[by Ahmed Ahmed]
I thought it was high time to look into Birmingham’s new-found passion for that quintessentially British meal, afternoon tea. Quite a few venues are now offering special teatime menus, and on a torrential afternoon, I went to take shelter and sample the spread at Aalto Restaurant, in Hotel La Tour.
Just a few steps up from the hotel lobby, the Aalto restaurant and bar was in tranquil contrast to the chaotic weather outside. I could still see the pouring rain, but the sound of howling winds was replaced by calm. Listen carefully and you’ll recognise chart toppers like Adele and Coldplay translated into gentle piano music. This will either make you smile or cringe. In either case, the relaxed elegant comfort – think high-backed chairs and decadent sofas – means you’ll be in no hurry to leave.
Which is just as well, because making your way through the spread of snacks could take some time. There were some novelties on the table, but all the classics were there, in some form. Most interesting were the cucumber rolls. A twist on the standard crustless sandwiches, these little packages of cucumber and cream cheese are pretty moreish once you get over the slightly odd texture. The welsh rarebit was a solid success, with both of us fighting over the last bit of delicious melted cheese. There was also a selection of ham and chicken sandwiches.
Of course the savouries were just the teaser for a sweet-tooth like me, and so it wasn’t long before I got on to the desserts. The scones with jam and Devonshire clotted cream certainly didn’t disappoint; the texture of the scones was lovely and the cream was gorgeously thick, its richness perfectly set off by the sweet jam. The other desserts – treacle tarts and walnut whips – were pleasant if less incredible. Me not being a fan of meringue, the eton mess was never going to please, but my guest said she enjoyed it, polishing off my share as well as her own.
As you’d expect, the selection of hot drinks is generous. Whether you’re a herbalist, a traditionalist, or even a rebel (a coffee-drinker), you’ll find the right brew for you. I went for my usual earl grey while my guest opted for a fruit blend. Neither of us had any complaints.
What makes the drinks menu extra-special, however, is the teatime cocktail selection. Potentially adding new meaning to the phrase ‘tea party,’ the menu tempts you with gin and tonic, a choice of martinis and even Veuve Clicquot champagne.
Afternoon tea = £19.95 per head
Champagne afternoon tea = £24.95 per head
The classy, chilled-out atmosphere really makes the meal. For a chance to relax and enjoy a catch-up with friends or even an alternative to a standard business lunch, I have to say that Aalto was certainly (here it comes!) my cup of tea.
- Address Albert Street, Birmingham, West Midlands B5 5JE, United Kingdom
- Phone 0121 718 8000
- Category Afternoon Tea, British, Hotel
- Location Birmingham City Centre