Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford is widely credited for the rise of afternoon tea in 1842 when due to the long gap between a light luncheon at noon and the typical eight o’clock dinner, she got a rather inelegant case of the munchies
For most of us, during the working week, that gap is likely to be filled by a vat of builder’s tea accompanied by a not-so-dainty Digestive to dunk, or a chocolate bar to munch.
Duchess Anne managed to turn a snack into a ceremony, inviting her aristocratic girlfriends round to Belvoir Castle for a prim and proper afternoon over Earl Grey and scones. And should you fancy doing the same, then a visit to the Galgorm Resort and Spa, outside Ballymena, is a must.
Afternoon tea, the latest addition to the hotel’s menu of dining options, is served in the Galgorm’s stunning new addition, the River Room & Conservatory. This is a magnificent bespoke glass creation that perfectly frames the stunning setting of the cascading River Maine and lush parkland, and provides a splendid backdrop in which to enjoy the decadence of delicate dainties.
I arrived on a sun-soaked afternoon and was greeted by friendly waiter Michael. Perusing the mouth-watering menu and delectable and interestingly named array of teas on offer, including Instant Karma, Stunning Sofia, Black Beauty, Monkey’s Wedding and Lulu’s Garden, I knew I was going to be in for a treat.
When one thinks of afternoon tea, it often conjures up images of flouncy-pink-floral-chintziness, doilies and dainty china, fuss and frilly aprons. Happily there is no such tweeness at the Galgorm. What greets the diner is a classy environment with starched white linen tablecloths and a natural colour scheme of browns, mauves and greens, which mirror the natural environment outside.
The centrepiece of the conservatory is a huge crystal chandelier and a stunning floral display, a riot of oranges and reds. Seated in a comfortable armchair by the window, the room was flooded with light and I felt as content as a cat enjoying the sweet-tasting tranquillity.
So back to the tea. I opted for the ‘Nice Nancy’, with an infusion of organic lemon verbena from Spain. Michael told me it is one of the most popular teas, but truth be told, I just liked the name. Naturally, tea is served in a silver teapot, through a tea strainer (those obligatory afternoon tea accoutrements). Sipping this refreshing and fragrant drop, I couldn’t help but raise my little finger, much in the manner of Hyacinth Bucket!
Diners can choose from four afternoon tea menus at the Galgorm, ranging in price from £19.50 to £37.50. I opted for the Alfred Gratien Afternoon Tea, which includes a glass of this bubbly, a selection of finely cut sandwiches and miniature savouries, freshly baked scones and delicate miniature desserts, and is priced at £29.50 per head.
I opted for the Prawn Marie Rose sandwiches, light, creamy, diminutive and dainty. The other miniature savouries on offer include homemade soup, haggis sausage roll and smoked chicken Caesar, but as a non-meat eater, the chef instead sent out delicious mozzarella fritters with carrot puree, mini Caesar salad and a little cup of red pepper soup. Served on a slate, the savoury selection was as delicious and flavoursome as you could hope for.
Next up that other essential element of the traditional afternoon tea - scones - one plain and one raspberry and white chocolate. They arrived on a traditional tiered cake stand with the other sweet treats. Homemade at the Galgorm, and still warm, they were served with whipped cream and homemade rose and strawberry jam and were as homely and as comforting as a cuddle.
Mrs Beeton said that afternoon tea should be “little more than tea and bread-and-butter, and a few elegant trifles in the way of cake and fruit”.
Ah yes, cakes. The real point of it all. The miniature desserts almost looked too pretty and elaborate to eat; strawberry Victoria sponge; a coffee macaroon with chocolate and roast hazelnut cream; lemon posset, elderflower jelly, raspberries and meringue; and apple & blackberry mousse, with honeycomb and fresh blueberries.
If you’re going to have afternoon tea, it’s futile to count the calories. So I didn’t, instead I just immersed myself in the whole wonderful afternoon repast, enjoying the long-drawn-outness, and decided instead to walk off the feasting in the Galgorm’s beautiful grounds.
Strolling across the rolling verdant parkland I spotted a tide of terry towelling, as insouciant looking guests padded to the outdoor hot tubs, or lay prostrate on the grass enjoying the rarity of some rays. I always encountered some rather handsome horses in an adjacent field, and a skittish squirrel.
After a few hours hunger pangs returned so I had a spot of dinner in Gillies Bar and Grill. Seated under Paul Bell’s colourful cow paintings I enjoyed a hearty and delicious bowl of Tiger Prawn Linguini.
I was staying overnight at the Galgorm and had a beautifully appointed room with stunning views over the gushing River Maine. Decorated again in muted tones and with a luxurious ensuite bathroom, it’s a sophisticated, elegant cocoon.
The Galgorm is the perfect location to relax and get away from it all and with fantastic accommodation, a top-notch spa, and an array of dining options, including the recently introduced afternoon tea, there really is something to suit all tastes.
*For further information contact Galgorm Resort & Spa Reservations on +44 (0)28 2588 1001, fax +44 (0) 28 2588 0080, website www.galgorm.com