Guilty: we love tea. It’s an Irish tradition, a ritual that can solve every problem life presents. Or so we believe. This is why we excel at the tea room, and why our hearts are given over to the café. From cool urban hang-outs to delicate vintage-inspired haunts to veritable institutions such as Bewley’s, the tea room is where you can come to enjoy delicious traditional Irish homemade cakes, bakes and lunchtime treats, such as warm fluffy brown scones, jam-laden soda bread, Irish fruit cake, open crab sandwiches, boxty and soda farls. Ireland’s tea rooms are unique, as much for the atmosphere as the unique selection of local dishes and produce you’ll find on offer. It used to be a very lah-di-dah affair full of etiquette and hushed whisperings, but afternoon tea has been given a modern shake up. Some of the island’s most hallowed and celebrated drawing rooms from glorious craggy castle to small, elegant guesthouse, transform daily into canvas of pretty cakes, delightful little sandwiches and some of the sweetest, most delectable sugary creations around. Don’t miss out.
After all, where else in the world would you find somewhere like the Lyon’s Café in Sligo, a café within a 19th-century department store with cream wood panelling and huge casement windows. Or how about the dreamy Tigh Nan Phaidi Café in an old, whitewashed traditional stone cottage where you can huddle in front of the fire with a rich cake, or take tea outside amidst the surrounding scenery – after all, it is on Inis Mór, a stunning Aran Island in the Atlantic Ocean. And on a quiet afternoon, there’s nowhere we’d rather be than The Old Post Office Tea Rooms on the shores of Strangford Lough in County Down, with its huge bog oak beams, roaring fire and delicious cinnamon scones.
Vintage tea rooms are one of the biggest new tea-trends in Ireland; we’re talking 1950s style tea drinking with a very Irish twist. Using beautiful old China, lovely little cake stands and traditional recipes for cakes, scones and buns, some of the island’s hippest cafés are doing the trend with panache. If you like your tea with a touch of super-pretty vintage styling on the side, then you’ll lose your heart in Miss Courtney’s Tea Rooms in Killarney, County Kerry and Dublin’s super-sweet Cake Café. Feeling more fancy? Then go a little upscale in the beautiful Victorian surroundings of the Tea Rooms of Maryville House Belfast.
Leading the way are the city slickers who have taken afternoon tea and turned into a highly fashionable event. Tea at the G Hotel in Galway is one occasion worth getting dressed up for. Milliner Philip Treacy, who was responsible for the hotel’s flamboyant interior design, would expect nothing less! On the menu, you can enjoy sweet treats, baked scones and finger sandwiches while sipping a glass of pink champagne. At Dublin’s refined Merrion Hotel, the Art Tea is a conceptualised take on cake-creation, with sweet delights inspired by the works of renowned Irish artists Jack B Yeats, Robert Ballagh and Louis le Brocquy. For taste and sight, it’s quite a spectacle.
And if it’s opulence you’re after, then trot down to the award-winning Merchant Hotel in Belfast’s historic cathedral quarter where the drama of the gilded Great Room is matched by an afternoon tea of sumptuous cakes.