When it comes to food, I am not easily beaten. Nor do I believe that women should be expected to pick at their food as if they were tiny, hungerless woodland creatures, purely on account of being female. So when I was invited to try the Afternoon Tea menu at Opus One, the standalone restaurant housed in the Free Trade Hall at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, there was really only one option for me. Yes, the venue is stunning (more of that later); yes, there was a lovely jazz band making beautiful music; yes, I did have a pretty nice dress on. But did I want the Gentleman's Afternoon Tea rather than the Traditional? Oh yes - it's easy to forget you're a lady when there's pies to be had.
To be fair, both looked pretty tempting. The Traditional Afternoon Tea offers a pot of tea, a selection of finger sandwiches, mini cakes (today's were banoffee tart, an individual carrot cake and a dinky little chocolate eclair), and two homemade scones (one plain, one fruit) served with clotted cream and strawberry jam - all well and good, until you see what is on offer to Manchester's gentlemen. The scones and pot of tea remain the same (I had an excellent loose leaf Earl Grey), but the dainty sandwiches are replaced with a more "rustic" offering and the cakes are replaced with a hot Yorkshire pudding filled with beef and gravy, a warm pork pie and a small dish of fish, chips and mushy peas.
Most of it was as good as it sounds - I particularly enjoyed the pie (which was so good I took my non-pie-loving friend's home in a box thoughtfully provided by the lovely staff), the Yorkshire pudding was pleasingly crispy, and the scones were about as fresh as could be, still warm from the oven. In fact, the only mild letdown was the sandwiches, which were a little unexciting - I was brought cheese (rather thin on, erm, cheese), ham and beef, and next time would specifically ask for what I wanted in order to pre-empt the crushing disappointment of there being no egg one. Elsewhere there were one or two tiny glitches; the food took a long time to come (even allowing for the fact that we had ordered items specifically stated to arrive warm), and our table was missing tongs for the sugar and a knife for the scones - little details, admittedly, but ones you'd expect a 5* hotel to get right.
Still, the venue is lovely - the Free Trade Hall has been an important part of Manchester since it was built in 1853, and Opus One is nothing if not opulent, with the red velvet walls and black gloss of the main restaurant and the slightly more pared-back comfort of the terrace area where we partook of our manly feast. And here, I must hang my head in shame - I was beaten by the sheer quantity of the food and was forced to leave several items (much to my chagrin), obviously on account of my dainty ladylike appetite. Bearing this in mind, I think the Afternoon Tea Menu offers good value for money at £18.95 - particularly as you can snaffle the Traditional for a mere £12.50 until October 27th (details here).
So, a lovely afternoon, and one that proved I am indeed a lady. Well, if only I hadn't stopped for a quick pint at Brew Dog and then snarfed a pork pie on the tram on my way home...
- Opus One Bar and Restaurant is in the Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester M2 5GP; tel 0161 8358904.