Some say afternoon tea is a completely unnecessary meal. Rammed in between lunch and dinner (which will see you through to bedtime quite comfortably on their own), it’s hardly an essential part of anyone’s diet. Here at Living North we have no time for this view. We love afternoon tea.
This means we’re already quite excited when we arrive at Matfen Hall. From reception we follow a maze of well-signposted corridors to the Library Restaurant, where we are promptly seated at a small round table covered with a crisp white table cloth. There is a pair of hard-backed chairs on one side, and two plump armchairs on the other. We choose the armchairs – we’re here to enjoy ourselves after all.
We’re in a grand room which exactly fits my expectations of country house grandeur (too much time spent in front of a Downton Abbey boxset). There are several small tables, armchairs, sofas, a huge stone fireplace with a beautiful surround, and low music plays in the background. The papered walls are hung with large canvases, including some rather imposing portraits which I’m glad we’re not sitting beneath. Their stern stares are enough to make even the purest soul feel a little guilty about drinking champagne in the afternoon.
The champagne arrives first (an excellent start) and although I’m disappointed we’re not served by Carson the butler, it’s quite delicious. As we await the rest of our Champagne Afternoon Tea (£23.95 each) I start to pay more attention to that low background music. Its vague familiarity is explained when I suddenly realise it’s Swedish dance DJ Avicii’s recent hit Wake Me Up. I find this quite an odd choice, but it’s fairly unobtrusive and it doesn’t seem to bother my dining partner for the day (my mum) so I decide to go with it.
At this point, our tea arrives. Two silver teapots (English breakfast for me, Earl Grey for mum), some fresh slices of lemon and a pot of hot water (which we didn’t have to ask for, so bonus points for that). We barely have time to pour the tea before we are brought a triple-tiered silver and white cake stand layered with food. This truly is a traditional afternoon tea – the soft sandwiches are smoked salmon, ham, egg and cucumber, the scones are served with butter, jam and thick clotted cream. There’s a moment of discord when my mum tells me I shouldn’t have both butter and cream on my scone – I have both, of course. And it’s amazing.
We think you’re probably supposed to eat the scones last, but we couldn’t wait to try them so the sweet things are the final act. There’s a deliciously creamy mango affair served in a shot glass, a miniature lemon meringue tart, a very chocolatey square and some sort of cakey roll which tastes primarily of sugar. (Incidentally, the background music has now moved on to chart-topping chanteuse Emeli Sandé.) We each try the whole selection, but we can’t manage the whole lot.
Having finished our valiant (but ultimately doomed) attempt to eat everything on the stand, we take a few minutes to recover by the fire before exiting to a chorus of Take That’s Rule The World. We feel like we can. After a little sit down.