High Time for High Tea
IT ALL STARTED WHEN...
Opulence and old world charm set the stage for an afternoon experience you will never find in the United States. I mean, we do a lot of things well there, but afternoon tea isn’t one of them. Luckily you can find a delicious dalliance with it just an hour’s drive from Galway.
First you have to find it, which you’d think would be easy given it’s size. But after you pass through Cong there aren’t many signs. You have to watch for a wide spot in the road with a gate and a gateman. Be advised you can’t even get in that gate unless you are on a list. It could be as a guest of the hotel, as someone who wants to explore the grounds or for an event like afternoon tea.
Driving through the trees the huge castle comes into view. And I’m not exaggerating when I say it looks like something in a movie. John Ford filmed The Quiet Man, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara on the grounds here, back in 1951.
A uniformed doorman greets you and escorts you through the foyer to a waiting room with lavish artwork from floor to ceiling. Completely restored in 2013, Ashford Castle exudes authenticity from the entryway arches to the Waterford Chrystal chandeliers overhead. They even have a suit of armour!
Afternoon tea is served in three sittings from 1:30-4 pm weekdays. At your appointed time you are seated in the main drawing room in high-backed chairs and antique tables set with beautiful Wedgewood china.
You select the tea of your choice from nearly two-dozen offerings, many with fabulous names. Pots of Jasmine Pearls, Green Dragon and Snow White’s Dream were delivered piping hot. It was accompanied by a three-tiered curate stand that carries plates of finger sandwiches including chicken salad rounds rolled in slivered almonds; smoked salmon and cheese triangles and cucumber rectangles that are as grand on the taste buds as they are on the eyes.
The trays are silently refilled with pastries that look even more artistic. Lemon mascarpone, cheesecake bites, fruit tarts and tiny squares of chocolate cake, many adorned with edible flowers, are the focus of photos before we eat them. They are tiny, which is a good thing, because more than a bite or two of each would be too rich, even accompanied with tea.
As those are devoured scones fresh from the oven appeared. Plain, fruit and cheese scones come with tiny pots of strawberry jam, clotted cream and zesty lemon curd. What a combination of flavors!
I’ll admit it is more than a day’s worth of food in an hour and a half and it’s hard to see how anyone could possibly partake in that daily. Good thing there was plenty of time before sunset to stroll the grounds, see the fountains, visit the gardens and imagine what the falconry must be like.
It was closed that day but we’ll definitely put that, on the list for our next visit.