I’m a big fan of afternoon tea, and I’ve had a fair few in my time. Dainty finger sandwiches, fresh scones with rich jam and cream, and yet more cakes, washed down with gallons and gallons of tea – it’s the perfect meal to linger over while catching up with friends. It’s also a good way to stuff your face while still appearing delicate and sophisticated. But I’ve always wondered about that OTHER old-fashioned, tea-accompanied afternoon meal – high tea.
My chance to try it arrived last weekend when we took a random trip to Perth in Scotland (not to be confused with Perth in Australia). Small Talk drew us in with its bright red front and old-fashioned signage, but mostly the high tea advertised on its menu. Once we were through the door of the cosy, narrow room there was no turning back – we’d just seen possibly the most spectacular array of cakes that we’d ever seen in our lives laid out under glass domes on a wooden cabinet along the wall. In just one quick glance I saw victoria sponge, carrot cake, millionaire’s shortbread and cherry bakewell tarts.
Immediately we were greeted warmly and invited to pick our own table. All the tables are topped with glass, under which lie a variety of vintage postcards from Perth, complete with faded handwritten messages. This quaint vintage theme continues – and gets blown out of all proportion – onto the walls, which are covered in chintzy wallpaper just visible between the many ornately framed, Victorian-style portraits. Heavy patterned curtains, flowers in vases, a grandfather clock and classical music playing softly in the background complete the picture, giving you the distinct impression of sitting in your granny’s sitting room!
It made a fitting environment in which to enjoy a meal made popular in the 1800s. Choosing to ignore the warning of the cafe’s very friendly owner that we’d better be very, very hungry if we were to manage a full high tea each, we both ordered it anyway. How could we resist? We discovered from the cafe’s leather-bound menus that high tea is basically afternoon tea but with a hot meal instead of sandwiches – and for some reason, a wholly unnecessary round of toast! Steve ordered the steak pie with a blueberry scone and I ordered the chicken goujons with a raspberry and white chocolate scone.
Oddly the toast and scones (on flowered china plates, stacked in the traditional wire tower) arrived first, almost as if to test our willpower as we waited for our savoury course. But we held out and our hot food was worth the wait. Both the steak in Steve’s pie and the chicken in my goujons was beautifully tender, and the meals were clearly homemade. The pie was accompanied by swede mash and the goujons by a sweet chilli dip (which went perfectly) and a salad. The owner gave me a bottle of gourmet raspberry-vinaigrette dressing to go on my salad, which I thought was a lovely touch. Quite incredibly, considering all the carbs lying ahead, each meal came with its own giant bowl of fat chips. Asked if we wanted any accompaniments, we requested vinegar and were given a crystal-cut glass bottle filled with the clearest, poshest vinegar we’d ever seen! The silver salt and pepper shakers were similarly fancy.
I had eaten just one slice of toast, given Steve one of my goujons and managed only half of my chips, but was already feeling quite full. I decided to stop there to ensure that I could still fit in at least most of my scone! Like every other part of this meal, it was huge. It was also soft, clearly homemade, stuffed full of raspberries and decadently delicious smothered with the homemade jam and fresh cream. We’d asked to have our tea served when we started our scones, and it came in a giant, ornate metal teapot. Several minutes later we were brought a smaller teapot of boiling water to add to the pot if we wanted, without even having to ask! It was genuinely the best and nicest service I think I’ve ever received.
Through a joint effort, we just about managed to finish our scones. Fitting in the cake we still had coming was by now a sheer impossibility! We asked to have our cake to take away, and the staff gladly obliged – putting the giant slices of carrot cake and victoria sponge into polystyrene takeaway cartons for us. It was a full 24 hours before I was ready for this but when I was, oh, was it worth the wait! True to the cafe’s owner’s word, it was the moistest and richest carrot cake I have ever experienced.
All this for just £14.95 each – albeit only payable in cash! – is a pretty amazing deal if you ask me. Consider Small Talk highly recommended, especially if you’re hungry and/or taking your mum. And if you want to learn more about Scottish high tea, you can do so here.