Monday, 18 May 2015

Review: Afternoon Tea in Tankardstown House Hotel, County Meath

I’m on a bit of an afternoon tea odyssey at the moment; partly because I want to seek out and find the best places in Ireland to have afternoon tea, but also in large part because I just LOVE afternoon tea! Yes it’s something that is a little bit self-indulgent but I firmly believe that these treats, if experienced every now and again, make life all the more enjoyable.
 
I also believe that there are certain foods and dining rituals that elicit an emotional response from deep within us; these vary from person to person and in many cases are associated with foods that we ate when we were children or that remind of us of happy times in our lives. I defy anyone to tell me that they don’t have at least one food or meal that does this for them. When I was younger, I remember that when guests were expected, my grandmother would bake a range of cakes and scones and serve them with dainty little crustless sandwiches. I always loved these occasions and her version of afternoon tea.
 
I have always enjoyed eating individual sized portions of foods and I love having a choice of different foods to eat – that way I can get to sample a broader range of what is on offer! I am also rather partial to pastries and cakes, so afternoon tea definitely ticks all my boxes and I am determined to try out as many places as I can in 2015.
 
I have been hearing a lot of great things about the Brabazon and The Cellar restaurants in Tankardstown House Hotel so when I heard that afternoon tea was also available, I decided to journey up to County Meath and sample it. I know, I know... it's a tough life!
 
Driving through the gates of Tankardstown House, you are immediately struck by the beauty of the lovingly restored Georgian house and the magnificent grounds. The owners Brian and Patricia Conroy have created something that is, in many ways, spectacular and totally sympathetic to the original architecture of the estate. The gardens are immaculate with high stone walls dividing the courtyard and garden areas creating spaces that you just want to explore further.
 
Afternoon tea is served in a restored cottage located off the same courtyard area that also houses Tankardstown’s other two restaurants. Weather permitting, afternoon tea can also be enjoyed in a dedicated Tea Garden area, but unfortunately conditions were a little unpredictable on the day I visited so this was not really an option.
 
Mismatched crockery sets the tone for the afternoon tea, which is relaxed without being stuffy or overly formal. A range of teas, including herbal teas are available, as is coffee. In keeping with tradition I opted for tea, choosing a strong breakfast blend as this suited my particular humour on the day. A large pot was duly delivered to my table along with a three tiered stand of edible delights. A tea cosy kept the tea warm and added a quaint note, reminding me of times spent having tea with my grandmother who always insisted on keeping a pot of tea warm in this manner rather than be allowed go slowly cold. The tea was strong with a robust flavour – just the way I like it! On a whim, I decided to have a glass of Prosecco, which was suitably dry and pleasantly fizzy.
 
Each of the plates making up the three tiered stand was crammed with delicious things to eat. The top plate held sandwiches, the middle tier a selection of cakes and pastries and the bottom tier had fruit scones with butter, jam and cream.
 
I decided to start from the top with the sandwiches, each of which was presented as open-topped so that you could easily see its constituent elements. The selection included:
  • Rare Roast Beef with Sliced Cornichon & Mustard Dressing on Brown Bread
  • Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Cream & Chives on White Bread
  • Goats Cheese & Red Onion Marmalade on White Bread
  • Smoked Chicken, Red Pepper & Brie on Brown Bread
Whilst all were lovely, my favourite of these bite-sized treats was the roast beef which I felt worked very well with the piquancy of the cornichon and mustard dressing. The cream cheese/red onion marmalade combo was simple, but equally delicious. Perhaps it’s conditioning over many years, but I would have preferred the smoked salmon on thinly cut brown soda bread rather than the white bread, but this is only a minor point and a personal preference.
 
I decided to try out the scones next. Our waitress informed us that they were made by Slane Bake, the ‘little sister’ of Tankardstown House and that the bakery was also responsible for all the cakes, pastries and breads laid out before us. The scones were lovely, with a slightly chewy crumb and just the right amount of dried fruit. A good dollop of a well-flavoured raspberry jam and some whipped cream turned them into an indulgent treat, perfect for eating between sips of tea.
 
The choice of cakes and pastries was varied and included:
  • Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
  • Chocolate-dipped, Cream-filled Éclair
  • Bakewell Slice
  • Red Velvet Cupcake
  • Vanilla Cupcake with Chocolate Fudge Icing
  • Chocolate Biscuit Cake ‘Truffles’
Of these, the two stand-outs were the carrot cake and the bakewell slice, both of which were full of flavour, with a wonderful moist texture and not at all dry. The least successful of the cakes and pastries were the Biscuit Cake Truffles, which were a bit mealy in the mouth, but they did have a lovely taste. At this stage, my appetite was well satisfied, but I still managed to finish everything that was put before me.
 
The afternoon tea in Tankardstown was absolutely charming and was wonderful way to spend a leisurely afternoon. The food was lovely and the service exemplary.
 
In fact, the only negative thing that I have to say about the experience was in relation to the condition of many of the roads in County Meath. I have never seen potholes like the ones that I encountered that day… there are so many wonderful places to visit in this beautiful county, including Tankardstown House, that one would be hopeful that Meath County Council is prioritising the repair and upkeep of its roads to encourage more visitors to the area.
 
Compared to many of the afternoon teas that are available, this one is very reasonably priced and highly recommended.
 
Cost:
Afternoon Tea for Two €40
Sparkling Afternoon Tea for Two (with Prosecco) €50
Tattinger Afternoon Tea for Two €65
 
Opening Hours: Saturday & Sunday 1pm-5pm
 
Tankardstown House Hotel
Rathkenny
Slane
County Meath
 
Tel: 041 9824621