What is the most Christmassy of all Edinburgh locations?
It must surely be Prestonfield House. After all, there are 17 Christmas trees in there, not to mention the swags, white cyclamen, and holly sprigs.
Although the house was built in 1687, the space is packed full of Victoriana, and they were the generation who invented the festive season as we know it. The same goes for afternoon tea. Blame the Duchess of Bedford.
At this five-star hotel, it’s served in Rhubarb restaurant, with a different theme each season.
I recruited my mum for Festive Afternoon Tea (£50pp, or £65pp with a glass of Champagne), which will be running until early January.
That’s despite the fact she’s always been more of a savoury person, who prefers curry and cheese to cake.
I decanted her into one of their claret-coloured fringed armchairs, as we chose our tea. There’s a huge selection, from Scottish fudge and rhubarb rooibos, to an evening chai.
She went for the classic Queen’s breakfast, which is apt, as one of her carers calls her the Queen of Scotland. I opted for the roasted chestnut oolong. Mine was sweet and smokey and mum’s was, she says, “just like any old tea”.
Our triple decker of goodies came quickly. There was also an additional plate of six savouries, with two of each. It’s customary to oink, when you eat your first pig in a blanket of the season, and I obliged. This example featured a thick duvet of bacon, and a cushion of fig and pork scratching, attached by a wooden toothpick.
Next was their buttery duck parfait and mandarin truffle, which was designed to look like a mini Christmas pudding. Savoury three consisted of Parmesan shortbreads, each the size of a 1p piece, and straddling smoked cream cheese and pear chutney.
After we’d polished those off, it was onto the sandwich course.
There are four varieties, all with their crusts trimmed, as the gentry are allergic to those.
Our favourite was the smoked salmon, horseradish and cucumber on brown bread, followed by the rather feral tasting whipped brie and Christmas spiced apple chutney. The devilled egg number was cute, with halved hard-boiled oeufs lolling on mini baps. We tackled these with cutlery, so they wouldn’t launch onto the thick carpet.
The free range turkey with bacon mayonnaise, stuffing and cranberry sauce was rather sturdy.
We ate half, so we could make it to the next deck up - scones.
According to their menu, these are buttermilk versions, in fruit and plain.
I enjoyed my duo, mainly because of the brown sugary tops. The raspberry jam was excellent, as was the clotted cream. Mum was slightly annoyed that these didn’t come with butter too, so I flapped around in the corridor for a while, until I tracked down a member of staff. The stuff that came was straight out of the fridge, so we asked for it to be softened. It returned, but was melted on top and still ice-cold inside, like a baked Alaska. Oh well.
“Are you enjoying it?” I asked mum. “Well, a scone is a scone,” she said.
Next up was the patisserie. Mum was replete at this point, so I took the reins. They looked jewel-like, glossy and gorgeous.
I had the intensely rich eclair-shaped caramel and date mousse first. Then I tried another mousse-y offering - the passionfruit and coconut snowball, with its zesty centre and sugar snowflake decoration. The hazelnut praline rocher was like an upmarket Ferrero, with a chocolate ‘wax seal’ of the house on the top. There were also two marbled macarons, with an intense mulled wine flavour.
So much food. Tiny Tim wouldn’t be tiny for long if he ate here. We took our left-overs away in a box.
Before leaving, we lingered, to admire one of their umpteen trees.
I explored the rooms, upstairs and down, and each was more Christmassy than the last.
I only wished that mum could see their chintzy powder room on the first floor, but she wasn’t able to tackle the stairs. There are, however, disabled loos and an accessible entrance at the back, which we’ll try next time. There will be a return, because she is smitten.
Maybe a scone IS just a scone, but the Queen of Scotland was impressed by Prestonfield.