One of my favourite things about afternoon tea is how predictable it is. A lick of jam and a splodge of cream on a buttery scone. Dinky finger sandwiches full of egg and cress or smoked salmon. Even the cake selection is unlikely to challenge your preconceptions, save the occasional lavender macaroon. You know what you’re in for, and that’s the charm.
I was, however, hugely intrigued by the prospect of the Biscuit Factory tea. The contemporary art gallery’s airy little café offers a tea with a difference – no scones, no sandwiches, and an emphasis on market produce. So, on a frosty Sunday afternoon, my friend and I decided to give it a go.
The tea arrived on a large square dish. No messing about with cake stands here. Our tasty treats were arranged in orderly rows, with savoury on one side and sweet on the other. Where to begin?
I went for the choux pastry gougère first – a light choux roll filled with tender poached chicken in a delicate mustard and tarragon mayonnaise. My friend started with the sausage roll – Crane Row Farm pork enveloped in buttery pastry with rosemary and sea salt to make the flavours sing. This was swiftly followed by a savoury tart piled high with peas, broad beans, mint and crumbly feta. My friend doesn’t like fish, so I scored two helpings of the hot smoked salmon, doused in dill herb oil and piled into a Kilner jar, topped with crunchy cucumber. Her loss.
Already feeling quite satisfied (I was now making a mental note to have thin soup for dinner) we tackled the sweet side of the plate. The chocolate financier looked like your common or garden brownie, but it was sumptuously sticky and melted in the mouth. I sacrificed my fruit frangipane to my friend. Apparently it was nuttier than she expected and contained juicy blueberries. The summer fruit tart with chantilly cream was a cut above the usual buffet equivalent, but the star of the show was a silky lemon posset, creamy and with a real lemony kick, which was presented in a jar and topped with gooey raspberry jam.
Rather than drinking tea with the food, we simply finished with a large pot to share. The Bird Of Paradise tea is a blend of green and white teas, apple, peach and mango, and it’s wonderfully refreshing. The food wasn’t at all cloying or heavy, but we were rather full and it was good to lean back, sip tea and enjoy the views over Ouseburn Valley from our window seat.
The Factory Kitchen’s afternoon tea is not a total departure from the basic (and brilliant) principles of the traditional afternoon tea. Tasty nibbles, quality tea and a feast for the eyes? It’s all still there. But this alternative take on the traditional tea is unusual, imaginative and rather delicious. I would encourage you to give it a try.
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