A beautiful mid-December day in Dublin, Ireland – sunny and about 42F or 6C – found me approaching the front entrance of the Shelbourne Hotel for “Festive Afternoon Tea.” We had reservations at this, one of Dublin’s most historic hotels, built in 1828 and the location where the Constitution of the Irish Free State was drafted by Michael Collins and associates in Room 112. The hotel has views overlooking St. Stephen’s Green, the largest garden square in Europe.
“Tea time in the Lord Mayor’s Lounge is muted and airbrushed by Nostalgia, the clink of tea cups, and the cadness of Marie Whelan’s Piano are punctuated by the rhythmic sound of hoof beats as horse-drawn carriages bowl past the windows onto sightseeing promenades” – from The Shelbourne and its People by Michael O’Sullivan and Bernadine O’Neill.
As we entered the hotel, it became apparent that this was one of the busiest gathering places for Dubliners and travelers alike. The lobby was teeming with people who must have all had the same idea to meet at The Shelbourne that day.
After a few minutes of orienting ourselves in the hotel and finding The Lord Mayor’s Lounge, we were seated at a corner table, next to a window overlooking the Green and with a good view across the entire room. Some of the first things we noticed were the vintage 1828 architecture, the brightly lit fireplace, a large-central glass chandelier, and live piano music. Our server told us that ordering afternoon tea would be easy, just pick out the tea and everything else would be brought to us – no worries, just relax and enjoy the room.
In a sense, The Lord Mayor’s Lounge is a refuge away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the hotel’s common areas. It was quite busy in other parts of the hotel but, in here, there was a slower 1820’s sensibility – hushed conversations, a crackling fireplace, and soft piano music.
A quick look at the tea menu revealed two classic blacks, two scented & fruited blacks, a premium oolong, two classic and scented greens, a premium white, and four herbal and fruit blends. Our party ordered a Himalayan Peak Darjeeling Organic, a Mint Mélange and a Wild Blossoms & Berries.
We sat at a table with comfortable wing backed chairs, but there were also low tables around sofa-like seating in The Lord Mayors Lounge. Just ahead of us was a family of at least ten getting together on this saturday for The Shelbourne’s Festive Afternoon Tea.
The three tier tray arrived with classic finger sandwiches including a Honey glazed Limerick ham with wholegrain mustard, finest Irish Oak smoked salmon, Cucumber and cream cheese, and an Egg & cress with sour cream. For me, the Limerick ham and wholegrain mustard was outstanding, and the egg mayonnaise was also very good.
The friendly staff are busily handling the afternoon tea service for this filled-to-capacity room, but there always seems to be someone nearby to help with anything you might need.
The scones are next and include some plain and some with fruit. Delicious, rich and firm Irish clotted cream, creamy Irish butter and raspberry jam are your condiments.
The sweets and pastries almost look like artwork on the top level of your three tier tray. Glasses of champagne jelly with peach and raspberry are in the center section and arranged around them are raspberry macaroons, mini pavlovas with lime mascarpone cream, pistachio financiers, coffee and almond profiteroles, and Shelbourne mini-mince pies. I thought the almond profiteroles were the best, though the champagne jelly took the prize for sheer eye appeal.
Even though the room was filled to capacity with guests enjoying afternoon tea, it almost seemed like tea was the secondary player today. The real driving forces were reunions of family, perhaps some old friends getting together, grandma and grandpa with their children and their children’s children, and just about every other group of friends and family you can think of. Afternoon tea, after all, is a social event and on this day, it was plainly evident in the smiles on the faces in The Lord Mayors Lounge.
Here is a video of our visit: