August 10-16, 2015 is Afternoon Tea Week, and venues across the country will be marking the occasion with tempting treats. Ben Gibson takes a look at how this great British tradition is celebrated on Saga’s ships…
So it’s ‘Afternoon Tea Week’ according to my calendar – who thinks up these things? Not that I’m complaining: I’ve long been a fan of a scrummy slice of cake and a delicious cuppa. Although when I recently cruised with Saga, it was a much more refined affair than that!
As you walk into the main lounge on either Saga Sapphire or Saga Pearl II, your eyes are treated first, with stunning creations spread out almost across the entire width of the room. And what a spread it is… On my first visit there was a caramel croquembouche that towered above me, framed either side by every type of cake you could imagine: from simple Victoria sponges topped with strawberries to a decadent Sachertorte. The next day the event was chocolate themed, which meant a flowing fountain of velvety liquid chocolate, fresh fruits, profiteroles, cookies and gateaux. Just divine!
A huge amount of effort, imagination and artistry goes into this daily event – the pastry chefs may well start preparing as long as two days in advance. In fact, below decks, Saga’s kitchen is staffed 24 hours a day. According to Executive Chef George Streeter “there are always at least six cooks working in the pastry section, covering shifts day and night. There are also three bakers working at any one time – it’s a busy place.”
I also asked George how many cakes these talented artisans make during their working day. “A baker will make four cakes of that variety at the same time, whether it’s a poundcake, fruit tart, pavlova, gateaux or brownies. This means there could be up to 40 cakes laid out in the kitchens, ready to be served to our guests.” That’s a lot of cake.
On my cruise, Battenberg appeared to be a firm favourite, but also the Chelsea buns, fruitcake and of course, scones still warm from the oven went like, well, hot cakes! Let’s just not mention the age-old debate about what goes on first – the jam or the cream? It’s up to you!
There are even gluten free and diabetic varieties of cake and scones made fresh each day for those on restricted diets. And if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth don’t have to miss out either. That’s because there are many savoury creations to enjoy, from delicate finger sandwiches made with fresh homemade bread, to quiches, palmiers, sliced meats and cheese. You really are spoilt for choice.
It’s not all about the food – let’s not forget it’s named ‘tea’ for a reason, and on board, that’s extra special too. Because brewing away in those china teapots is the first-ever British-grown and manufactured tea. Sourced from the Tregothnan estate in Cornwall, the classic tea blend is made with hand-picked Tregothnan leaves and the finest Assam, giving it a delicious full-bodied flavour. It’s all part of Saga’s ethos to ‘buy local’ and to support fledging British brands. But most important of all, it tastes delicious!
Finally, did I mention that afternoon tea aboard Saga’s ships is always free of charge? This is really something – some other ships I’ve been on add-on a charge just for sniffing the tempting treats laid out before you. But Saga’s philosophy is always “let them eat cake… without limits!”
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