For a unique place to have afternoon tea in Edinburgh that’s steeped in history, head to the Colonnades at the Signet Library. Located just off the Royal Mile behind St. Giles Cathedral, afternoon tea is served in the two hundred year old Signet library building during the 19th century.
Afternoon tea is served in the grand foyer of the library, called the Colonnades, named after the Corinthian-style columns that line the room.
Diners have the option to be seated in the middle of the foyer surrounded by the tall columns or in one of the library’s cozy nooks, filled with old law books. I opted to be seated in one of the cozy nooks so I could look out the window at the Royal Mile.
A substantial afternoon tea is served in two courses, first the savories, followed by the scones and desserts, both served on elegant silver-plated tiered trays fitted with glass mirrors, giving the tea service an Art Deco feel. Ingredients featured in both the savories and the desserts are locally sourced and reflect the seasons.
On the top tier of savories was a cured black olive oatcake biscuit topped with a ham hock terrine and a dollop of apple jelly; a smoked salmon and haddock pie with saffron and fresh pea puree and a Caesar salad with prawns served in a shot glass, topped with bacon and a Parmesan crisp.
On the second tier was a mini caramelized onion quiche; a Moroccan spiced lamb with couscous and tzatziki sauce served in a mini flower pot and a savory choux puff filled with a mushroom and tarragon mousse. I especially enjoyed the lamb with couscous, a dish not usually found on an afternoon tea menu. The tiny flower pot perfectly reflected the springtime theme.
On the bottom tier were the tea sandwiches, which included a traditional egg salad on a mini baguette sandwich, kicked up a few notches by the addition of Scottish-made tomato chutney which added a wonderful smoky flavor to the sandwich. There was also a salami sandwich on a mini baguette with a basil pesto and shaved fennel. The Scottish salami was outstanding, pairing nicely with the Italian-inspired ingredients.
The dessert course was equally impressive and included some traditional British flavors as well as some unexpected unique flavor combinations.
On the top tier was a Banoffee cake made with toffee pastry cream and a silky banana mousse that had an incredibly robust banana flavor; a rhubarb macaron filled with a vanilla custard buttercream, a very sophisticated take on the traditional rhubarb custard trifle popular in the UK during the springtime and a terrine served in small shot glasses called a “coconut shot,” filled with a light coconut custard, tangy passion fruit curd buttery crumble topping and a mini meringue kiss.
On the second tier was a lemon tart with a green tea pastry crust filled with lemon curd and topped with a meringue cookie dusted with matcha powder which gave the tart a distinct bittersweet, grassy flavor that really complimented the creamy lemon curd. Also on the middle tier was a mini carrot cake topped with rich cream cheese buttercream and a dark chocolate baked ‘alaska’ cake that consisted of a chocolate genoise sponge cake base topped with chocolate mousse and a toasted marshmallow meringue that made the sumptuous cake taste like a fancy version of s’mores treat.
All of the desserts were beautifully presented and very well balanced, not too sweet and actually tasted like the seasonal spring ingredients they were made from. The banoffee delice cake had the most luscious banana flavored pastry cream I’ve ever had.
The rhubarb macaron was particularly lovely, tasting light a slightly tart rhubarb-flavored custard made into a macaron.
The chocolate baked “alaska” cakes were also terrific. I couldn’t resist eating the whole thing, even though I was already getting quite full by this point.
The green tea lemon tart was also a lovely surprise, the bittersweet powdered green tea and the tart lemon coming together to create a match made in heaven.
On the bottom tier were the scones, square in shape and miniature in size, they were the perfect size for the generous amount of food served with the tea. Both the plain scone and the fruited scone were delicious with the clotted cream and strawberry jam, especially with the slightly crisp outside.
I ended the tea with a pot of earl grey, served in an elegant silver pot that kept the tea steaming hot.
The server brought out one final surprise to the table, a frozen jasmine green tea granita served in a chilled shot glass, a very light and refreshing end to a lovely afternoon tea.
The service at the Colonnades was great from start to finish. The young server who waited on me was eager to answer all of my questions about the history of the Signet library despite the fact that she was relatively new to the job. She even brought a print-out of the history of the Signet Library for me to take home with me. She kept the flow of the tea going nicely, allowing plenty of time for each course to be savored.
The colonnades did a wonderful job of featuring traditional Scottish ingredients in each of the courses. The elegance and sophistication of the location inside the library was also unforgettable. I highly recommend afternoon tea at the Colonnades at the Signet Library. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy a leisurely afternoon tea while surrounded by the history of the Royal Mile.
Find out more about the Colonnades at the Signet Library here.