I am a big fan of afternoon tea, I always have been, what's not to love about cake, scones and tea? When the tearoom boom happened a couple of years ago I was writing about afternoon tea almost every other week, especially when I moved to Saltaire and tearooms appeared to be the main option on the dining scene. In recent times tearooms seem to be in decline and we've seen the closure of a few rooms of tea, one of my favourites being The Marvellous Tearoom owned by The Marvellous Tea Dance Company (who by the way are still in the top 10 of most viewed posts on my blog, it seems a lot of us miss them.)
There are still many tearooms to be found, especially if you're heading out in to the Dales or the Lakes where many are found in quaint little cottages. In Leeds city centre however the main contenders for afternoon tea bookings tend not to be small and quaint tearooms but large hotels and restaurants, such as Browns, Harvey Nichols, Hilton, Radisson Blu and of course Malmaison where I last had afternoon tea. Afternoon tea in these places have a somewhat different feel, they have that luxury feel, the let's rest our feet and indulge after we have already indulged in so much shopping. They have matching cutlery and crockery, they have more than one waiting staff, they're a little more organised. I'm rather fond of the mismatching cutlery, the quirky surroundings and the independent business types that the smaller tearooms in cottages bring, this is just an altogether different experience.
I opted to visit The Malmaison for a pre-Christmas treat for my mum and some long overdue daughter-mother bonding. I stumbled across their afternoon tea whilst trying to find local restaurant deals, this particular voucher was offering discount to encourage the crowds to come and take a peek at their new look brasserie.
Champagne Afternoon Tea (what the voucher entitled us to) at The Mal is usually £25 per head, but with the voucher I only paid £15 per head (I hope my mum doesn't read this). I perceived this to be good value as a glass of champers would normally cost £7-10 a pop and afternoon tea in many a tearoom hits the £15 mark per head mark.
I had no trouble booking a table for two on a busy December Saturday afternoon around 2pm, when we arrived they weren't at full capacity either.
Champagne afternoon tea at The Mal consists of finger sandwiches (four), a scone (with jam and clotted cream), crème brulee , chocolate cheesecake (this may change), a small cake (Victoria sponge bun/cupcake on this occasion), mince pie, tea and of course a glass of Champagne.
Wide selection of teas are available to choose from including herbal and fruit teas and I was glad to see Taylors Tea was available rather than Twinning's. Let's keep it local. Mum and I both ordered the Taylor's breakfast tea which was served to us in two teapots.
Champagne was brought out first and then we were served our tea, a short while later our food arrived. Their presentation isn't the most elegant and I have seen much better and more imaginative presentations of afternoon tea elsewhere.
The finger sandwiches consisted of cucumber and cream cheese, ham and mustard, egg mayo and salmon. This is pretty standard when it comes to afternoon tea and again, I thought, lacking in imagination.
The crème brulee was hard and solid on top, it was fairly small and not custard like (as I have had before) and I must admit I do prefer a freshly blow torched brulee as it gives a slight warmth, whether this is customary I don't know, it's simply my personal preference.
The scone was fresh with adequate stiffness on the outside and softness on the inside, we were given small individual pots of strawberry jam and a fresh pot of clotted cream to spread on our scones. I have to say they don't come close to the ones offered by Harvey Nic's (who FYI charge the same for afternoon tea in case you were wondering) where you will find them must bigger, fluffier and warmer (an added extra at Harvey Nic's is that you can smell them baking too).
The chocolate cheesecake was a pleasant surprise, never before have I had a slice of cheesecake with my afternoon tea, it wasn't altogether very transportable and as my mum tried to move it from plate tower to side plate it bent and broke all over the place.
The added mince pie I guess is what made it a 'festive' afternoon tea (as advertised on the voucher site) it's debatable as to whether these are made on site; they seem a little too perfect as if mass produced. I was far too full to finish off the bun so instead we requested to take this away with us; unfortunately these were returned to us in one piece of tin foil so my Step-dad had a luxury breakfast the next day when I told my mum she could have both.
The staff at The Mal were very friendly, professional and fairly attentive. Towards 4pm we found ourselves alone in half of the brasserie with no staff checking up on us, I had to pop my head around to the other side of the brasserie to grab a member of staff so I could pay.
My mum is in a wheelchair and disabled access is available, a wheelchair lift is present in reception and after looking around for a while with no one paying us much attention we assumed we could use this unaided. The bar area is fairly narrow and with the addition of seats I had to move a few of said seats and people to get to our table. I had advised ahead that my mum would be in a wheelchair and as such when we arrived our table was missing a chair so I could wheel my mum right up to her space at the table.
The main thing that would prevent me from going to The Mal again are their customers.
As mentioned the bar area is narrow and when we first arrived we couldn't get my mum to the brasserie through the bar area as the bar chairs and another customer were blocking the way. We were clearly trying to get through but rather than move her arm chair in a little I had to move all of the bar stools to be able to manoeuvre my mum through. The woman in the chair didn't even give me the respect to even look at me as we squeezed through.
As we entered the brasserie we couldn't get through again because of someone's chair but this time a pillar was on the other side which couldn't be moved (at least not by myself) repeated "excuse me" were said until a waitress had to come along and ask the girl to move in her chair to which she threw a dirty look at me and my mum.
When we finally arrived at our table, a table of two, we were sat next to another mother daughter couple. The mother who was pretty much sat next to my own due to the proximity of the nearby tables kept staring at my mum, rather than make my mum feel uncomfortable by speaking out I merely kept staring back at her until she took her glance away. Thankfully they didn't stay much longer after we had arrived as I'm sure how long I would have been able to hold my tongue.
I've never realised before that such prejudice against people in wheelchairs existed, it seems like a thing of the past that shouldn't be around any longer.
My mum is quiet and timid, kind and loving, her reason for being in a wheelchair is because she struggles to walk due to crippling arthritis. Although I don't think I should have to justify this to anyone.
It's all just a little heartbreaking really.