Secrets of recreating a five-star festive afternoon tea at home

We consult the pros on how to tablescape and source all the ingredients for the perfect afternoon tea over Christmas
Secrets of recreating a five-star festive afternoon tea at home

Rasa Alisauskaite, assistant food and beverage manager of The Gallery at Adare Manor, with a tiered cake stand, the essential centrepiece for the afternoon tea table. Picture: Paul Lehane

Afternoon tea is a 200-year-old ritual indulged in by lovers of a porcelain cup with tea streaming from a china pot, and dainty treats, sweet and savoury, that we have Anna, Duchess of Bedford to thank for.

Back in the thick of the Victorian era when lunch, as we know it today, didn’t exist, poor Anna complained of a sinking feeling mid-afternoon which she remedied with tea and a bite, later inviting friends round to join her.

 Afternoon tea is an opportunity to get out the vintage china and cutlery, with dessert plates being the perfect size for piling up the goodies.
Afternoon tea is an opportunity to get out the vintage china and cutlery, with dessert plates being the perfect size for piling up the goodies.

A celebrity in her day, being besties with Queen Victoria, Anna’s afternoon tea caught on, like the micro-distillery gin and charcuterie board of its time. something we can replicate over Christmas while we’re relaxed, the fire is blazing and candles are lit on a beautifully laid table.

But let’s steer clear of the gimmicky deconstructed afternoon tea that diminishes fluffy scones to mere croutons for sprinkling over strawberry compote, and where Assam is tipped out for a cheeky fruit infusion claiming to enhance the compote’s sweetness.

This is the season when flavours of history and tradition are requisite.

Giving us the scoop on how to do it in five-star style are historic Adare Manor in Co. Limerick and the flamboyant Townhouse Café in Doneraile, Co Cork.

Rasa Alisauskaite, assistant food and beverage manager of The Gallery at Adare Manor, advocates for a traditional tablescape, starting with a gleaming white tablecloth and napkins to make the set-up feel clean and elegant.

“One of the most exciting parts of getting ready for a tea party is setting the table for your guests,” she says. 

 Adare Manor's afternoon tea blends traditional sparkling white linens, silverware and china with modern levels of comfort and a flute of bubbly.
Adare Manor's afternoon tea blends traditional sparkling white linens, silverware and china with modern levels of comfort and a flute of bubbly.

“This is when your cake stand, crockery and utensils come out to shine. Use your finest crockery and make it a little more special with folded napkins and name place cards. A tiered cake stand to display and serve the food as your table's centrepiece is a must.

Be sure to set the scene with a good playlist. Music is also key to creating the right ambience, with unscented candles and seasonal flowers. Get dressed up. This will help you to get into the right mood and make your at-home experience all the more sophisticated."

For adding in Christmas Day leftovers and presenting them with novelty and enhanced flavour, Rasa says, “Sugar cure your ham and serve with wholegrain mustard on cranberry rye bread. Serve turkey with chutney which we have on our signature Carriage House onion bread, with mince pies as dessert with Irish whipped cream.”

To make the event pop, Rasa adds a glass of bubbly to a lush afternoon of tea, sandwiches and cake, and for a touch of sophistication, handwritten or digital menus.

 Myra Ryall, owner of Townhouse Café and Interiors.
Myra Ryall, owner of Townhouse Café and Interiors.

Myra Ryall, owner of Townhouse Café and Interiors, says, “Dress the table as if you’re creating the table of your dreams and fantasy. 

"Think masquerade balls and Vanity Fair, starting with the tablecloth you’ve been keeping for a special day. 

It’s such a frantically busy time so the week before Christmas start gathering all your china, cutlery and table décor so you have more time to spend with your loved ones.

“Place a small dessert plate in the centre of the place setting and your cutlery on top,” she adds. 

A mix of different [styles] is totally acceptable so throw formal out the door. Place one or two baubles from your Christmas tree on your table to create a feast for your eyes. We serve our afternoon teas on tiers, but in the absence of these create tiered drama by using books, plant stands and a collection of different height candles. Place a teacup and your drink glasses around your centre plate.”

Some guests might be driving or non-drinkers, so having a selection of drinks to suit both is essential, Myra says. “Keep your drinks on a trolley or side table so your guests are not obliged to have a tipple. Have a selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic but dress them as if they were cocktails.”

With a focus on everything being relaxing, especially after the rigours of cooking Christmas dinner, Myra suggests keeping food fuss-free, preparing it beforehand to leave time to be with your guests.

“Turkey is delicious as savoury tarts with some cranberry sauce,” she suggests. 

“Finger sandwiches of beef, ham, and turkey are all reinvented perfectly as afternoon tea. Smoked salmon on a circle cut brown bread with cream cheese and a wedge of lemon.” 

www.instagram.com/cafetownhouse

www.instagram.com/theadaremanor

More in this section

Property & Home
Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly update on residential property and planning news as well the latest trends in homes and gardens.

Sign up
Lunchtime
News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Execution Time: 0.23 s