The Ultimate Afternoon Tea Experience: The Blackpool Tower Ballroom

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I’m no stranger to afternoon teas. Whether it’s champagne afternoon tea at The Ritz, or tea for two at the local farm shop, I love the tradition of gathering for tiny sandwiches, pieces of cake, and that all important jam and cream-topped scone.

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But if you had to ask me what the ultimate afternoon tea experience had to be, after my visit, I wouldn’t be able to say anything except afternoon tea at The Blackpool Tower Ballroom. Seriously, I had the best time of my life!

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Perhaps one of the aspects of the afternoon tea that made it such an incredible experience was that I was not at all prepared for one of the major aspects of the appeal – the dancing! I thought it would be tea served on the ballroom floor in opulent surroundings, and of course, I was totally down for that. But instead, I got dinner and a show, because for the entire time we were there, we were entertained by live music from the Wurlitzer, and dozens of couples taking to the floor to waltz and whirl in perfect unison.

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Usually, an afternoon tea would be judged (by me at least) heavily towards the food, with bonus points for the surroundings. This experience was a 180!

But, let’s talk about that food for a minute. When it comes to afternoon tea, I have high standards. I expect the sandwiches to be dainty, the scones to be light and fluffy, and the cakes to be tempting and irresistible. Blackpool Ballroom delivered on all of these – with traditional fillings and tasty little cakes, and a hearty and generous scone, I thought every part was perfect. It certainly wasn’t experimental, or foodie-orientated, or themed in any way (like the Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley, for example), and it certainly wasn’t as refined as The Ritz (the handful of crisps on the plate would never fly in Mayfair, darling), but it provided honest, good, Northern fayre with an emphasis on quality, variety and generosity.

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My husband is simultaneously the joy of my life and the bane of my existence (won’t any married woman tell you the same thing?). He’s wonderful in almost every way except he’s a bit of a fussy eater, and raisins are one of the things he just won’t eat. So when we were told they only served fruit scones, I winced – until the waitress suggested an alternative of a piece of cake. Instead of a scone, he was presented with a generous slice of chocolate and caramel cake, which was absolutely gorgeous and devoured in an instant.

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I, of course, am a staunch character and will only accept an offering of fruit scone with clotted cream and jam. There was a generous portion of cream, and the Tiptree jam even came with this cute Ballroom label, which was a lovely touch.

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Onto the cakes – and as any afternoon tea salwart will tell you, this is where you’ll usually run out of steam, despite having the best intentions… But these cakes were too good not to eat – a strawberry tart, millionaire’s shortbread, mini pavolova, and a lemon cheesecake. The only problem you’ll encounter is how to allot them between two (although we went for the time-honoured tradition of splitting them down the middle…).

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I must explain the reasoning behind us running out of room for the cakes – we were served ten different flavours for the sandwich course! I don’t even know how they managed to fit them all on the plate, but we had ham, cheese and mustard; bacon, lettuce and tomato; cheese; tuna and mayonnaise; salmon, cucumber and cream cheese; egg salad; egg mayonnaise; plain ham; plain turkey; and chicken mayonnaise. I highly suspect if the fancy came upon you that you could request any combination of the flavours you wanted, as it looked as though all of the sandwiches were made in the kitchen at the back of the hall.

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The Blackpool Tower Ballroom Afternoon Tea is truly an amazing experience. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as one of the must-do experiences in Blackpool when you’re on holiday. It has the perfect combination of old-world, British grandeur with a pinch of cheesy seaside frivolity. And, don’t forget that classic afternoon tea menu – it always looks dainty, but trust me, you won’t need to eat dinner that day (and we were even offered more food too!). Oh, and the tea – of course, your choice of flavours, including Yorkshire tea, pride of the North (although a Southern lass like me is just as happy with an Afternoon Tea blend!)… or coffee, if you prefer.

The Blackpool Ballroom Afternoon Tea is available priced at £50 for 2, £70 for 3, or £80 for 4 people, and includes entry to the Blackpool Tower Ballroom. You can also splash out for the champagne experience (£69.95 for 2, £85.85 for 3, £99.95 for 4). There are sittings for afternoon tea (12, 12.30, 2, 2.30) and you can book online at http://www.theblackpooltower.com, or by phoning 0871 222 9929.

My afternoon tea experience was complimentary – my words, photos and opinions are my own.

Yorkshire Chorizo: That’ll Do, Pig

I think anyone in the UK should be justly proud of our produce. We’ve been the butt of rubbish jokes about British food (and teeth) for way too long thanks to people who can’t read or order properly from menus. You know, the kind of people who go to London on holiday and eat at Wetherspoons and then try to claim our cuisine is poor and uninspired.

We’ve also had this weird stigma about promoting food that isn’t necessarily native to this country as our own. Never mind that chicken tikka masala was invented here, and that curry should actually count towards our national repertoire… Never mind that we produce some of the finest cheeses and cured meats in the world…

Well, I say it’s time to celebrate all of the fantastic produce we have here, and all of the farmers, butchers, bakers and artisans who slave away to make it. And I’d like to start with this fabulous chorizo from Yorkshire, which was kindly sent to me by Chris Wildman – the chap who makes it!

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Made to an authentic recipe in Skipton, North Yorkshire, this cured pork sausage is made with the finest smoked Spanish paprika and can be eaten straight from the packet, or barbecued, fried or boiled. (I cannot wait to get some of this on the BBQ when the season starts!) I thought long and hard about the best recipe to showcase the gorgeous flavours of this chorizo (and it certainly is one of the best chorizos I’ve ever had!), before deciding that simple was best.

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What better combo for chorizo than some garlic and tomato? Showcasing the slick, oily paprika that oozes from the meat, this pasta sauce delivers crispy nuggets of deeply savoury pork, along with the sweet-sourness of the tomato and the heady tang of garlic. The best part is, you can make the sauce in as long a time as it takes to cook the pasta. And the second best part is that it’s so simple I don’t even need to give you a recipe…

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To prepare, chop your ingredients, then put your pasta on to the boil. While it’s cooking, fry the garlic and then the chorizo in the pan with some olive oil until slightly brown. The chorizo will release some of the gorgeous paprika into the oil, and this is what makes this sauce so delicious! Then, add some chopped tomatoes and fry. The quantities are up to you – I used three large salad tomatoes and 130g of Yorkshire Chorizo for two people, but you can make a sausage stretch to four very easily by upping the amount of tomatoes in there.

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When you’re done, you’ll end up with this delicious concoction – which I guess looks more like a salsa than a sauce! Top your pasta (I cooked 100g of dried spaghetti per person) with the chorizo and tomato mix, and dig in…

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Or, you could try using this as a topping for bruschetta or toasted sourdough bread. Or on top of a jacket potato! Or as a sauce for some grilled chicken or salmon… It’s such a versatile recipe, and thanks to the quality of the ingredients, it’s delicious and so simple to make.

Purchase Yorkshire Chorizo at www.yorkshirechorizo.com. Because of the natural preservatives in the chorizo, it can be kept at room temperature and therefore sent via the post! Each sausage costs £7.50, including postage and packaging, and there are three flavours – garlic, original, picante, plus you can also buy Yorkshire Salami too! How will you cook your Yorkshire Chorizo?

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What’s your style: classic, or cool?

One of the things I love about British fashion is the way it fuses heritage brands with cutting edge cool. Old names like Burberry and Mulberry mixing with new ones like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. One side representing tradition, the other side bringing innovation and a playful sense of danger.

Even as I’ve evolved in my own sense of personal style, I can never seem to quite settle on a fashion persona that entirely embraces one or the other. I am certain I would be kicked out with equal amounts of disgust from the front row of any reputable British fashion brand – and it’s almost with a sense of pride I can declare myself to be a free agent in international waters. Of course, it means my wardrobe is a chaotic mess of rock-chick style accessories, prim, retro dresses, and far too many hats – but doesn’t everyone strive for a wardrobe like that? (They don’t? Off with you!)

Anyway, since I love a good scarf, and I seem to have one permanently wrapped around my neck from the months of October to March, I thought I’d investigate some good designer staples – and yet again, came into the age old question: cool or classic?

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The correct answer is undoubtedly BOTH! In which case, I shall rephrase – which one first? And can you sum up your own personal style? Does your wardrobe follow a general theme, or are you like me – a fashion butterfly, flitting mindlessly from pretty thing to pretty thing, never to settle? What is to become of us poor homeless butterflies? Ask not, for as my cat would tell you, they usually get eaten.
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What drinks to serve at a royal wedding watching party

Pimms anyone

Image by Walt Jabsco via Flickr

You’ve got a host of people over to watch Will and Kate tie the knot – but what the heck do you give them to drink, apart from good, old fashioned tea, of course? Check out this handy list of the best British tipples for your thirsty guests!

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Fruit Cup

Pimms isn’t the only fruit cup you can make – check out this awesome blog for reviews of some other great fruit cup liquers! What could be better than a long glass of a fruit-studded cocktail on such a great day?

Buck’s Fizz / Mimosa

In the UK, we mostly have Buck’s Fizz, but whether you call it that or a Mimosa, there’s no denying this classic glass of bubbly and fruit juice is a right Royal winner!

Ginger Beer

You can buy your own, but you could try this great recipe for lashings of the stuff – the appropriate quantity for such a feast…

Lemonade

For your drivers and sober types, you need something without alcohol, lest you fall asleep before the vows are over… Making your own lemonade is easy, just combine lemon juice, water and sugar to taste.

Rhubarb, ginger and apple cocktail

Make use of some very British ingredients for this cool cocktail.

Royal Wedding Cocktail

Gin, Dubonnet, lemonade and pomegranate juice make this symbolic cocktail, especially formulated for Wills and Kate.

The ultimate sandwich ideas for a royal wedding watching party

Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches with tea ...

Image via Wikipedia

I love sandwiches and they should have centre stage in your wedding party buffet! But you have to make sure you cut them correctly – not diagonally into quarters, but into long, dainty finger shapes as they do for afternoon tea at The Ritz!

Because I would imagine you’ve made your own sandwiches more times than you’ve made any other kind of recipe, I’m not offering quantities, just ideas. That way you can be inspired and dish up your own quantities, depending on whether you’re watching the wedding with friends, or the whole street!

SANDWICH IDEAS

  • Smoked salmon and cream cheese
  • Ham, salad and cherry tomatoes with dijonnaise
  • Cheese and caramelised red onion chutney
  • Roast beef with horseradish mayonnaise and rocket
  • Egg mayonnaise
  • Prawn mayonnaise
  • Thinly sliced cucumber
  • Chicken salad

Have an idea I’ve missed? Tell me in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

Don’t forget to check out my other post, on your ultimate recipes for a wedding watch buffet, here!

A right royal treat: butterfly cakes!

In case you haven’t noticed, around here I’m still gearing up for an epic Royal Wedding Watching Party, which will have an afternoon tea theme. I’m trying to assemble a crack team of really British-themed dishes to go with it, and when it comes to afternoon tea and delicious sweet treats, you can’t get much more nostaglia from your calories than with a butterfly cake.

Butterfly cake on Union Jack napkin

Butterfly cakes have been sadly neglected in recent years for their more ostentatious American cousin, the cupcake. Alas, I am guilty of this as well – you only have to check out the cupcakes section of this blog to see some towering, buttercream topped monstrosities. But here’s the funny thing about me and cupcakes – I love to make them, but I’m not so crazy about eating them. Here’s a frightening confession. I don’t actually really like buttercream all that much.

You forgive me, right? I hope so. But, after all that, some of you are probably thinking – ‘hey, you idiot, fairy cakes are filled with buttercream! That’s the point!’ To you, I say ‘ah hah, I already thought of that.’ So, stay tuned for something that’s going to curl your hair – my recipe for sweet vanilla cream and dulce de leche butterfly cakes, fit for serving at your very own royal wedding watching party!

A quick Jamie Oliver menu idea for your royal wedding party

The custom of afternoon tea and scones has its...

Image via Wikipedia

For my wedding watching party, I’m thinking classic English tea party – cucumber sandwiches, Victoria sponge, scones and a great big teapot full of tea! But there’s a great menu in Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals which would be perfect for adapting to a wedding watch party; his British Picnic, which features sausage rolls, mackerel pate, asparagus crunch salad and Pimm’s Eton Mess. In fact, I might steal some of these dishes for myself… they sound awesome! The sausage rolls have fennel seeds and sesame seeds added to them, the pate features horseradish sauce along with the mackerel, lemon and cream cheese, and the crunch salad has watercress, pickled onions and pear… Interesting! It’s on page 252, if you’re up for it…

Kate and William: planning your wedding watch!

Distracted (what did you expect?) away from my Jamie project, I’m anticipating Kate and William’s wedding on 29 April – an excuse for a nosh-up if ever I heard one. I’m an unashamed royalist and can’t wait to throw an English themed tea party to celebrate, so expect plenty of planning posts as the day grows nearer…

Meanwhile, in anticipation, I present to you some important party-related details: nails and earrings.

It seems as though there are plenty of Kate and William related products out there for people to snap up – most of it is tacky, but I’m loving this nail varnish from Butter London, available to pre-order for £12 from their site: http://www.butterlondon.com/collections/no-more-waity-katie/no-more-waity-katie-0. Check out the hilarious name – not so funny if you’re Kate Middleton, I guess…

I also reckon you need themed earrings… I’m thinking crownsOr crowns with pearls, even more classy…

Or, to score extra bonus points, combine crowns with pearls and sapphires (Kate’s engagement ring stone):

Or, Accessorize has some pretty English-country-garden style stud sets here. And, let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with plain, simple pearl studs… Got to stay classy!

More planning tips later, including decorations, menus and party games!