It’s been a while since I’ve written a review! Happily, I’m back on it with two thumbs up for the wonderful Sculpture Hall Café in Manchester, where I went for afternoon tea as part of a day-long hen do in the city last weekend.
I knew I definitely wanted to do afternoon tea for my hen party, but I wasn’t sure where would be best to go. After a bit of Googling, I discovered the existence of a café within Manchester Town Hall, and knew it was the place to go after perusing its rather tempting Manchester-themed afternoon tea menu.
I do like a good ol’ traditional afternoon tea, but I’m just as keen on trying new twists on the sandwiches-scones-Victoria sponge composition of a standard afternoon tea. The Manchester theme was right up my street as it featured one of my favourite local creations – the Manchester tart, albeit in the form of a cake! I was in coconut heaven just thinking about it.
Firstly, the café itself. The Sculpture Hall Café occupies a neat little space on the ground floor of the town hall, just off a rather impressive corridor with some amazing architectural details. The café’s name comes from the number of busts and statues of famous local people placed around the space. The decor is lovely – all dark brown leather sofas and tastefully decorated walls, topped off with great views of Albert Square from the large windows.
We could choose from a standard afternoon tea or a champagne afternoon tea. This being my hen do, most of us went for the latter option! I was pleasantly surprised when we were served with small bottles of champagne rather than having a tiny amount of fizz poured out for us – I think someone worked out that each bottle was equivalent to a glass and a half of champagne.
The food was beautifully presented on tiered stands. The order of the food on the tiers was a little different to what I’m used to – the savouries were on top, with the cakes in the middle and the scones on the bottom.
The savouries were excellent. I had a vegetarian version of the afternoon tea, so my options were cream cheese and cucumber on rye (not pictured because I only remembered to take photos after I’d scoffed it!), a mini carrot and cheese sandwich and a mini Lancashire cheese and leek tart topped with a little chutney. All of it was delicious, but the tart was probably my favourite (especially as there was a lovely cheese crisp embedded in it).
There was also some sort of choux filled with mushrooms, but as I’m not a fan of mushrooms, I left that to one side. The savouries were served alongside hummous, piccalilli and ham hock for the meat eaters, which could be spread on slivers of bread.
Then it was on to the scones, which were filled with a variety of dried fruit (I think cranberry featured quite heavily) and not as mini as the menu makes them sound! They were scrumptious, as were the mini Eccles cakes, which contained a heavily spiced filling dominated by ginger. Just beautiful!
Next, it was time for the middle tier, which featured the aforementioned Manchester sponge cake . The coconut sponge was one of the best I’ve ever had – buttery yet light at the same time, and complemented nicely by the rich buttercream and dab of jam in the middle.
However, it’s not often that something beats coconut in my culinary affections, but the Vimto delice ended up being my favourite. Imagine a thin layer of sponge covered with a dome of Vimto-flavoured mousse and covered with a quite frankly amazing, tart, jelly-like Vimto glaze… oof! It really was something special and the perfect end to the meal along with a nice cup of tea (and the last of the champagne).
Before I wrap up, I just want to stress how good value our afternoon tea was – it’s an incredible £12.50 per person for the standard afternoon tea and £19.95 with champagne. I’m used to seeing prices in the region of £15-20 without champagne and £25+ with champagne, so it was truly refreshing to see such low prices for brilliant quality food.
All in all, the Sculpture Hall Café was a wonderful discovery for us and provided one of the best afternoon tea experiences I’ve ever had (it’s probably only rivalled by Northcote). Excellent food, amazingly low prices, lovely staff and magnificent surroundings – perfect! I’ll definitely visit again.