining and fullness not threatening, I was confident in my decision to leave the chocolate gateau until last and picked up the lemon poppyseed opera cake next. It had the sharpest taste (in comparison with the horseradish or ginger) of anything that I’d eaten so far. The lemon cream contrasted beautifully with the poppyseed sponge.

Sharp lemon

And so to the finale…Black forest gateau  how very retro, (and ABBA are back so I don’t view this as a bad thing at all) but this wasn’t chocolate gateau as I remember it. The thinnest of chocolate sponge masked a cherry infused chocolate mousse that has to be one of the nicest things I’ve ever tasted.


Yes, light on actual cake, heavy on mousse but my god, all of the flavours were spectacular.

This was far from a traditional and bland afternoon tea. The sandwiches were the weakest aspect of the Library’s offer which was a real shame as, with the bread they were served upon, they were so unusual. There was no reliance on quiche to introduce creativity but just increase the number of sandwiches to five or six and this would be more on a par with other venues (and therefore customer expectations).

The service was professional, friendly but not intrusive. It’s a nice spot to spend a quiet Sunday afternoon.

And the price? This came in at £36.56 (£32.50 plus a discretionary 12.5% service charge to explain the random total fee). I booked here.

Categories: Afternoon Tea, Cake, Manchester - The Edwardian, Travel, UncategorizedTags: , , , , , , , , ,


  1. This all looks delicious! Thinking perhaps we should try this the next time we’re in Manchester ^^

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  2. We used to have school Speech Day in the Free Trade Hall, before the council committed the appalling sacrilege of selling it off to be used as a hotel! Always the first Monday of July, usually a boiling hot day and clashing with a vital match at Wimbledon. I love Black Forest gateau and wish most places didn’t think it was uncool to serve it, so maybe I need to try this 🙂 .

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