Manchester House is swish. It may not be the sort of word they’d use in their official publicity, but that’s the intention and that’s certainly the effect: a get-me-I’m-something-special fine dining experience in sumptuous surroundings, accessible from the street only by a private lift.
Afternoon tea, by definition, is also swish. It’s an entirely superfluous meal between your dinner and your tea, just for jollies, meant for chatting and drinking and grazing on bite-sized fancies. It’s only fitting, then, that Manchester House does a dashed fine afternoon tea.
To give you some idea of the level of sophistication we’re talking here, it is in fact a themed afternoon tea, the theme in question being ‘colonialism’. Now, if you’re anything like Northern Soul, your first reaction to this might be to recall the closing scenes of Carry On Up the Khyber. Thankfully, it’s not like that at all. Certainly, there’s a complete absence of cannon-fire and falling plasterwork. Rather, the beautifully presented sandwich selection takes in the likes of Coronation chicken; cucumber and dill puree; poached salmon with crème fraiche; and rare roast beef, horseradish coleslaw and crispy fried onions. Each one comes with a redolent waft of upper class types taking a repast under the blazing sun on sprawling lawns. Each has been honed to something very like perfection, with the roast beef in particular being a crunchy, flavoursome wee marvel. Quality not quantity is the philosophy here, and the quality bar is set pretty flippin’ high.
You’ll still have room, of course, for your afters. If anything, the mini-desserts manage to top the sandwiches for sheer culinary showmanship. Indeed, they’re arranged in a suggested eating order on the platter, so that the flavour of each complements its neighbours. You could, of course, be a guzzle-guts and just cram the lot down willy-nilly – it’s a free country – but they know what they’re doing here and you’d be missing something. It starts with panache, and indeed ganache (the 72 per cent chocolate kind), in the form of a lush chocolate tart with a gold garnish. Next up, a square of Lamington cake, made with buttercream, milk chocolate, dessicated coconut and topped with coconut crisp. Lamington comes with its own bit of colonial history, as it was conceived at the turn of the 20th century during a baking accident by the Governor of Queensland’s personal chef. Let’s be honest, you just don’t get that kind of pizazz with a slice of Coffee Walnut.
Similarly, the redbush tea panna cotta with mango, chilli, fresh lime and pineapple crisp is a right little kaleidoscope of finely-balanced tastes. The rose apple macaroon is a seriously delicate and delightful confection, and works perfectly when followed up by the more substantial proposition of a small bowl of home-made scones and Eccles cakes, complete with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Afternoon tea might be a frivolous tradition, but if you’re going to do it, it should be as classy and swaggeringly cheeky as it is here. Indeed, it manages to sweep out much of the fustiness of the tradition and give it an appealing boot in the pants. Manchester House itself, with its lavish, theatrical fixtures and fittings and magisterial view across Deansgate is an apt environment in which to luxuriate. So much thought and skill has gone into creating the exquisite little treats on offer here that it almost seems a shame to eat them, especially in a mere gollop or two. Still, that’s precisely what they’re there for. All told, this is afternoon tea elevated to the level of high art, and it craves your indulgence. It’s just the ticket.
Where: Bridge Street, Spinningfields, Manchester
More info: www.manchesterhouse.uk.com
To read Northern Soul’s interview with Manchester House’s Aiden Byrne, click here