Scotsman Review
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June 25, 2023

Queen Charlotte Rooms Orient Express afternoon tea review - vintage elegance and homemade treats make for a relaxing visit

Rosalind Erskine visits this themed afternoon tea in Leith - often voted one of the best in Edinburgh - to see if the offering has stood the test of time.

I am not sure how, when or why, but I have a real love of vintage steam trains (and, not unrelated, a good old fashioned murder mystery).

It may have started when I first saw the original Murder on the Orient Express (and certainly didn’t wane when I excitedly first stayed on the old Caledonian Sleeper only to find it shoogly and not in any way old-time romantic).

I’ve spent a lovely summer’s day slowly making my way to the Borders from Linthligow in 2018 on the Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS) rail tour Steam Special experience and I’ve been lucky enough to traverse the west coast line on the Northern Belle - a treat for mother’s day for my mum, but also equally for me.

So when I read that Edinburgh’s Queen Charlotte Rooms has an Orient Express themed afternoon tea, served in rooms that have been done up to look like a vintage train, it sounds so up my street that I am sent the link for it by friends and family multiple times.

It’s a popular and busy offering, and is therefore booked out weeks in advance, so after booking in March for June I kind of forgot about it. But the day rolled round and we found ourselves making the (much longer than anticipated) walk from central Edinburgh to Leith.

It’s a sunny and busy Saturday in the capital, with the Proclaimers due to play on Leith Links that night. Maybe not the best time to be doing anything that’s not alfresco, but reviews of this afternoon tea, which was named in the Edinburgh Evening News’ top 10, are so good it should be worth missing soaking up some vitamin d.

The Queen Charlotte Rooms was formerly a masonic lodge but, in 1995, was turned into a venue with function rooms for hire.

They’ve transformed the downstairs rooms into a replica of the famous Orient Express, which is undergoing a revamp of its own and will be back on the tracks in 2025 for the lucky few that can afford it.

The Orient Express afternoon tea was launched at the Queen Charlotte Rooms to celebrate 30 years of the venue, and is being served in two public rooms and a 1st Class Pullman Suite - a more intimate experience for larger groups and parties.

Queen Charlotte Rooms Orient Express afternoon tea

On arrival, guests will walk through a very lifelike train corridor before being met by staff at the ‘cocktail club’ bar. The room, which essentially is windowless, has been completely transformed and looks and feels very much like the vintage train - from comfortable armchairs, vintage crockery, ‘windows’ of TV screens showing scenes from the iconic route to luggage racks, staff uniforms and a piano and train soundtrack.

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It makes quite an impression on arrival. Afternoon tea starts at £17.50, and we were invited to pick a tea or coffee (which is £2.50 extra), three finger sandwich fillings and a flavour of scone.

A prosecco afternoon tea is £22.50 per person and for those really wanting to live the high life, a champagne offering is £27.50 per person.

I chose egg mayo, ham and mustard and salmon and cream cheese sandwiches, while my mum opted for the vegetarian selection.

The sandwiches come served on the traditional tiered stand along with warm pastries of egg mayo, beef and chicken for the meat eater and egg mayo, plus vegetable mix for the veggie.

Cakes, which sat atop the stand, were a chocolate brownie, coconut truffle and sponge cake. The sandwiches were light and flavoursome.

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The pastries were a welcome savoury addition to what can often be a too sweet affair. We both thoroughly enjoyed the egg mayo pastry - something a bit different. It was then on to the cakes.

Each was only a couple of bites, with the brownie being the sweetest by far thanks to a white chocolate and milk chocolate swirl of topping.

The sponge was light as a feather, with cream and jam inside and dusted with icing sugar on top but it was the truffle that stood out for me. A heavenly mix of biscuit, chocolate and coconut, it took me back to ones we used to make as kids. A treat and a walk down memory lane in two bites.

After a bit of a rest, our warm scones were served with more tea (of which there’s breakfast, earl grey and fruit and herbal teas).

I chose a cherry scone, which was soft but not so much it couldn’t be cut, and dotted with jewel red glace numbers, while my mum went for a more traditional fruit scone.

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With the sounds of the piano, train and wonderful scenery, plus brilliant staff, the Queen Charlotte Rooms Orient Express afternoon tea is a great way to while away an afternoon with friends and family, without leaving the city. I’m already eyeing up a 1st class booking for my next murder mystery themed party.

Queen Charlotte Rooms

56a Queen Charlotte St, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 7EX

0131 555 6660

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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