We were met by a tall man in a dark suit. He walked us to a lift where we ascended through The Glasshouse to an exuberant, carpeted hallway lined with suites named Ardbeg, Laphroaig and so on until the names of the whiskies were entirely unknown to me. We followed him past illuminated statues of women and dark, splashy artwork of Edinburgh, down a staircase and into at last, The Observatory Restaurant.
The room was quiet, our table set by the window beneath the old City Observatory on Calton Hill. A lady brought us our teas, of which we were invited to drink as many as we liked. To start, I tried a smoky brew, while my Mum sipped ‘the best Earl Grey’ she’d ever tasted. These teas were designed to accompany the savouries, where there was not a sandwich in sight.
The chef, our server told us, did not like sandwiches. He preferred to do something off-beat, and a little unexpected. We were all for that, but when I asked my Mum how she would design an afternoon tea, she said there would have to be sandwiches. I’m surprised to say that I agree, at least just a few. The closest we got to nibbling on a sandwich was a miniature clave brie and honey roast ham toastie – but I have to say that the lamb and haggis sausage roll was stellar.
I would call this an afternoon tea in disguise. Not only were there no sandwiches, but there was no cake stand either! Interestingly, the individual ‘tiers’ were served on raised wooden boards one by one. I liked it; we were kept in suspense about which dainty treats would follow.
My second cup of tea was an exotic vanilla blend to pair with the sweets. My inner ten-year-old was especially excited to see a homemade bourbon biscuit arrive with part-two of our afternoon tea. It was nice, but the Christmas tablet was better! The highlight was the smallest item on the board, a pecan marshmallow bite – I could have eaten twenty.
What would have made this afternoon tea even more special for me? A little bit of stardust. Glancing at the dome of the City Observatory in between bites had me craving something out of this world. Perhaps the chef at The Observatory Restaurant who is apparently so bored with tradition could create something that pairs with the science and discovery that his restaurant is named after? Planets – spheres of chocolate with a light mousse inside; or homemade milky stars with a dusting of edible glitter; spinning saucers with a fruity sherbet filling…now that would be an afternoon tea I’d remember. And didn’t someone once say the moon was made of cheese? That, I believe, is a classic sandwich filling.