For any readers who are resident in and around Manchester, which tea room or hotel restaurant would be your choice for the non-existent award of: “Most Mancunian Tea Room”? (There’s no prize for either the tea room of choice or the best suggestion, by the way – this is merely a semi-philosophical discussion).
What constitutes: “most Mancunian”? Is it about the building and its history? Gorton Monastery? (It’s on the list – I haven’t been there yet). The former Free Trade Hall? Would you choose the lavish and luxurious? And how do you choose between the Lowry, the Midland (two of my favourites) and the rest? Would you go for the venues run by local celebrities? Annies for example – visited but not returned to during the existence of this blog. Would you choose somewhere on the quirky side? And how do you judge ‘quirky’? And how much ‘quirky’ is ok before it becomes either twee or irritating?
I had a Scouser to take out for afternoon tea.
Obviously, this is not about competition or one-up-womanship but, well… it is about the Liverpool-Manchester rivalry. And I’m not talking about football… this is about cake which is far more important than football.
My mate had taken me to a Liverpool cake institution in the Autumn – I was returning the favour. (Why was there no blog about this? We were too busy catching up having not seen each other for over two years – what with a pandemic and my having cleared off travelling in 2019 – and my photos of the food were rubbish).
Where would I return the favour and book a table that was distinctively Mancunian?
Formerly located on Richmond Street, with bunting across the street as an indicator of their location, the Richmond Tea Rooms opened around 2010 and kept the same name when they relocated to larger premises on Sackville Street in 2019. Why let the change in geography result in a change in name and a loss of a very recogniseable brand?
What makes them the “Most Mancunian”? One part of its appeal to me is the decor. If you’re going to have afternoon tea, why not do it in the style of the Mad Hatter?
The layered table cloths and mismatched crockery definitely make it for me – I am not aware of anywhere else in Manchester that does this. (I’m always happy to be directed to somewhere I haven’t been). While I love the likes of The Midland and The Lowry, I’d struggle to describe the crockery to you… except on the day of the visit.
Some of the original Alice in Wonderland style trimmings have been kept from the Richmond Street venue but the Sackville Street location has also been updated. I don’t remember quite so many fake hanging flowers but I love the way it adds something of a Springtime woodland feel to the tea room.
(If The Midland had kept the Middle-Eastern feel of the Octagon, the Scouser may have been taken there. A time machine was not available on this occasion).
And as for that cake counter… I can vouch for popping in for a slice of their cakes without having the full afternoon tea. You may need climbing gear and crampons to climb them, once you have finally made your decision.
So the food…
There were actually three of us for afternoon tea. Three display stands were placed on the table and because we all three wanted a different type of tea, three teapots were brought. And because we are all middle-aged toddlers, when the waitress suggested we might want to share each other’s tea, we looked at her in absolute horror: share?
Three display stands? You can have a vegan, a vegetarian or a carnivore option of the Richmond Tea at the Richmond Tea Rooms. (That’s before we get onto the Tweedles (with beer) or Queens Teas (without alcohol) or the smaller versions: Alice (just the scones) or Hatter’s (just the sandwiches and scones). And as I wasn’t driving, I was going for the Richmond with a glass of bubbly).
There will be no commentary on my friends’ afternoon teas – just the vegetarian option. With four sandwiches (and I’ve had to peer at the picture to confirm as it’s a bit of an optical illusion), served on two-tone bread (one slice of brown and one slice of white) along with a goat’s cheese tart, I was off to a good start.
The sandwiches were not overly imaginative – egg mayonnaise, cheese mayonnaise and a bit of repetition with cream cheese served with cucumber and spinach, twice. Actually, that was delicious so I was quite happy with the repetition. The mini quiche was delicious: buttery pastry and sharp cheese filling; a good contrast.
Just the one scone, served with an individual pot of strawberry jam and clotted cream. Tasty, but another scone would never be offensive.
There was some further controversy as the Scouser confessed to going for the Devonshire style of layering the cream and then the jam on the scone. It’s Cornish every time.
My point was proven as the Scouser’s jam slid onto her plate.
A varied selection of cake, pastry and mousse was served – focusing on fruit flavours rather than just leaving it to the chocolate to do all of the heavy lifting. While actual cake may have been rare in appearance, (only the lemon sponge) this was a pleasantly varied sweet plate.
I would struggle to say which was my favourite. I did indeed leave the chocolate tart until last… well, it is chocolate… but I think the raspberry choux bun may have been my first choice: light pastry, generous fulling and a sweet but sharp taste.
All of the desserts were distinctive – I can still savour the seperate flavours.
As for the two amateurs I was with… their cakes were boxed up to be taken home… although they almost managed to leave the tea room without their boxes… and they hadn’t even had the glass of bubbly.
The traditional three tier afternoon tea at the Richmond Tea Rooms ranges from £23.95 (for the alcohol free version) to £29.50 for either of the alcoholic options.