The Grand Pacific is housed in the building that was once the home of the Manchester Reform Club which opened in 1871. (I’m a sucker for a menu which includes a history lesson).
In its prime, it was a men-only establishment and there was something very satisfying about dining here on International Women’s Day, though I confess I had no idea of the history when I booked.
The premises had offered a library and meeting rooms as well as small and large dining rooms in which Manchester’s political class discussed the issues of the day – questions of empire and social improvement. Today there was a table of women seated at a corner table discussing the current Speaker of the House and comparing him with previous Speakers.
Back then, a staff of around 50 men and 12 women cooked and served 120,000 meals per year. I’m not sure how that compares today.
The waiter arrived at the table and apparently I gave him the easiest order of the day as I recited, almost by rote: “Vegetarian High Tea please, no allergies, and I’d like a glass of champagne please.”
It’s entirely possible that I may be taking afternoon tea a little too regularly.
The table by the window were now discussing Rhodes and other statues. It wasn’t clear which way they leaned – opinions, not statues.
The golden pineapple arrived.
I did find myself thinking: “Is that it?” I had not realise that both tiers held the savoury selection, only. The dessert plate was to follow.
The canapes had definitely not been shipped in from any frozen food emporium. Served warm, the Forbidden Rice Ball was delicious and the Spring Roll with a Chilli and Ginger Sauce were beautiful. The Mushroom Vol-au-Vent (even with Yuzu Hollandaise) was straight out of the ’70s but the yellow pastry Goats Cheese and Hibiscus Tart was absolutely delicious.
Egg Mayonnaise along with Cream Cheese and Cucumber on Brown were simple but tasty. The bread was soft without any telltale staleness – signs of being left on the bench a little too long.
I waited for the the dessert tray while I sipped the champagne and requested milk for the tea. I was quite taken with the crockery.
And one for the pub quiz fans… in Victorian times, pineapples were both unusual and a sign of affluence. People would hire a pineapple to be placed in the centre of their dining table at parties. Their guests could marvel at the wonder of the exotic.
The chaps at the table next to mine had apparently brought their girlfriends out for International Women’s Day. Following a toast, one of the men explained that his concierge wasn’t sure whether he had enough money left as he saw the man’s girlfriend go shopping everyday. “Yes,” she said. “For groceries.”
The women at the corner table were now bemoaning the lack of interesting politicians in Parliament: “Not enough characters any more.”
The pineapple returned!!!
I wasn’t sure about the presliced and filled scone. Yes, the risk of mess was greatly reduced but I like the ritual of preparing my own scone (and arguing with anyone who is with me whether the right way to apply jam and cream is Cornish or Devonshire style. Cornish, obviously). And this one did not involve clotted cream. But it was raspberry jam which did make a nice change.
After the scone, I started with the Passionfruit Brulee, a fruit sliced in half, hollowed out and refilled with the flesh whipped into cream – incredible tasty. The trifle was next… again and as usual… the order of eating determined by what I thought was likely to be my favourite.
Next, a sharp and refreshing Lemon Tart, followed by a slice of Jasmine Teabread and finally a Chocolate Truffle. It was a plate of varied flavours with no reliance on chocolate. Light on actual cake.
There is a choice of High Teas at the Grand Pacific starting with High Tea at £23. If you are looking for an alcoholic beverage to accompany it then you are quite spoiled for choice: with a special cocktail £29; sparkling sauvignon blanc £28; sparking rose £29; champagne £30 and sparkling high tea infusion £28.
A tasty and deceptively filling afternoon tea (though I did have a sandwich when I got home). The presentation really didn’t do justice to what I was served. The pineapple tray is novel – I did like it – but just pile everything on rather than staggering the serving. It doesn’t lend itself to photographs.