One category that Manchester has a lot of, and indeed excel at, are tea rooms. Most you will find around the Northern Quarter, nestled away down side streets, in converted buildings or built from scratch. Some you will see in more established venues in areas you don’t expect to find a range of herbal teas or home-baked scones, others incorporated into new ventures as a way to capitalize on the ever popular ‘Afternoon Tea’ scenario.
I myself visit a lot of these tea rooms for meetings and catch-ups and after a bit of tweeting between myself and other like-minded drink lovers, it came to my mind that being a ‘Drinks Enthusiast’ doesn’t necessarily have to be towards alcohol. I’ve dabbled previously into mixers which can enhance or create a different tone towards your favourite tipple, but never a venue that prides itself on offering more towards the hot drink sector and home-baked goodies.
With this in mind, I’ve tasked myself into experiencing the tea rooms of Manchester, looking at what makes it stand-out from the rest, the quality of the produce and the overall glamour of this theme.
First to Home Sweet Home – an independent place from the guys who brought you Socio Rehab, Almost Famous and Luck Lust Liquor & Burn. They call themselves a gourmet bakehouse and coffee bar, and specialize in home comfort food i.e. pull up a chair as there’s something for everyone. Located on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter, the long open room as you step in houses simple square tables and chairs on either side of a wooden clad bar upon which cake stands galore adorn. Its simple decor of wallpaper, books and pictures in frames creates the mood of its name-sake.
When I went myself I tried something a little different from my usual Americano (£2) and Sausage Roll (£3.50). I opted for the simply named Burger (£7.95). A hand pressed double burger topped with cheese on a soft brioche roll. Lashes of pickle, relish and tomato supplied with a side of fries and coleslaw finished it off with a bottle of Goose Island 312 (£3.50) wheat beer to wash it all down with. Yes perhaps not what you expect to hear from a gourmet bakehouse, but when the sausage rolls are consistently good, and you see mains like Mac and Cheese, Jerked Ham Sarnie and Chilli Dog in a Blanket next to sandwiches of New New Yorker, Southwestern Club and Cajun Chicken and Chorizo, you just have to give in. One ‘traditional’ item of a tea room did catch my eye though – Chocolate Peanut Butter Squares. I had two for the good reason of they were hand baked, drizzled with chocolate, and overall savory goodness.
Next is Annies Restaurant. This is a classic example of a venue that has taken advantage of its surroundings and offers you everything an afternoon tea should be about. Set in an environment that houses comfy high backed chairs, coffee tables, soft music and elegant paintings and mirrors, it’s as if your in your grandmothers living room – and you just can’t bring yourself to leave. Especially when the Afternoon Tea (£14.95) is served on a china stand, complete with matching cups and saucers for your choice of tea (loose leaf, fruit and flavoured all available) or coffee. Delicate finger sandwiches of smoked salmon, cucumber and ham were available below warm, freshly baked scones with clotted cream and a generous helping of strawberry jam. The bottom tier gave way to the pastries and cakes including one of the best flapjacks I’ve ever had the enjoyment of. Ecclairs and fruit tarts rounded off the collection, as did the added extra of a glass of Champagne (£19.95 overall).
Annies is one of the newer establishments in Manchester, located on Old Bank Street just off St. Anne’s Square. I’ve been once before on there preview night and jumped at the chance to come down again. Chris Farr and Jennie McAlpine have helped themselves to rave reviews, and for an afternoon tea that is really good value for money, I can join in the applause.
Another favourite of Manchester is Teacup on Thomas St, located surprisingly enough on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter. A sizeable venue which stretches back to include a mini mezzanine level which houses the kitchen. As you walk in though is where some would say the magic happens. Greeted and seated by staff and handed a menu of both baked and cooked delights, you’re rather spoilt for choice. I opted for a Pot of Tea (£2.50) and a piece of Flourless Chocolate Cake (£4.00), although I was torn towards the milkshakes and Fentimans despite the bitter coldness outside. Some interesting combinations on the cake menu too including White Chocolate and Poppy Seed, Carrot & Coconut and the locally named Manchester Tart.
Eating within a decor of metallic coloured walls and striking dark red beams that carry on to the iron cast table legs, it’s more simple than homely. Inviting non-the-less, the wooden tables compliment the colour scheme rather well, and a packed crowd at 4 in the afternoon does this justice too. Teacup is simple, yet daringly extensive with what it offers. The staff I can not fault either. Courteous, friendly and most of all I am yet to wait for that piece of cake or pot of tea as there are plenty of them around to attend to your needs.
A firm Manchester charm is Sugar Junction. Nestled down Tib Street in the Northern Quarter, I opted to try this one out as soon as it opened. For one reason and one reason only, every time I have been past, there’s not a seat in site! As you can imagine, this would intrigue anybody, and I now know why. Fantastic yet simple décor of mismatch wooden tables and chairs, coat stands, miniature tea sets within the exposed brick walls and three stunning chandeliers hanging along the front of the wooden bar. Scanning a sizeable menu, I opted for a pot of loose leaf English Breakfast and a Triple Decker BLT (£5.50) – locally sourced bacon, baby gem lettuce, tomato and lashings of mayonnaise, served on white toasted bread. Fantastic portion, warm and came with home-made coleslaw on the side.
Would be rude not to look at the cake menu when you’re at a tea room, so I decided to go for the first item on the ever-changing board, Chocolate Guinness Cake (£3.50). Wasn’t really a cake, more a slab of rich, incredibly moorish and dare I say, heavenly cake. Perfectly balanced with hint of Guinness coming through on each bite. To wash down, a ‘standard’ size Latte, complete with a China coffee cup. Great to finish off the experience, listening to jazz and 50’s music whilst watching the world go by. You really do get the sense that you’re in a different era, especially with the staff dressed in more vintage clothes than jeans and t-shirt, and politeness that you rarely find.
The latest of my tea room adventure involved a visit to North Tea Power. Situated along the mezzanine level on Tib Street in the Northern Quarter, North Tea Power invite their patrons in via the display of sandwiches and cakes on the counter, located ideally in the window as you pass – simple marketing but affective! I myself got caught in this crafty ploy, and chose myself a Cappuccino and Ham and Cheese French Toast drizzled with maple syrup. Perfection and rather unique too. Nothing too much trouble either as you sit on wooden tables with chairs and stools looking like they’ve come straight from a school library. Nothing wrong with this of course as it balances out the books, art and flowers that adorn each table and wall.
As you can expect from the name, a wall of various teas are located within glass jars, with a collection of strainers and equipment that makes North Tea Power look like it really does care about your experience for something that is rather a simple day-to-day passing. With great background music of Indie and Folk, you get that sense of quietness and charm, whilst sipping on your drink (cappuccino art always looks impressive too) or munching your French toast with glee as it warms you up.
There are other tea rooms in Manchester and I’m sure their will be cries that I’ve missed off names such as Richmond Tea Rooms, 47 King St West and Hey Little Cupcake, but never fear, with so many to choose from, this article would become a little too long to keep you in the tea room loop, so instead I’ve opted to write in stages, so you’ve read Tearooms of Manchester Part 1, and coming very soon will be Part 2!
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