Wel­com­ing back the tea set

The Shel­bourne’s Lord Mayor’s Lounge is re­open­ing af­ter a four- month re­fur­bish­ment. Ex­pect the pun­ters to pour in for its new, re­vamped af­ter­noon tea, writes Marie- Claire Digby

The Irish Times Magazine - - AFTERNOON TEA -

‘ If we could open at nine o’clock in the morn­ing, I reckon we could do five sit­tings a day.” Af­ter­noon tea at 9am, surely not? Garry Hughes, ex­ec­u­tive chef at the Shel­bourne Ho­tel, is talk­ing about the in­ces­sant de­mand for reser­va­tions for af­ter­noon tea i n the ho­tel’s Lord Mayor’s Lounge.

Between 900 and 1,000 lav­ish af­ter­noon teas are served there each week, and the dainty sand­wiches, but­ter­milk scones and art­ful pas­tries con­trib­ute al­most ¤ 2 mil­lion in rev­enue to the ho­tel’s cof­fers each year.

“A quiet day in the Lord Mayor’s Lounge is 100 teas, an or­di­nary day is 150,” says Hughes. “When I came here first, the room was do­ing only about 10 or 12 peo­ple a day for af­ter­noon tea. I am amazed by the in­ter­est.”

To cope with de­mand, the first af­ter­noon tea ta­bles at week­ends and on bank hol­i­day Mon­days are seated at 11.30am and ser­vice con­tin­ues, with four two- hour slots, un­til 7.30pm.

The land­mark lounge over­look­ing St Stephen’s Green re­opens on Satur­day af­ter a four- month re­fur­bish­ment project led by Lon­don- based in­te­rior de­signer Guy Oliver, who has also worked on Clar­idge’s, The Con­naught and Num­ber 10 Down­ing Street.

Gone are the squishy arm­chairs and so­fas, re­placed by a more stream­lined ar­range­ment dom­i­nated by a cen­tre­piece leather ban­quette. The colour pal­ette is golden yel­low, pale green, cream and ivory, and an ex­tra 10 seats have been fit­ted in, re­duc­ing those week­end wait lists a lit­tle.

The grand piano is still there and has been joined by a pair of Chi­nois­erie cabi- nets that will serve as pantries. A 19th- cen­tury Water­ford Crys­tal chan­de­lier, orig­i­nal to the ho­tel town­houses, has been re­in­stated.

To co­in­cide with the un­veil­ing of the re­vamped space, a new af­ter­noon tea that has been nine months in the plan­ning is also be­ing launched. “When I saw the draw­ings come in for the room, I knew we had to take it back to a clas­sic tea,” Hughes says, af­ter a se­ries of themed teas cel­e­brat­ing such things as the ho­tel’s Princess Grace con­nec­tion, and Michael Flat­ley’s paint­ings.

For re­search pur­poses, ex­ec­u­tive pas­try chef Caoimhe Hanafin, who de­signed the new tea in con­junc­tion with Hughes, was dis­patched to Lon­don in De­cem­ber, tasked with eat­ing six af­ter­noon teas in two days, tak­ing in the Berke­ley, the Savoy, the Con­naught, the Ritz, the Lang­ham and Rose­wood Lon­don.

“She came back with so much con­fi­dence in what we are do­ing,” Hughes says. Ap­par­ently not all of the Lon­don of­fer­ings tasted as good as they looked. “It’s about vis­ual im­pact first, it’s got to look amaz­ing, but then I want you to be able to close your eyes, and taste. . .”

In a new de­par­ture, the en­tire food of­fer­ing is be­ing pre­sented at once, on a spe­cially com­mis­sioned four- tier stand, rather than a rec­tan­gu­lar plat­ter of sand­wiches be­ing served first, fol­lowed by a three- tier cake stand of scones and pas­tries. The move will stream­line the ser­vice and cut down the num­ber of times ser­vice staff will visit the ta­ble.

“I came in for tea with my wife, she thought she was be­ing treated, but I was ac­tu­ally do­ing a time and mo­tion study of how of­ten some­body vis­ited the ta­ble. On av­er­age it was 13- 15 times,” Hughes says. “Some peo­ple could find that in­tru­sive.”

On the bot­tom tier, the ho­tel’s but­ter­milk scones ( up to 1,000 of these are made ev­ery day) are joined by mini- gin­ger­bread loaves, moist and squidgy and fra­grant with spice.

On top of these is the savoury plate, with two each of four types of sand­wich. The ho­tel’s house- smoked salmon is served on a dainty round of Guin­ness and trea­cle bread, with pick­led cu­cum­ber and lemon gel.

“We smoke 10,000 sides of salmon a year,” Hughes says. He cures the fil­lets for between 16 and 24 hours in his spe­cific mix­ture of su­gar and salt. “It is gen­er­ally 2: 1 salt to su­gar. I do the op­po­site, su­gar to salt.” Dots of lemon gel, made by blanch­ing and re­fresh­ing le­mons 10 times, then blitz­ing them and pass­ing them through a sieve, be­fore turn­ing them into a gel, add colour and acid­ity.

Pump­kin seed bread is topped with Ir­ish goat’s cheese, feather- light sliv­ers of cherry tomato, and chives.

Av­o­cado and chicken in a light may­on­naise is the stuff­ing for petite poppy seed rolls. Only the last savoury on the plate, egg may­on­naise and cress, comes in a tra­di­tional fin­ger sand­wich.

“I wanted to avoid a big plate of fin­ger sand­wiches,” Hughes says.

Top­ping the savouries are two iden­ti­cal plates, one per per­son, of ed­i­ble art­works. This reimag­in­ing of the clas­sics sees pan­na­cotta, cheese­cake, lemon driz­zle and choco­late éclair put on their finest fin­ery and join the party.

Hughes sug­gests guests should start with the pan­na­cotta, which is topped with rhubarb jelly, aer­ated rhubarb foam, and a tiny Swiss meringue. The cheese­cake has a sablé bis­cuit base, and the strawberry and vanilla fill­ing has a sur­prise lime jelly cen-

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