Wed 27 Jul 2016
The reason I first came to Ireland was the Art Tea at the Merrion Hotel. I was working as a food and travel journalist and I’d come to Dublin to spend a couple of days with the pastry chef and his kitchen staff to learn all about the fabulous afternoon tea they were doing.
Yes, I realise how lucky I am. If everyone’s first Irish destination was the Merrion, they’d never leave!
And though I did leave, I came back less than a year later and ended up calling Ireland my home for the next six-and-a-half years. It’s funny how many connections to this Art Tea I’ve developed in that time; it’s true what they say, Ireland is a small country! Paul Kelly, the Executive Pastry Chef at the Merrion, now co-hosts the Great Irish Bake-Off with my fellow blogger friend Lilly Higgins; it also turns out that Paul grew up in Wexford – where my husband’s family is from. My father-in-law has some funny memories of Paul as a kid, riding his bicycle in daredevil style down their old road.
So I thought it would be fun to revisit the Art Tea (something I’ve done a few times since moving here) with my sister-in-law Nessa and my niece Aoibheann. My mother-in-law, Elva, would have loved this as she was a huge fan of a fabulous afternoon tea; sadly she passed away nearly three years ago. Even more reason to go with the girls in the family for proper tea – the first for my little 4-year-old niece – and start a new tradition together. These rituals will be all the more important with an ocean between us, so I hope this will be a place we visit together whenever I am back in Dublin.
We had a lovely time in the Merrion’s beautiful Drawing Room, right in front of the fireplace. Aoibheann ordered chicken nuggets and chips from the kid’s food menu, while Nessa and I indulged in a glass of bubbly to start off the tea (it had to be done!). We then moved onto an array of finger sandwiches – duck egg mayonnaise on a brioche bun; smoked salmon with a lemony butter on brown bread and ham with mustard and tarragon on fluffy white bread. Afterward it was time for piles of mini scones and sweet cakes and breads with lashings of the most luxurious clotted cream I’ve ever tasted. All of this was served with our choice of freshly-brewed tea.
The real highlight of the tea, other than the very special treatment given to my niece (coloring books, a champagne glass for her water and lots of smiles!) were the three delectable and stunning treats inspired by the art in the hotel. Paul and his staff create these edible works of art by hand, and each are as delicious as they are beautiful. The treats are served alongside a small printout of the art piece that inspired it, and all guests are given a bound book featuring a collection of the art in the Merrion. It’s a truly unique afternoon tea experience.
Aoibheann received her treats in a beautiful takeaway box complete with a bow and handle for carrying – she was absolutely delighted (and probably spoiled for life for afternoon tea!). It was a special afternoon, one that represented so many connections both for myself and for my Irish family.
Art Tea is served from 3pm to 6pm Monday to Thursday, and is served at 2pm and 4.30pm Friday to Sunday. Please go here for online reservations, alternatively please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (01) 603 0608.