Restaurant reviews

Afternoon tea in York: Class, comfort, and clotted cream at The Principal, York

Twinkly lights on the trees through the window, crisp white tablecloths, deep, plush armchairs, warm scones smothered in clotted cream and strawberry jam. It may sound like a scene from a Christmas film, but it was actually the scene we were presented with at the weekend when we headed to The Principal York (formerly the Royal York) for afternoon tea.

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The Principal York is situated smack bang in the middle of York, just down the road from the train station and just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre and the relaxed vibes of the Museum Gardens, where we burned off some energy with our little one before our afternoon tea booking.

The hotel has just been rebranded, and the result is a modern, but sumptuously decorated and furnished hotel that screams class and luxury without being too in your face. We haven’t seen the rooms, but the communal areas are so nice that you just want to stay in the confines of the accommodation once you’ve stepped foot inside, even with everything York has to offer literally on your doorstep.

The grandeur carries through into the room where afternoon tea is served (the Garden Room). The atmosphere was relaxed and peaceful, and the service attentive without being overbearing.

Things are done a little differently here at The Principal York, and this was clear right from the start when a plate of savoury delights was brought to our table before the main event of the afternoon tea three-tiered display. The highlight for us was the Harrogate Blue scone, a cheesy overload that we could have eaten five times over! The salmon mousse was also delightful – light but packed full of flavour.

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As for the main event, it was presented beautifully. The sandwiches were what you’d expect from an afternoon tea, with cucumber and cream cheese and Yorkshire ham on wholegrain.

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There weren’t as many sandwiches as we’ve had at other afternoon teas, but the savoury plate served beforehand more than made up for this!

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Moving up the tiers, the scone layer was next. The scones have the potential to make or break any afternoon tea, and thankfully they proved to be spot on here. The scones were served with raspberry jam and clotted cream. The waiter was also kind enough to bring us over two little pots of strawberry jam upon request! We are scone snobs but these were served warm, and were crumbly but firm enough to allow for easy spreading of the clotted cream. A tick in the box for the scones all in all!

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And so on to the top layer, presented here beautifully. The orange and white chocolate slice was delicately flavoured and moist, the blackberry tart absolutely packed with zesty, fruity flavour, and the lemon sherbet macaron like biting into a slice of lemon (in a good way!). The Battenberg was simple but perfectly crafted, the colours really catching the eye on top of the three-tiered stand. Everything was rounded off by the chocolate orange eclair, packed full of cream and clearly freshly baked.

A final mention to the tea. The loose leaf tea menu was extensive. The Principal York source their tea from the Rare Tea Company, who supply the world’s best tea direct from farmers and their tea gardens. The hotel’s tea consultant has chosen some of the company’s best to appear on their menu and a special shout-out must go to the Darjeeling, a delicate tea that complemented our food perfectly.

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Knowing where to eat afternoon tea in York is tricky. There are so many options, and so many good options at that, but if you’re looking for serious comfort, luxury, and a cosy hideaway where you can escape from the real world for a couple of hours, there’s no beating The Principal York. Christmas afternoon tea starts on December 1st, so get booking!

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