However, on this occasion I pacified myself in the knowledge that the friend I was meeting was always, always late. There was usually a crisis (often involving a wardrobe/makeup/house malfunction) rendering her unable to turn up on time. Ever.
But on this occasion – with me failing to get my act together – she sent me a text message 10 minutes before we were due to meet at Birmingham’s Hotel du Vin telling me she was ‘in the bar but there was no rush because she was enjoying people watching’. Cue panic stations my end.
And then she sent me a photograph of the espresso martini she was about to sink. This was going to get messy. It was only 1pm on a Sunday afternoon. I needed to get there before my pal was too inebrated to enjoy our long-planned afternoon tea. Either that or I needed to play catch up. I chose the latter, ordering myself a peach bellini on arrival.
The two of us – relatively new mums – sat in very congenial surrounds, slurping our cocktails, gossiping and relishing not having a small human tugging at your clothes demanding raisins, for what seemed like an age.
Like I said, we were there to sample afternoon tea but delayed ordering our food while we drank a few more fabulous cocktails, which felt particularly indulgent because of the time of day.
I’ve long been a fan of the Hotel du Vin chain. It’s popular with celebs visiting Brum too; the Britian’s Got Talent and X Factor judges are often photographed leaving the former eye hospital-turned hotel on the way to local heats. Having stayed at the branch in Harrogate and dined a number of times at the one here in Birmingham, I’ve always been impressed. The four-course Sunday lunch is exceptionally good value for money, while the French-style bistro serves up tasty Gallic fare.
And this time’s visit started with as much promise. Cocktails were delicious (and so they should be for £9 each) and service was discreet and polite; there was no problem that we delayed our afternoon tea. Although they were probably rubbing their hands with glee as were ordered cocktail after cocktail.
Feeling fairly tipsy (hic!), and hours after we first arrived, we decided it was time to soak up some of the booze with some food. We opted to stay in the relaxed bar area rather than move to the restaurant.
I ordered coffee in an effort to sober up while my friend opted for a pot of English breakfast (and another espresso martini). First up was a plate of savouries each. I was a little disappointed as I’d have liked to have had the entire afternoon tea served all at once so I could flit between sweet and savoury options. No matter. We tucked in with gusto like Cheech and Chong with the munchies.
Instead of the usual finger sandwiches, there were mini bagels and croissants, sub-style rolls and tarlets. The dainty croissant was filled with cheese and ham and, while it was pleasant, didn’t taste particularly fresh, but the bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon ticked all the right boxes. I left the egg mayonnaise sub roll (it’s my least favourite sandwich filling), although my friend seemed to enjoy hers. A tiny cheese and onion tart was packed with flavour while a sphere of crisp pastry topped in chopped tomatoes failed to be particularly impressive.
We polished off the plate of savouries and were asked if we were ready for the sweet treats. “Bring it on,” was our reply.
An impressive-looking tier of goodies arrived featuring traditional scones with jam and clotted cream, miniature lemon meringue tarts, golf-ball size doughnuts, handmade tea cakes and shot glasses filled with cream-topped lime granita. It was topped with two sticks of wiry candy floss which looked like they’d be better placed on top of Marge Simpson’s head. All very pretty, but how did it taste?
I started with a currant-packed scone but was disappointed that the only pots of Bonne Maman jam on offer were blackcurrant or apricot – not typical afternoon tea options. I alerted the waitress who was happy to provide some extra pots of strawberry jam which we piled on top of the scones with mounds of clotted cream. Bonus points for providing butter too – piglet here likes to layer all three. Yum!
The other sweets were fairly good. I liked the raspberry-spiked chocolate-covered tea cake best, it was like a posh Tunnocks Tea Cake. The mini lemon meringue was nice and sharp with good, crisp pastry and the lime granita shots provided much needed refreshment. Most disappointing were the doughnuts which were heavier than an episode of Celebrity Fat Farm. Rather than a fluffy, light interior, it was cloyingly stodgy. Not pleasant.
It was pity we weren’t offered any further hot drinks – at £22.50 per head you’d have thought unlimited tea and coffee would have been included.
We’d almost polished off the lot when the hubbies and babies arrived to join the party. The lads ordered beers and a couple of soft drinks and finished the remaining treats. My daughter particularly liked the chocolate tea cake, while the lemon tart got the seal of approval from my mate’s little boy.
The bill came to £108, which included four beers and some soft drinks as well as five cocktails and the afternoon teas. So it was quite an expensive Sunday afternoon but well worth it for the relaxed atmosphere – even if the food failed to live up to previous experiences.
It was just our cup of tea.