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.

A Right Royal Repast: Sandwich Recipes For The Queen’s Birthday Celebrations

It’s HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday today, and although people are already celebrating, many of the official activities aren’t planned to start until May. But that doesn’t mean you can’t knock up a few royally-approved sandwiches to toast to her Maj!

I’ve put together five easy sandwich recipes which can be enjoyed as a picnic or as part of afternoon tea. The only real difference would be how you cut them! In order to make sandwiches for high or afternoon tea, you cut off the crusts and cut the sandwich into three fingers (cutting across the longest edge, so your fingers are wide and fat, not slim and long!). For picnics, you might like to cut your sandwiches into triangles. If it’s everyday boring old lunch, then just cut them into two rectangles. This is a secret sandwich language devised by Brits so we know exactly how posh the situation is. Don’t tell anyone…

Coronation Chicken spice

One of the first things that springs to mind when we’re talking royal food is Coronation Chicken. This is like a basic American chicken salad, but jazzed up with Indian influences. Created in the 50s by Rosemary Hume, it was originally called poulet reine Elizabeth! The dish was created to be easy to prepare in advance and consume in front of the TV, watching the Coronation.

At its most simplest, Coronation Chicken is just a combination of curry powder, mayonnaise and chicken, but if you can’t get your hands on curry powder, you might like to know how to make your own. Mix 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/2 tsp mustard powder, 1/4 tsp ground cloves and 1 tsp turmeric together. If any of these are too spicy for you, leave them out. You can add in some chilli powder if you like, but Coronation Chicken isn’t supposed to be hot!

Then, mix 200g of cooked chicken with 1 tsp of curry powder, 1 tbsp mango chutney, 1/2 tsp of Worcestershire sauce and 3 tbsp mayonnaise together. This is your filling!

Coronation Chicken inside

This filling will probably make three or four rounds of sandwiches – I like to add in some little gem lettuce, but you can also add in flaked almonds and coriander too. If you’re preparing this for a salad, use less mayo and lay it on a bed of lettuce.

Coronation Chicken finished

Next up is a royal recipe adapted from Tea Fit For A Queen – recipes inspired by London’s royal palaces. Cucumber sandwiches are one of the most iconic of all British sandwiches, but I must confess I don’t know anyone who makes or eats them regularly. This is the kind of sandwich filling that means you must be somewhere posh!

Cucumber and mint filling

Peel, deseed and chop one whole cucumber, then mix in 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar, a sprinkle of salt, and some finely chopped mint leaves and allow to stand for at least 10 minutes.

Cucumber and mint inside

Take one slice of brown bread and one of white, butter both sides (to stop the moisture from the cucumber making the bread soggy!) and lay the drained cucumber slices on the top.

Cucumber and mint sandwiches

This is absolutely delicious and well worth making – so refreshing and light! It was the surprise hit of my tasting session with friends! And, just as with the Coronation Chicken, you can serve this filling as a stand alone salad.(This filling will make around three to four rounds of sandwiches.)

This next filling isn’t really glamorous, but it’s such a staple I couldn’t leave it out. And, I serve mine with a little twist – it’s cheese and pickle sandwiches!

Cheese and pickle inside

You can use Branston Sandwich Pickle in this, but I prefer to buy caramelised red onion chutney. My secret trick is to spread the bread very thinly with mayonnaise – it gives the cheese an extra hint of creaminess and contrasts beautifully with the pickle! I stole this idea from Pret A Manger and I’m never giving it back. HA HA HA!

By the way, you can grate your cheese, you can slice it, or you can crumble it into small, thin pieces with a knife by doing little cuts into the cheese, which is my favourite way. Each one has its own texture, and does make a difference to the final sandwich.

Cheese and pickle finished

The next sandwich is one of my favourites – a traditional ham sandwich, pepped up with some Dijonnaise. It’s traditional to serve ham sandwiches with English mustard, but I like to mix Dijon mustard in with mayonnaise and use it to spread on the bread.

Ham sandwiches

The key part here is to get good quality ham – my favourite is Wiltshire, but any dry or crumbly ham is good. I can’t give you quantities for batches, but you’ll be using one or two slices of ham per round, around four slices of tomato, and three or four lettuce leaves.

Ham sandwiches inside

Spread your Dijonnaise on both sides of the bread, and lay the fillings inside. So simple!

Ham sandwiches finished

Last but not least – egg mayonnaise, that nursery staple. It’s not so popular for lunch these days because the smell of the eggs will make everyone around you despise you, but for a celebration you can’t go wrong! You can mix in some chopped chives if you’re feeling fancy, but the old-school traditional way to prepare this is with cress.

Egg mayonnaise

Here’s my secret to perfect hard boiled eggs every time – add them to a pot of cold water in a single layer with around an inch of water at the top. Bring to the boil, and as soon as the water is boiling, remove them from the heat and place a lid on the top of the saucepan. Leave for ten minutes. As soon as the time is up, plunge them into iced water until they’re cold! Very easy, and great results every time, I promise.

Egg mayonnaise inside

You’ll want to use one egg per round of sandwiches – mix in 1 tbsp of mayonnaise to hard boiled eggs, and a pinch of cress or chives (finely chopped). Then add to your sandwiches – no need to butter these, but feel free to add salt to the mixture!

Egg mayonnaise finished

Tah dah! My five sandwich recipes for a right royal high tea, or picnic. I’ll be sharing some more recipes in the run-up to the celebrations, so keep checking back!

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Before I go, here’s a cool infographic created by NRS Healthcare, which lists 90 facts about the Queen at 90! Enjoy! (And visit their blog here to find out about their good work, too!)

Queen's 90th Birthday

 

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Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium: A Review

Lady Dinah's

I have been waiting a long time to visit Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium – the UK’s first ever cat cafe. I’ve been waiting since February 2013, to be exact, when I joined in with hundreds of other people on indiegogo.com to help get the business off the ground. I also covered the campaign in the magazine I edit, and waited patiently for the day to roll around when I could cash in my voucher for High Tea for Two – which was a present for my husband for Valentine’s day.

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