Scotsman Review
Our criteria 
  • Ambience - It's important that a restaurant is inviting. We rate the decor, comfort and atmosphere.
  • Drink - Is the wine or cocktail list as exciting as the food, or does it fall short? Same goes for soft drinks. 
  • Food - We judge dishes on flavour, but also use of produce, cooking skill and presentation
  • Service - The staff and pace of a meal can make or break a meal out.
  • Value - From the food on the plate to service and surroundings, we check that you get what you're paying for.
April 12, 2018

High tea at the Signet Library, Edinburgh, restaurant review

Afternoon tea at the Signet Library is a luxurious treat inside an architectural gem that gets the seal of approval from Catriona Thomson

You can’t beat a Scottish picnic during the Easter holidays. I let my mind rewind to recall a childhood scene decorating eggs in anticipation of hurling them down some hill or other.

With our lovingly fashioned faux Fabergé oeufs carefully stowed, we headed for the local incline. No sooner had the picnic blanket been unrolled and the tartan thermos opened, than the skies darkened.

We should have bolted for home but witnessed by my entire family, sheltering out of the biting wind in the lea of a gorse bush, I gently pitched the finely painted masterpiece down the side of the banking.

Quick as a flash it vanished into our dog’s jaws, wolfed down shell and all. Ever since I’ve been in search of an alternative Easter tradition, one unaffected by adverse weather conditions or famished canines.

My latest discovery is afternoon tea at Edinburgh’s Signet Library. Situated near the High Court it is a fine example of Georgian architecture with a jaw dropping interior. It gained a royal seal of approval from George IV, who described it as “the finest drawing room in Europe”.

It was the working centre of The Society of Writers to Her Majesty’s Signet, which is a ancient private society of Scottish solicitors. Writers to the Signet or “WS” originally had some perks; freedom from local taxation, exemption from military service, and rights of audience before the College of Justice.

Writers were involved in drawing up summonses to the Court of Session which were required to be signeted. The Society is now an independent, non-regulatory association of solicitors and maintains the Category A listed Signet Library.

I had recruited my sister-in-law to accompany me and we were shown to our mirror-topped table in the Colonnades dining room for the set price afternoon tea (£34 per person).

The waitress explained the process to us newbies. Sip as much tea or coffee as we like while nibbling on a set selection of both savoury and sweet treats. As the scattercash tea jennys that we are, we tried the Scottish grown Rose Smoked premium brew (which costs an extra £3).

It’s a black tea which has a malty and biscuity flavour, tempered by rose and a distinct note of oak smoke. Our second selection, also served in a lovely silver teapot, was gunpowder Chinese green tea, which tasted golden and sweet with a peppery, smoky hint.

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The interior of this room features stunning columns, hence its name, as well as legal tomes stacked from floor to ceiling filled by journals and reports of past cases. We began with a delicate mushroom and tarragon amuse bouche, followed by a three-tiered savoury stand, groaning with delights. Sadly no egg and cress sandwiches for moi, the replacement filling was a delectable humus pesto rosso, with courgette and feta.

The vegetarian pedestal featured a range of delights, including a veggie haggis bonbon, a delicate spoonful of tofu bites in sweet chilli sauce, and a crunchy polenta square package of joy.

We both agreed that on the showstopper, savoury carrot panna cotta with crumb topping, which featured a pea shoot sprouting out the top, looked divine, however we concurred that we preferred our mousse dishes to be sweet rather than savoury. Not scrimping on choices my companion, “Judge judy” sampled Coronation chicken as her meaty sandwich filling, declaring it delectable.

Other favourites included a goat’s cheese and onion marmalade quiche, dinky braised ox cheek and port pie, and salmon smoked haddock and chive fishcake.

Once we had cleared the decks, we ordered more tea, this time palate-cleansing apple for the legal eagle, while I was won over by the Formosa Toppest Oolong tea for the description alone. A semi fermented tea grown on the slopes of Mount Dung Ding in Taiwan, it was light in character and carried a gentle scent of fruit blossom.

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The petit fours included mixed berry panna cotta, cookies & cream macaron, a honeycomb mousse and an oblong of blood orange and mango jelly. The highlight was the millionaire cheesecake, a dome of shiny chocolate with biscuit crumb decoration and sweet delights inside, topped by a flake of gold leaf.

As our conversation turned to the possibility of setting up a legal firm to enjoy the perks of membership, our ears were assaulted by an instrumental version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound Of Silence.

Shh, it is a library after all. I also put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, that after this spread, “you’ll have had yer tea”.

Our verdict: an opulent treat, inside an architectural gem.

High tea at the Signet Library

Colonnades, The Signet Library, Edinburgh, EH1 1RF

(0131-225 0651,


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Catriona is a freelance writer based in the Scottish Borders, and a nominee for Food and Drink writer at this year's Scottish Press Awards.
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