For someone who becomes ridiculously excited at the thought of Christmas, yet equally cannot bear the early-onset hysteria that brings Christmas decorations to stores in September, I was more than ready to start the spirit and sparkle mid-December. However, as my friends and family have learnt the hard way, I do not permit the consumption of seasonal baked goods out of season, and therefore did not partake of my first mince pie until Saturday last. With my rather tardy start to the season of indulgence, what better way to ramp up the excitement than to enjoy the Festive Afternoon Tea for two at Opus One at the Radisson?
Tardy in life as I am tardy in my foray into the festive season, I arrived in a fluster and was immediately impressed with the calm manner of the lady who took my coat and whisked me to my table. After a moment to settle into one of the squashy cushioned chairs (the clever people at Opus One must choose these deliberately, as there was no way I was leaving quickly after sinking into it), we were offered a pot of tea from the extensive selection; being traditional, I opted for Earl Grey whereas Liz went for Assam. We agreed both were delicious, and the generous-sized teapots were refilled part way through our afternoon.
Then for the treats. The waiter came bearing a suitably traditional tiered plate laden with goodies. Despite eyeing up the cake items at the apex, as all greedy girls would, we decided it was only right to begin at the bottom and sample the array of finger sandwiches, eight fillings in all. Amongst the more traditional afternoon tea flavours of smoked salmon and cream cheese, and egg and cucumber, nestled the roast turkey, cranberry and stuffing, and the honey roast ham and mustard. The turkey was moist and the cranberry sweetly sharp, but it was the ham that stood out for me. It tasted just as a Christmas ham-on-the-bone should - tender, slightly salty and perfectly complemented by the vinegary twinkle of the wholegrain mustard. As greedy girls, we enjoyed sampling all the festive flavours, and we were happy to share and cut each sandwich in half in order to do so; however we felt that two of each of three different fillings would have been sufficient.
On to the middle layer, where the most delightful treasure was unearthed: fruit scones with clotted cream and jam. The scones were perfection - warm, light and fluffy, and with little nuggets of sweetness courtesy of the currants, cranberry and orange. The dried fruit was not overpowering though, which was a jolly good job, as I certainly tried to overload my scone with cream before Liz alerted me to the need to reserve some for my second scone. I would have liked a little more clotted cream, particularly as there were four scones to divide it amongst, however on reflection, the less greedy of you would probably manage. The dinky jars of gem-like jam preserve appealed to my love of all things miniature, and we reasoned that the fruit points accumulated probably eliminated the calorific cream.
Having eaten our way up the mountain of morsels, stopping for fortifying sips of tea on the way, we finally reached the summit. The cake selection was plentiful, and included a mini chocolate fudge cake, a cream-filled cornet and a triangle of fruit cake. Perhaps I was spoilt by the scones, but I was slightly disappointed by the cakes. Although beautifully presented, they didn't quite match up to the home-made deliciousness of the scones, and I found the cream horn cloying and a little dry. We decided that we could probably manage the winter berry jelly, which was cool and refreshing after so much sweetness.
By this stage our eyes were certainly bigger than our bellies, and we had to ask for the remaining cakes to be boxed up to go. The waiter was charmingly obliging, and on reflection, had probably witnessed this very same reaction before. And this is probably indicative of the value of the Festive Afternoon Tea - at £18.95 per person you certainly get your money's worth - it was even too much for two self-proclaimed greedy girls. Obviously, we managed to find room later in the evening, particularly as the festivities continued with a celebratory cocktail. So thank you Opus One, for being the gateway to my Christmas conviviality.
- Opus One is at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester M2 5GP. We were invited as guests of the restaurant, and were not asked to pay for our meal.