Time for tea at Christmas

It’s no secret that the Irish love their tea. The Irish drink more of this hot beverage per capita than any other country. The presence of tea making facilities is considered essential in any hotel room and is offered at breakfast, 'elevenses', lunch, dinner, and any time in between.

We have fully embraced that very English tradition of afternoon tea. Legend has it that the ritual of afternoon tea owes its origins to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. As a young women in the early 1800s, it was common to eat only two main meals a day, with breakfast scheduled in the morning and dinner taken late in the evening. When kerosene lamps were introduced in wealthier homes, eating a late dinner became increasingly fashionable, widening the long wait between meals.

Troubled by the daily hunger pangs, she very sensibly decided to schedule a time to take tea and a snack each afternoon, at first done furtively in her bedroom. Over time well-heeled acquaintances joined her and the idea of an afternoon tea gathering spread across high society and became a favorite pastime of ladies of leisure. Nowadays tea rooms and hotels in London and throughout the UK offer permutations of this centuries-old tradition.

Not to be left out of an opportunity to have another cuppa, here in Galway we have a good many afternoon teas of our own. The newest and by far one of the most stylish, The Radisson offers a delicious tea in the glamorous Coppers Bar and Lounge, and there is not a white sliced pan in sight. One of Ireland’s largest hotels, the Radisson Blu, has some 260 rooms and suites, a thermal spa, and extensive leisure and conference facilities. Just off Eyre Square and with stunning views of Lough Atalia, it is the perfect venue to enjoy this most elegant mini-meal.

The staff, as always, are charming. The menu offers guests a selection of teas and coffee and even a glass of prosecco for those who want something a little more celebratory. The waitresses flit among the tables busying themselves with a gleaming tea service and the handsome mahogany stand. From the bottom up, it holds elegant festive sandwiches which manage to be both filling and dainty, traditional turkey with cranberry mayo, crispy bacon on blaa bread, warm Cooleeney brie melted over a sweet yellow pepper and hazelnut tartlet, and a baked ham with porter cheese, Ballymaloe relish on Galway Hooker soda bread. A little jar of prawn cocktail to spoon onto melba toast is a further unusual twist to the savory selection.

There are freshly baked scones, still warm from the oven, plain or apple and cinnamon, with the tiniest hint of nutmeg which you can spread with butter or dollop with Irish made G’s gourmet strawberry jam and thick, silky, cream. Then there are bite sized cakes and tartlets (well, three or four bites to be exact, unless you have a very large mouth ), exquisitely presented and scrumptious to boot. Among the irresistible treats are miniature macaroons and tiny mince pies with the most crumbly pastry, with squares of salted caramel cheesecake and chocolate opera cake. The menu changes to reflect what is in season, and there is always something different coming from the excellent pastry kitchen, anyone who has ever eaten Sunday lunch at the Radisson will know that the standards there are high.

When I tried the afternoon tea at the very end of November, it was just the thing to put you in the Christmas spirit. A perfect place to drop your bags of Christmas shopping and sink into one of the relaxing chairs, amid the opulently dressed trees and twinkling lights. Guests check in and out, visitors to the lobby and the bar are constant as you while away an afternoon relaxing with family, having a Christmas catch-up with friends, or simply people watching in front of the fire. The very idea of afternoon tea is rooted in tradition and synonymous with top quality personal service and The Radisson is famous for its exceptionally well-trained and knowledgeable staff. This one comes highly recommended.

Tea is priced at €22.50 per person with optional add-ons of a glass of prosecco, served Wednesday to Sunday, 2.30pm to 5.30pm. Booking is essential, at least 24 hours in advance.

Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Lough Atalia Road, Galway. Contact: 091 538300 or email: [email protected].

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