I called for afternoon tea reservations at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin and was told that they were booked for the entire month of December. Fortunately after we arrived at the hotel, the staff was able to get us a seating (most likely because were guests of the hotel). As luck would have it, we were given a table directly in front of the fireplace and facing the harpist who was just beginning to play for the guests taking afternoon tea.
The Merrion Hotel is located in the center of Georgian Dublin and is just a short walk from Dublin’s “golden mile” – an area of pubs, shops and restaurants near St. Stephen’s Green. The main house of the hotel was created from four townhouses originally built in the 1760’s and now painstakingly restored.
Afternoon tea is served in the hotel’s two Drawing Rooms which are beautifully restored Georgian masterpieces. The rococo plasterwork, woodwork, period furnishings, chandeliers, Irish fabrics, turf-burning fireplaces, and antiques were all either acquired or meticulously restored to lend an authentic feel to what genteel living in Georgian Dublin was like in the 1700’s.
When you are first seated, you immediately notice the quiet elegance of the room, the flickering fireplace, the soft harp music, and you get the feeling that something good is about to happen.
There are only nine well spaced tables in the Drawing Rooms at The Merrion and the benefit of this is that you will have a very private afternoon tea, as if you and your party were personally invited over to someone’s elegant Irish home. Since the drawing rooms are located on the main floor of the hotel, an added benefit is that you might observe interesting hotel guests on the way in or out of the hotel. In our case, we encountered the Irish actor, Gabriel Byrne, on the main floor of the hotel evidently back in his home town of Dublin taking a break from his busy schedule.
Afternoon Tea today was a “themed” event called Art Tea. The sweets and cakes courses were inspired by the extensive collection of 19th and 20th Century Irish art on display in the hotel. The Pastry chef creates three pastries for you that mimic the actual paintings hanging on the walls of the hotel. (More on that later).
On the tea menu, the selections were four black teas, three green teas, three fruit infusions and three herbal infusions. I chose the Darjeeling Earl Grey which is Darjeeling blended with oil of bergamot, and it was excellent. The tea is served in silver teapots, and the china service is Wedgewood “W” bone china.
Art Tea begins with a course of four savoury tea sandwiches – Chicken and Pesto on Sunflower Bread, Oak Smoked Irish Salmon on Brown Soda Bread with Horseradish Cream, Cucumber with Cream Cheese and Chive on Tomato Bread, and Egg Mayonnaise & Cress on Bridge Rolls.
After the finger sandwiches, the themed art show begins. A Battenberg cake (also known as a window cake) was brought out in a color scheme that matched the full sized painting hanging on the wall right behind us. It was moist, delicious and a work of art in its own right. Lemon bread and Portercake were also served on this level of the three tier tray.
Not to be forgotten, I should also mention that plain and fruit scones were part of the Art Tea and were served with Glenilen (County Cork) clotted cream, raspberry jam and lemon curd.
Now it was time for the stars of the show – the Merrion Art Tea Pastries.
Arranged on our table were miniature renderings of three paintings from the hotel – Woman in White, Frying Pan, Funnel, Eggs & Lemons, and Roses and Temple. In this final course were three art pastries that were inspired by the three artworks – a coconut & blueberry macaroon (for the Woman in White), a vanilla biscuit with orange curd (for the Frying Pan, Funnel, Eggs & Lemons), and a rosewater & orange mousse on white chocolate feuilletine (for the Roses & Temple). These were almost too beautiful to eat, but we did somehow manage and they were delicious. We agreed that the rosewater and orange mousse was the standout of the three.
Around this time, a couple of girls (about age 9) seemed interested in the young woman playing the harp and sat down on the carpet right in front of her. Without skipping a beat, the harpist smiled at them, engaged them in a little conversation and never missed a note. I guess you could call that a musical form of multi-tasking.
Let me summarize or “paint” the scene for you (pun intended). You’re sitting in a vintage overstuffed, soft, cushy chair in a very uncrowded room as if you were in 18thCentury Dublin (sight). Next to you is a fireplace flickering with the burning of “turf” or peat and giving off that unmistakably peaty aroma (smell), and a harpist is gently strumming the strings of her harp (hearing). You’re sampling fine full-leaf tea, tea sandwiches and pastries served on Wedgewood fine bone china (taste and touch). The fact of the matter is, all five of your senses are being gently massaged and you don’t even realize it. Two hours go by quickly and after the afternoon tea was over, I didn’t want to leave. So I stayed a while longer, watched the fire, and my daughter soon returned with a book to read so we could enjoy the ambiance just a little while longer.
Here is a video of our visit…