High tea back with dainty delights

Louise Liebenberg

MUCH as I adore my arabica there is no way I can kick off the day without a fortifying cup of tea – and I confess that for me it always has to be good old Five Roses.

Frenetic work days are usually fuelled by copious amounts of newsroom-strength filter coffee. But the minute I’m home again, the first thing I do is reach for the tea, always taking care to heat the cup first so as to prolong the enjoyment factor.

Tea symbolises the return to calm in my otherwise crazy daily routine, and it’s a simple pleasure that my hubby Salvelio and I share.

Let’s face it, the words “let’s have a cup of tea” have much greater power to soothe than “let’s have a cup of coffee”. And that’s why it has been a delight to me and my man that there has been a great revival in the afternoon tea tradition in recent years, including here in the Eastern Cape.

From Hacklewood Hill in the Bay to Haricot’s in Grahamstown, and Kurland Estate in The Crags to Kingston Farm near Bathurst, classy cafes, hotels, guesthouses and functions venues around the province are bringing out their finest china for convivial high teas.

Salvelio and I were recently invited to a trial run of high tea at one of Port Elizabeth’s most exclusive addresses: No 5 Boutique Art Hotel in Summerstrand.

Previously known as Shamwari Townhouse, No 5 had in the past offered super-scrummy high teas but the gracious custom went into abeyance for a while before being started up again.

The five-star hotel’s recently appointed general manager, Beverley Zonneveld, met our sample group of discerning guinea-pigs, including the likes of local personalities (they’d kill me if I called them socialites!) Ana de Beer, Michelle Brown and Gianna Doubell, and Bay TV’s Zoe Charles and Sisanda Myataza.

Awaiting us was an impressive selection of teas, juices and coffee and a sumptuous spread of dainty eats dreamed up by No 5’s head chef, Phakamisa Kolisi, and food and beverage manager Bernadine van Staden.

A traditional high tea will always include sandwiches, scones and cakey bits like petit fours, but many venues nowadays are breaking with tradition by including cocktail-style snacks, and No 5 is no different.

Purists like Port Elizabeth’s Sue Gaskin, who hosts regular high teas for friends and has attended high teas around the world, are a little dismayed that “man-sized sandwiches and baguettes filled to bursting with chunky fillings are commonplace nowadays”.

“But that is not the done thing at a proper high tea,” Sue says: “Watercress, cucumber, salmon and cheddar are strictly confined and stacked in neat, petite triangles on the lowest rung of a three-tiered plate stand.

“These are followed by dainty, fluted golden scones, served with jam and clotted cream. Petite fours iced in pastel prettiness or diminutive fruit tarts sit on top and are enjoyed last.”

The selection at No 5 did not have a single scone in sight, but the correct proportions were suitably observed and there was nothing man-sized whatsoever in the room (except for my appetite). Scones in any case are quickly forgotten when you are faced with a tower of moist, miniature chocolate cupcakes with delicately piped Frangelico icing, or a clever take on the classic French choux pastry showstopper, the croquembouche – especially when the choux puffs are filled with a delectable lavender creme anglaise.

Other sweet surprises that got the group’s thumbs up included the apple, lemon and mint panacotta served in shot glasses (see recipe elsewhere on this page) and the decadent Amarula creme brulee.

On the savoury front, Gianna and Michelle waxed lyrical over the dinkiest beetroot pickle and goats’ cheese tartlets, while everyone felt that the beef and caramelised onion vol au vents, though tasty, were just a tad heavy on the pastry.

With each tasty titbit a tiny artwork in itself, we happily clinked cups to toast No 5’s new offering.

No 5 Boutique Art Hotel is at 5 Brighton Drive, Summerstrand. Bookings for high tea are on (041)5026000 and the cost is R120 per person. Groups must comprise 10 or more people.

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