It’s only fitting that the historic and grand practice of High Tea should live on at The Plettenberg
British author Henry James said: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
The story goes that the ritual of afternoon tea owes its origins to Ann, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. In the 1800s it was common to eat only two main meals a day, with an early breakfast and a late dinner. The Duchess decided that an afternoon tea and snack was the way to deal with hunger pangs before dinner – and from here in 1840 the tradition grew into a much grander affair, an elite social gathering of women, who gathered to drink tea but also eat dainty snacks.
These treats included the mandatory tray of bread and butter with a filling named after the Earl of Sandwich. Legend goes that in 1762, Lord John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was playing cards and didn’t want to leave the gaming table to eat, so he asked for a serving of roast beef to be placed between two slices of bread so he could eat with his hands – and so began the tradition of the sandwich.
In the 1880s upper-class and high-society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for their afternoon tea, usually served in the drawing-room in the later afternoon. During the latter part of the 19th century the tradition was widely observed by both the upper and middle classes – and men, as well as women, started tucking into high tea.
While the middle-class and working people had their tea brewed in a pot served with sugar and milk, they had a small humble sandwich or baked snack. For the more privileged it was a far more luxurious affair. Sandwiches were customarily filled with ingredients like egg, cucumber, fish paste, ham and smoked salmon.
The dessert portion of the afternoon tea featured scones with whipped cream and jam and pastries such as the Battenberg cake, fruit cake or Victoria sponge.
The Battenberg Cake takes its name from when it was first baked in 1884 to celebrate Prince Louis of Battenberg marrying Princess Victoria, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter and Prince Philip’s grandmother. This cake was a light sponge with different sections held together by jam and it was covered in marzipan. The Royal Victoria Sponge was named after Queen Victoria herself who was said to enjoy a slice of this light fluffy cake with her traditional English afternoon tea.
Cape Town imported and cultivated this most quintessential of English customs during Colonial times in the 1800s with iconic hotels serving a High Tea resplendent with delicacies, but also tea grown in India or Ceylon along with tea pots and delicate China cups. A mug of tea produced using a teabag being absolute sacrilege, infra dig.
The Mount Nelson, The Cape Grace, The Table Bay, The Vineyard Hotel and the Twelve Apostles are just some of South Africa’s five-star hotels offering High Tea in the Cape. In Hong Kong hotels like the world-famous Mandarin and Peninsula Hotels are known for their High Tea productions, as are The Ritz, Savoy, and Dorchester in London.
It was therefore only fitting that Plettenberg Bay’s flagship five-star The Plettenberg should introduce a Classic High Tea setting this tradition on the Garden Route.
Part of the Liz McGrath Collection, The Plettenberg is famous as one of the best addresses in the country, not only because of the sheer luxury this property offers guests but because of the views right across the sea from its exquisitely appointed guest rooms not to mention world-class cuisine and the ultimate pampering experience.
The Plettenberg High Tea is a new addition to the culinary experience in Plettenberg Bay and judging from the response to it so far, it’s set to become the place on the Garden Route for it.
Guests were introduced to High Tea for this year’s Mother’s Day (with bottomless bubbles) and according to general manager MJ Birch, they loved it, both international visitors and a growing local contingent.
The Classic High Tea is available every day with prior bookings, and it takes place in the spacious summer lounge area resplendent with sea views.
The Dilmah range of teas which are the bespoke variety for this hotel includes Rose and French Vanilla, Single Estate Darjeeling, Single Origin Supreme Ceylon, Pure Chamomile Flowers and Pure Peppermint to compliment the sweet and savoury eats.
The spread of delicacies are the work of alchemist head chef Kyle Macaskill and his team.
Savoury coronation sandwiches, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, smoked salmon and cream cheese puffs, mini-vegetable quiches, Malay fish cakes with lemon aioli, beef and peppadew skewers and sesame prawn toasties, are some of the savoury delights.
For the sweet part, Macaskill has excelled himself with classic scones the requisite strawberry jam and cream, mini-cupcakes, mini-lemon meringue pies, mini-fruit pavlovas, strawberry and white chocolate mousse pots, mini-citrus cheesecakes and chocolate-dipped strawberries. And he always manages to pop a surprise in – like the prawn tail and Bloody Mary shot.
“The new-look summer lounge is like a breath of fresh air,” says MJ Birch who says he believes the High Tea at The Plettenberg will become a tradition on the Garden Route.
Are you a fan of the afternoon tea tradition? Why not try the tea service at Fairview House, too?