Aligned to a bit of pomp and ceremony, the quintessentially British tradition of taking afternoon tea has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years thanks, in part, to a number of high-profile royal occasions and rise in popularity of fizz-based drinks that has opened up the before-dinner eating experience to a much wider audience.
Taking afternoon tea originally rose to prominence back in the 1840s, however, for some, it can come across as being a rather complicated business. In what order do you eat the food? Milk or tea first? How do you stir your tea? Where do you place your teaspoon? Cream or jam first on the scone?
Today, enjoying a quality afternoon tea is a bit more of a relaxed affair than in the days of Queen Victoria, and is often enjoyed as an occasional treat where friends and family can get together to celebrate a special occasion or just to catch up.
During what has been billed as Afternoon Tea Week (12th to 18th August 2019), anyone thinking about indulging in a little pomp and ceremony of their own can pop along to one of Marco Pierre White's restaurants, where a delicate selection of sandwiches, macarons, cakes and scones await those looking to celebrate and enjoy this most British of traditions.
Depending on location, there are four afternoon tea varieties to choose from including Traditional, Prosecco, Champagne or Gin – all devised by arguably the UK's greatest ever chef. But whichever is chosen, guests will be treated as if they very much belong in society's upper circles.
Marco said: "Personally, I crave the ordinary, and for me, the idea of afternoon tea is to make sure it's not overly complicated. That way customers don't feel intimidated. I'd rather they come in, relax and enjoy what is meant to be a very social occasion.
"When I'm home from my travels one of the most enjoyable things I eat is a ham sandwich with Colman's mustard accompanied with a cup of tea. It's as simple as that. Alternatively, beef with horseradish is just as delicious and this is reflected in the choices available across my restaurants."
With regards to scones, the culinary genius whose restaurant estate now spans pretty much the entirety of the UK, says logic dictates whether it's cream or jam first.
He adds: "The reality is that it looks prettier with the cream on first and then the jam, it looks way prettier, but you try spreading jam on cream. It's not about etiquette for me. At the end of the day, I take a scone, put my jam on and then put my cream on top."
But what about etiquette? According to Jason Everett, executive head chef across the MPW Restaurant estate, there are perhaps a number of things to avoid when enjoying afternoon tea.
Jason said: "I suppose there are a number of things you perhaps shouldn't do such as dunking your food in the tea, clattering your spoon against the sides of the cup or slurping loudly!
"Everyone probably has their own tea rituals and personal preference but my advice, in terms of enjoying your afternoon tea, it's probably to eat the sandwiches first, then the cakes and scones. Take small, delicate bites, as opposed to swallowing a sandwich or macaron whole, and let the tea brew for about five minutes before serving.
"I always like to pour the tea first, then the milk. Stir the tea backwards and forwards and side to side, not round and round in circles.
"The main thing, however, is that customers relax and enjoy themselves and not to let 'etiquette' get in the way too much. We like to think that the afternoon tea available at all of Marco's venues stays true to what is a fantastic British tradition, but in a much more open and friendly environment."
Those who do pop along to one of Marco's restaurants will be served the best of British.
To start, the selection of traditional sandwiches includes Severn and Wye smoked salmon with light cream cheese, sliced Wiltshire ham with Colman's mustard, sliced cucumber and light cream cheese, and rare roast beef with horseradish, all of which are served on white or granary loaf with unsalted butter.
On the pastries selection, guests can enjoy macarons, sachertorte (chocolate cake), strawberry and clotted cream cheesecake, and carrot cake.
Then to finish, guests can tuck into freshly baked scones with clotted cream and preserves – but it will be up to them on whether it's cream or jam first!
To find out more please visit our Afternoon Tea page.
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