The Balmoral Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels in Scotland and serves an equally grand afternoon tea in the Palm Court. Located just outside of Waverley Train Station, this Edwardian-era hotel is impossible to miss, especially with its clock tower looming high above.
The hotel has hosted many famous guests over the years including J.K. Rowling, who spent time in the hotel’s beautiful bar writing the last of the Harry Potter books. As you enter the hotel’s grand foyer, decorated with bouquets of freshly cut flowers, you receive a warm Scottish welcome from the Balmoral’s incredibly friendly staff. It’s easy to see how a writer like Rowling would want to spend an extended amount of time in this beautiful and enchanting hotel.
Afternoon tea at the Balmoral is served in the Palm Court, the hotel’s gorgeous tearoom, named for the live palm trees growing in large pots through out the room. Beautiful scenes of Edinburgh adorn the walls, depictions of the city during the Georgian era of the early 1800’s. I was seated at a table situated in the center of the room, right underneath the grand chandelier hanging down from the atrium ceiling above, which let in plenty of natural light. The harpist playing in the balcony above also added to the lovely ambiance.
The afternoon tea was served in five separate courses, including the tea, which is a thing unto itself. My friendly server, Patricia, recommended two different kinds of tea to start with, the Balmoral’s special afternoon black tea blend and an earl grey black tea. When she returned with the pots of tea, she didn’t just pour the tea directly into the cups, but instead turned the tea pouring into a bit of a dramatic ceremony, with both pots held firmly in her hands, she poured the tea into the cups below in a steady stream while simultaneously raising the teapots high above her head, and then back down again. It was done with such precision that not a single drop escaped over the sides of the cups.
The first course was an amuse bouche consisting of a small cup of carrot and ginger bisque. It was a lovely start to what was to be a superb afternoon tea.
The next course to arrive were the savory treats. On the top tier was a gorgeous plate of savory tarts, decorated with edible flowers. One was filled with a delightfully creamy sweet corn custard, topped with a dollop of brie cheese pastry cream.
The other was a savory palmier filled with haggis. This being my inaugural tasting of haggis in Scotland, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it ended up being delectable. Patricia explained that the haggis was made from well seasoned ground meat combined with oats and spices, all stuffed into a puff pastry roulade. It had a slightly smoky flavor, much like a heavily spiced sausage. On the top was a dollop of onion jam, which added a nice sweetness to the palmier, turning it into something absolutely irresistible. I could’ve eaten more, had it not been for the fact that there were several more courses to come.
On the second tier were two different kinds of tea sandwiches, including a chicken salad, which had a generous helping of of chicken lightly dressed in an aioli along with little gem lettuce on a fluffy wholemeal bun, and an egg salad sandwich served on a house made potato bun with micro sprouts.
On the bottom tier were three kinds of tea sandwiches, including a delicate and buttery smoked Scottish salmon with herbed cream cheese; cucumber with tarragon cream cheese and a ham and tomato sandwich.
Next were the scones, unique in that they were square in shape rather than the typical round shape of most scones. The scones were crisp on the outside with a well browned crust, much like shortbread, but tender and buttery in the middle. The deliciousness was definitely taken up a few notches by the addition of the decadent clotted cream and the house made strawberry jam, which had the flavor of fresh strawberries. These were some of the best scones I had on my tea room tour of the UK.
As a palate cleanser, Patricia recommended a rose petal tisane that perfectly complimented the scones, cream and jam. The tea had a pretty pink color and an incredibly aromatic smell and flavor that tasted like a bouquet of real roses in a cup.
Next, Patricia brought out the desserts, a trio of mouthwatering pastries so elegant, I almost couldn’t bring myself to eat them. The first cake I tasted was the lemon and coconut cake was topped with a dollop of intensely flavorful passion fruit curd along with fresh coconut shavings and berries.
The next was a dark chocolate delice cake filled with a light and airy chocolate mousse that would satisfy even the most serious chocoholic’s cravings.
Lastly, I tried the cream puff filled with a violet flower and black currant pastry cream. The choux bun was enrobed in a craquelin sugar topping that gave it a crisp texture, and was topped with a violet meringue “collar,” making it look like the bottom half of a “religiuese,” a famous Parisian pastry made to resemble a nun’s habit. It was a sumptuous dessert that was both beautiful and delicious.
Patricia brought out one final surprise to the table, a very special treat containing a small box of chocolate truffles and pâtes de fruits and two small tins of tea to take home containing the Balmoral’s breakfast blend and the rose petal tisane. As though that wasn’t enough, there was also a small cone of mango sorbet enrobed in dark chocolate, placed in a small plastic stand made especially for this purpose. It was a spectacular ending to a memorable afternoon tea.
As I was planning my tea room journey to the UK, I looked for places that would provide a memorable afternoon tea experience, which I certainly found at the Balmoral. The afternoon tea was an elegant and decadent affair, each course showcasing the best flavors of Scottish cuisine. The hotel’s restaurant earned a Michelin star a number of years ago, and the afternoon tea service at the Palm Court felt worthy of its own star. In addition to the amazing food and ambiance, the service also made this an outstanding afternoon tea experience. Patricia was so attentive throughout the tea, taking the time to answer all of my questions about the different courses as well as the history of the hotel.
I would highly recommend afternoon tea at the Balmoral if you’re visiting Edinburgh. It was one of the best meals I had during my trip to Scotland. Book your tea ahead to assure a table, as it gets very busy in the Palm Court during the peak summer season. The hotel never takes more reservations than it can reasonably accommodate, making sure that every guest has more than adequate time to sit and enjoy their tea. Taking time to experience an afternoon tea at a place like the Balmoral is one of the most enjoyable activities you can do while visiting Scotland. I look forward to the day where I can return for afternoon tea at the Balmoral. It’s worth traveling there for the scones alone!
Find out more about the Balmoral Hotel here.
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