Taking Tea in Dublin

Westbury Gallery


Ireland Hopping | By Margaret M. Johnson

According to Henry James, a turn-of-the-century American novelist, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Two of the many lovely places in Dublin to enjoy it are The Gallery, the lobby-lounge at The Westbury Hotel, and The Lord Mayor’s Lounge at the venerable Shelbourne. On a recent visit there, I splurged with not one but two tea experiences, enjoying traditional sandwiches and savories like ham and cheddar with tomato relish on sourdough baguette, scones with clotted cream and jam, and decadent pastries ranging from frangipane tartlets to wild berry cheesecakes and fruit and nut tea breads.

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For those not familiar with tea history, its creation is attributed to Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857), who was feeling a bit hungry late one afternoon while on summer holiday at Woburn Abbey. She asked her maid to bring tea and a tray of bread-and-butter sandwiches to her room and enjoyed her “taking of tea” so much that she started inviting friends to join her for this new social event. It gradually expanded to include assorted fruit breads and small pastries, and it became so popular that elegant tea parties became fashionable social events rather than a meal.

So I wasn’t surprised to find that nearly everyone “taking their tea” at both the Westbury and Shelbourne were celebrating something: a milestone birthday, a wedding anniversary, a recent engagement, a first date, a big bargain from Brown Thomas! Both tea experiences offer impeccable service and lovely food — Champagne is optional! At the large 120-seat Gallery, if you request a window seat, you’ll have a bird’s-eye view over Grafton Street; at the smaller 40-seat space at the Shelbourne, window seats overlook St. Stephen’s Green.

The Lord Mayor's Lounge.


DETAILS: Afternoon Tea is served at The Shelbourne daily at 12:30, 3, and 5:30 p.m, and on weekends 11:30 a.m., 2, 4:30 and 7 p.m. (www.marriot.com). At The Westbury, it’s served daily between 12.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. (www.doylecollection.com).



A long-standing recipe for a tea sandwich is a smoked salmon sandwich served with salmon mousse, a simple blend of smoked salmon, cream cheese, butter, horseradish and chives. You can add a few capers for zing, if you like, and then roll the sandwiches into pinwheels.

For the salmon mousse

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

1 tablespoon prepared horseradish

4 ounces smoked salmon

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon drained capers (optional)

For the sandwich

12 slices dark wheat or pumpernickel bread, crusts removed

2 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips

  1. Make mousse. Combine cream cheese, butter, chives, horseradish, salmon, lemon juice, and pepper in a food processor; blend for 20 to 30 seconds, or until smooth. Stir in capers, if using. (Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days; bring back to room temperature for spreading.)

  2. Make pinwheels. Roll bread slices flat with a rolling pin. Spread salmon mousse on one side of each of slice and arrange pieces of smoked salmon on top. Roll up and place seam side down on a serving plate. Cover with a damp tea towel or paper towels until ready to serve. Serve pinwheels whole, or cut each in half.

A view of Grafton Street.



While currants and raisins are the most traditional addition to a batch of scones, the main attraction of the second course of afternoon tea, dried cranberries or blueberries, candied ginger, fresh berries can also be used.

4 cups self-rising flour

Pinch of baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup sugar

8 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 cup milk

1 large egg, beaten

1/3 cup raisins

Sugar crystals, for sprinkling

Butter, jam or clotted cream, for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt; stir in sugar.

  3. Add butter, and with your fingers or a pastry blender, cut or work in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in cream, milk, and egg until soft dough forms.

  4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and with floured hands, knead in raisins. Pat into a 1-inch-thick disk and cut out rounds. Arrange on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle the tops with the sugar crystals.

  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Serve warm.



Elegant pastries top the afternoon tea stand at hotels like the Shelbourne and Westbury, but home cooks might want to add a simple tea cake like this one.

For the cake

1 pound (3 cups) chopped dried fruit, such as apricots, golden raisins, mangos, cranberries

2 ounces (2 tablespoons) mixed peel

1 teaspoon Lady Grey tea leaves

1 1/4 cups orange juice

1 large egg, beaten

2 cups self-rising flour

Softened butter, for spreading

For the icing

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

  1. Make cake. In a large bowl, combine fruit, peel, orange juice and tea; let soak for 3 hours, or until liquid is absorbed.

  2. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease two 7-inch loaf pans.

  3. Stir egg and flour into fruit mixture and mix until well combined. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until top is golden and a skewer inserted into center comes out clean.

  4. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire tray for about 10 minutes. Invert onto rack and then return to upright and let cool completely.

  5. Make icing. In a small bowl, whisk together confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice and zest until smooth. Pour over cooled cake and let set before cutting into slices.



Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page now includes “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work, including how to order her cookbooks, visit www.irishcook.com