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March 26, 2022

Van Gogh Alive afternoon tea, Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh, review - are the cakes masterpieces?

This arty tea is only available until April 13

I went to see Van Gogh Alive last week.

This touring show is at Edinburgh’s Festival Square until July 17, and is not, as the name might suggest, some kind of Mary Shelley-style reanimation of a troubled artist who died in 1890. Instead, it’s a multimedia celebration of his paintings with huge screens that feature a potted back catalogue set to classical music.

I sort of enjoyed it, though it’s all a bit soulless, I thought, as I took my prerequisite selfie in a room full of faux sunflowers.

Also, tickets are £23, which pips the 19 Euros admission to the actual Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

And, of course, you exit through the gift shop, where you can purchase face masks printed with Sunflowers, or an ‘earaser’. That’s right, you can rub out pencil marks with an effigy of Vincent’s self amputated ear. Welcome to the modern world.

Anyway, should you find admission a bit steep, you can put your ticket stub to good use at the nearby Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh - The Caledonian.

As it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, you could treat her to their new Van Gogh Alive themed afternoon tea, which is served in Peacock Alley. It’s available until April 13 and costs £50, or £45 plus a Starry Night themed cocktail (usually £15) if you’ve already forked out for the show.

Unlike other teas, this one starts with drinks courtesy of Edinburgh’s PekoeTea and the savouries.

They’re served on a long plate and are mainly sandwich-based, apart from one red pepper and black olive tart, which was a good salty bite.

The others were quite standard - a sturdy canteen-style ham, tomato and mustard mayo on white bread, with the crusts cut off, naturally. There was a sugary hoisin-ish duck wrap, as well as a smoked salmon and dill creme fraiche on brown bread, a pinkie-sized brioche bun dotted with a couple of prawns Marie Rose, and a Melba toast with a slice of Isle of Arran Caramelised Onion Cheddar and chutney on top.

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Despatch those quickly, as it’s all about the cakes, which are all rather cleverly designed.

Top deck was Sunflowers, which featured half a macaron as a plinth, yellow petals made from fondant icing and a brown pistil that was a surprise nugget of semi-freddo. This came with a pair of Dutch butter cakes that were topped by a white chocolate palette, which was blobbed with ‘paint’, as if a squirrel had just been using it at its easel. Mr Nutkin is an excellent pointillist.

Before we’d even started the middle deck, we were already wondering if we should have taken those sandwiches home instead of troughing them.

We started this level with Almond Blossoms - glossy blue mini barrels decorated with pink icing flowers and filled with apricot and orange blossom compote and almond frangipane.

“Sorry, Vincent”, we thought, as we ate his Self Portrait in Grey Felt Hat cake, which was decorated by his likeness printed on sugar paper. Underneath, was a crisp tart filled with a fruity pink creme patisserie and a single fat blackberry.

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Things are a bit hazy when it comes to the next two cakes.

Sometimes I think afternoon tea is a bit like when parents would punish their children for smoking by making them have a whole packet of Lambert & Butler in one sitting. I have the sweetest tooth, but even it started to retract back into my gums.

It felt like cultural vandalism to leave so much of the Starry Night petit gateau, with its swirly marbled topping and filling of mandarin, cocoa nibs and chestnut. Also, we didn’t manage much of Green Wheat Field with Cypress, which looked like florist’s oasis, with a feathery botanical texture but a citrus flavour.

The set of four buttermilk and citrus peel scones came - in a stroke of genius - with rhubarb and strawberry jam and clotted cream in oil paint tubes.

Our white plates, which were formerly blank and pristine canvases, were smeared with cream and jam, pastry crusts and chocolate crumbs.

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It looked pretty cool actually, and, as an artwork, offers a pithy commentary on consumerism, capitalism and my total piggery.

We’ll frame it, then in a couple of hundred years, there might be a multimedia take called Gaby Soutar Alive.

I’ll make sure there’s a takeaway box of scones in the gift shop.

Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh - The Caledonian

Princes Street


(0131 222 8832,

Places to try Nearby

Gooseneck Bakery, 22 Grindlay Street, Edinburgh (

For a post Van Gogh Alive coffee or a bun, brownie, cake, or pastry, this little cafe and bakery will sort you out. They also do delivery, so you can have your cheese and Marmite scroll or hot cross bun at home.

Bentoya, 13 Bread Street, Edinburgh (0131 629 3993,

Vincent probably never tried Japanese food, but he might have liked this place, which has just had a makeover of its interior and website. It’s BYOB and offers lunchtime bento boxes, as well as katsu and ramen.

Ting Thai Caravan, 55-57 Lothian Road, Edinburgh (0131 466 7283,

There are a few new things on the menu at the Lothian Road branch of this restaurant. We like the sound of goong frog beet - shallow fried bubble prawns with grated coconut, beer batter, mango salsa and sweet potato crisps.

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Gaby Soutar is a lifestyle editor at The Scotsman. She has been reviewing restaurants for The Scotsman Magazine since 2007 and edits the weekly food pages.
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