Anna Russel, Duchess of Bedford, was born a couple of hundred years too early.
It was she, it is said, who when feeling a little peckish between lunch and dinner thought up the idea of having a something light to eat mid-afternoon - in other words - afternoon tea. The idea quickly spread amongst the gentry and soon afternoon tea became one of the fashionable events of each day, with ladies changing into elegant gowns to sip tea from fine china, nibble dainty sandwiches and enjoy pastries whilst socialising.
Anna would certainly have approved of the very talented and charming Eric Lanlard taking her idea one stage further and turning it into a luxurious sumptuous extravaganza; and also of P&O Cruises for providing afternoon tea on board their ships.
Afternoon tea on board Britannia
We suspect she would have absolutely revelled in the afternoon tea served on board the company’s elegant ship Britannia in its charmingly pretty Epicurean Restaurant. On elegant stands come an array of delicious goodies ranging from savoury macaroons and roast beef brioche to chocolate tea drops with cherries, or a dainty dish of fruit and meringue and orange infused almond cake, not forgetting, of course, scones and clotted cream served along with a choice of beverages, or even, dare we suggest, with a glass of English fizz.
Mind you, you will also find an astonishing array of Eric’s goodies, including decadent looking ice creams, in the Market Café beneath the stunning starburst chandelier/sculpture, located in Britannia’s atrium.
Eric Lanlard, Master Patissier
Eric Lanlard first became interested in afternoon tea when his Anglophile mother brought him to England as a child because she wanted to experience English ‘afternoon tea’ for herself.
Today, Eric is a Master Patissier; rated as one of the world’s finest. And having seen and sampled his stunning confections we can well believe it.
Britannia’s Cookery Club and a soufflé lesson
He is also a very good teacher. As we were to discover when he gave a cookery demonstration in Britannia’s very own Cookery Club – the first cookery school at sea - and run in conjunction with one of P&O’s Food Heroes – celebrity chef James Martin.
Eric,who is also one of P&O’s Food Heroes, and set about showing us how to make chocolate gingerbread soufflés. After he had demonstrated the technique we were set to work at our workstations. The state-of -the -art kitchen has floor-to-ceiling windows perfect for watching, somewhat literally, the world go by should you look up from your mixing bowl .
Everything had been carefully prepped for us so all we had to do was concentrate on the method. As one bowl or spoon was dirtied so it was whisked away. Whilst we worked Eric and colleagues walked around making suggestions and offering advice on how to do things more quickly. Within 40 minutes or so we were eating the soufflés of our labours.
‘Afternoon Tea’ – the cookery book
When not involved in The Cookery Club and various other activities such as his celebrated patisserie in London ‘Cake Boy’ Eric writes cookery books. His latest book, aptly named ‘Afternoon Tea’ makes you want to rush to the kitchen and get baking.
I am an Aperol fan and luckily have a bottle tucked away in the cupboard. I must make his Aperol sultana scones soon. But there are lots of other scone recipes to try as well. I love lemon posset too and Eric’s Lemon Posset served with passion fruit curd is not only straightforward but sounds delicious. And tucked into the Biscuit section of the book the recipe for Coconut Macarons; like Eric, the first thing I ever baked as a child.
The Cakes and Sweet Tarts section is mouth-watering (some of the recipes are gluten and/or dairy free by the way) and for those of us who don’t have a very sweet tooth Savouries in the shape of sandwiches and choux pastry morsels have not been forgotten either.
Afternoon Tea is beautifully illustrated and the recipes are as beautifully arranged on the page as they are displayed on Britannia’s cake stands.
NB: Afternoon tea (for which there is a charge) is only served in the Epicurean Restaurant on selected sea days.
P&O Cruises and The Cookery School: www.pocruises.com
Afternoon Tea. Eric Lanlard. £20. ISBN: 978-1-78472-246-6. Mitchell Beazley. www.octopusbooks.co.uk