On a grey, cold and miserable December Sunday we drove to Killashee House near Newbridge in Co. Kildare.
The history of the estate goes back to the 5th-century AD. It was founded by St. Auxillius, a nephew of St. Patrick, as a Christian monastery. The impressive Victorian main house was built in the 19th century.
In 1927 Killashee was acquired by the French order of La Sainte Union Nuns who turned it into a successful boarding school.
There is a lot of history in Killashee and you can see some of it in the form of statues and follies around the garden. Despite the bleak weather we walked around the grounds to get a feeling for the place and breath some cold winter air (the picture below shows the garden in the more favourable summer time).
Coming on a Sunday close to Christmas we could not get a booking for the Afternoon Tea in advance. The staff at Killashee was very helpful and managed to get us a table for the 3.30pm sitting.
The Tea is served in the Turner restaurant (architect of the main house). It is a big, grand room with white linen-clad tables.
We were offered a glass of mulled wine which we happily accepted. It is not easy for a mulled wine snob like me to get a proper glass of it. This, however, was one of the best mulled wines I had tasted for a long time. Not too sweet with a very pleasant fruity kick and warming spicy flavour - a very good start.
The Afternoon Tea itself was an all Christmas affair (see the really bad, fuzzy picture of the menu). It was served on a 3-tier stand with the savouries at the bottom and the cakes and pastries occupying the two layers above. The scone came on an extra plate with cream and jam and wrapped in linen to keep warm.
This was a sizable portion with an abundance of sweet treats.
The sandwiches were quite traditional, except for the very smooth liver paté which was presented in a waffle cone. The turkey sandwich had an extra, unannounced slice of Brie on top which felt very much at home between the turkey and the cranberry sauce.
All sandwiches were fresh and very well prepared and would have tasted even better if they weren't fridge cold.
I understand the need to prepare them in advance but taking them out of the fridge at the last minute diminishes the quality of the food. Smoked salmon, turkey or Brie taste all better at room temperature. And - who wants to bite into cold bread?
The warm sconemade up for the cold sandwiches. Fresh, slightly spiced and exactly the right size. I decided to skip the cream and went for some butter which, again, was fridge cold. Try to spread a solid block of cold butter onto a crumbling scone. The results are not pretty.
We were very happy with the cakes and pastries on the top two layers of the stand. The mince pies had a deliciously fruity, low sugar filling, the hummingbird cake was fluffy and moist, while the brownie and the chocolate mouse were rich and satisfying.
The Tea Menu
The good news first: there is a loose leaf tea menu (see above, if you can read it). Not the most extensive and slightly muddled but it covers the major tea categories.
I ordered the green Sencha tea which was brought in a big metallic pot (see teapot in the foreground in the picture below). If you follow this blog, especially the reviews, like here - Marlfield House - you will know my profound dislike of metal pots. Tea and metal do not like each other and should not be brought together against their wills.
Unfortunately, it gets worse. The teapot had an estimated capacity of around 800ml (= about 5-6 cups) which had exactly 1 (one) tea bag in it. Leaving aside the fact that the menu clearly promised "loose leaf" teas, one tea bag contains only about 2g of tea. This means the lonely bag was stretched to 5-6 cups of green tea.
The result was so weak I actually wondered if the brew would be able to make it out of the pot at all.
It was not just me. During the 90 minutes we were there I noticed many people around us asking for a change of tea and handing back their pots.
We really liked the history-steeped and unusual architecture of Killashee House and gardens. The staff is attentive and friendly and the presentation is very good. All the ingredients for a great, traditional Afternoon Tea are there. The food is plentiful, well presented and tasty but the experience is tarnished by the small but irritating lapses and oversights. The annoying thing is that all little issues mentioned above are very easy to remedy. Attention to detail makes all the difference.
Since we are paying special attention to the teas offered we cannot neglect the Scrooge-like serving of the tea. Even a small assortment can be a good one but here you are deprived of the advertised loose leaf tea and of the right amount of bags to make it at least a drinkable pot of tea.
The price for the Christmas Afternoon Tea is €27.50. It is on the upper end of the price scale which I would find adequate if it weren't for the shortcomings along the way.
Visiting Killashee House is a great day out and we highly recommend it.
Maybe bring your own flask of tea...
Thank you for reading this far.
Martin - House of Tea
Click here to visit the Killashee Hotel website.
Sundial in Killashee Garden