Afternoon Tea Week

by Mark Broadbent

Mark Broadbent has enjoyed a food-obsessed career spanning three decades. He’s cooked in Five star Hotels, Two star Michelin restaurants, Gastro Pubs and Member’s Clubs, delivering unforgettable cuisine or acting as a consultant. London’s Bluebird was just one of his success stories. Under his creative direction, the restaurant achieved huge critical acclaim and was especially loved by AA Gill.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a sucker for a great British tradition, and it won’t come as a surprise that it’s the food-related ones that I love the most.

Fish and chips, roast beef, cream teas and a full English breakfast – all culinary creations undoubtedly best served on British soil.

But while some of our greatest foodie masterpieces are all about the food, there’s one which also requires particular attention to the ambience, setting and even time of day it’s served: Afternoon Tea.

Seeing as this week marks Afternoon Tea Week, I’ll be determined to get out and enjoy this most elegant of British treats for myself.

We have Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, to thank for the origins of this culinary delight, which came about in the 1840s when she requested a light meal to beat off the afternoon slump.

The idea soon caught on among the wealthy classes and by the end of the nineteenth century it was a tradition enjoyed by both the upper and middle classes, between 4pm and 6pm.

A pot of tea (yes, we’re talking tea leaves here too – no bags allowed) is of course a pre-requisite. But equally as important are the dainty sandwiches – crustless and cut into fingers, with a selection of delicate fillings such as cucumber or egg and cress.

Scones often make an appearance, with clotted cream and jam, while additional sweet treats include a small selection of cakes, perhaps including Battenberg or a Victoria sponge.

While the Victorians would have enjoyed afternoon tea as a daily ritual, nowadays it’s something of a one-off treat for most of us, maybe at a hotel or spa. Which is perhaps why a cheeky glass (or two) of Champagne is increasingly making an appearance on the afternoon tea table.

One thing’s for sure, I’m definitely going to sneak out this week to indulge in what must be the most genteel of all British traditions.

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