Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Accidental Day-Trip Part 4: Quinteassential's Tea Total Experience at Rosylee Tea Rooms

Stepping into Rosylee Tea Rooms was a little like wandering into a posher sort of garden party with a slight Victorian feel, but a quick check confirmed that yes, everything was still indoors and all the foliage was confined to the ceiling. I'd ambled over to the Northern Quarter in pretty good time and wound up the first guest to arrive at the venue, where I was very warmly welcomed by both Chris and Bernadine, who was our host for the evening. Two sentences into our conversation, I just had to ask Bernadine if she was from Singapore, and it indeed turned out to be the case. Distance makes mini patriots of us all, and it was nice to hear a familiar accent out in the wilds of Manchester. Much hugging ensued. 

Bernadine founded Quinteassential back in 2009, inspired by the fond memories of her childhood where her mother would lovingly brew a pot of tea for the family to share and combining it with her passion for travel. Two years later some of the unique blends she'd dreamed up and carefully sourced from gardens around the world won Gold at the Great Taste Awards, and her labour of love has continued growing strong till the present day. The Tea Total experience was organized to showcase Quinteassential's artisanal blends both old and new, used in rather more exciting ways than we'd normally do with tea. 

A fine tea, blended then brewed well, is a thing of joy, and over the course of the evening Bernadine gave us all a crash course on how to get the most out of our tea drinking, with the low-down on the different tea varieties and how best to prepare and appreciate them. We got to sniff the various tea blends before we tried cups she'd brewed for us, as well as a number that wasn't part of the taste evening. Under the Mistletoe, last year's seasonal blend, smelled a lot like Christmas, and even came studded with little sugar snowflakes. Likewise, our first tea of the evening, the award-winning Garden of Eden, had sugar butterflies floating through the mix of green and black tea leaves and flower petals. The resulting tea wasn't sweet, though it did have a pleasant roundness and the faint aroma of peaches. 

Invoking the height of beauty of Spring in Britain, the tea formed the base for the LSD Sour cocktail made with Old Forester Bourbon, pink ginger and marmalade, evoking a somewhat different view of Spring, one with marshmallow fields and marmalade skies. It was a good drink that complemented the first course of food, a Thai Spiced Monkfish with Garden of Eden tea and pineapple sauce. The food and the tea came in delicate little taster portions, but the cocktails were full sized. It was going to make for a rather exciting evening. 

I'd honestly thought the dinner was going to be a detoxifying experience as I was walking there, but as you can tell, I was dead wrong. One of the other organizers of the dinner was Chris, whom everyone else at the table very fondly referred to as Scouse ("I don't think I actually know his last name to be honest." "Chris Scouse. Eh, that sounds about right."), and he was till very recently a bartender at Hula, the city's own Tiki Lounge. With spirits from the Mangrove Drinks portfolio and Quinteassential's teas, he designed the evening's cocktail menu. He's a lovely guy who got us all to wave hello to Jeff, our chef for the evening who runs the Rosylee kitchens, and then talked us through all the drinks he'd created with the help of his assistant, who stayed behind the bar in the other corner of the room, furiously shaking up the drinks. Here's Chris flaming up some star anise to smoke our second cocktail of the evening.

Inspired by The Tudors series, the drink is called the Cardinal Sin. Made with Louis Royer Cognac, it was so named for doing the unthinkable - bringing the French and the English together. A classy tipple fit for a king's court, its other ingredients include pear juice, orange zest, chocolate and a touch of rosewater, shaken with cubes of frozen Jewel of Africa tea. Another Gold winner, it's a rooibos blend with redcurrants, rose and sandalwood. When brewed, the tea has a very nice tang from the fruit. 

The accompanying course was a bit of a wonder. A tender pork loin fillet marinated in the Jewel of Africa with a honey and truffle glaze topped with a miniature black pudding (Yum!), it was also served with a touch of beetroot purée, little balsamic bubbles and some mash. Would gladly have eaten another two of the same. It had quickly become apparent that everyone else at the table had at least a passing acquaintance with each other, but they were a friendly lot and I didn't feel an interloper for long. 

Our next tea was the Victorian Affair, with green tea from Japan near Kyoto, blended with super-fruits. From this warming tea Chris came up with Old Man Jake's Non-Stop Lemon Drop. By this point, my notes are a little hazy, but they read the cocktail as being made from Portobello Road Gin, Limoncello, and cherry bitters to round out the berry notes of the tea. Rimmed with smoky paprika sugar, it made for a drink that seems perfect for sultry summer evenings. It was matched with an expertly seared scallop, that came with a delicious side of eggplant and more of the silky mash.  

As a big fan of mint tea, I particularly enjoyed the next cup, which was British Mint and Caramel. The bits of caramel balance out the iciness of the mint, and the resulting blend has a pleasant hint of grassy. I liked it so much that after I woke up the next morning evening afternoon (Blessedly un-hungover. Thank you Panadol before bed and massive glass of water) I ordered a batch from Quinteassential's online Tea Boutique. I won't be around to receive the parcel since my flight to Ireland leaves at 8.50 am in the morning, but I'm looking forward to unwinding with a big cup of it when I return in two weeks' time. 

The tea was re-imagined as a mint and caramel Caipirinha, using Velho Barreiro Cachaça but swapping the sugar out for orange blossom honey, which really brought out the mint. There's even a little video online showing how Chris makes the cocktail. I'd love to try my hand at it, but the last time I tried to mix up a cocktail at GW's we ended up having to chuck out the jug. 

Food this round was a perfectly pan-fried sea bass with a gorgeously crispy layer of skin. It came with capers and a red pepper purée, and an odd but quite enjoyable sour square of pear. The only menus on the table were for Rosylee's own Mother's Day luncheon, so we relied on the very nice waitresses to tell us what we were eating at any one time. 

The penultimate tea was the Imperial Earl Grey, but instead of the usual base of black tea, it had milky oolong, where the leaves are steamed over milk as part of the drying process. Mixed with blue cornflowers and blue bergamot from Italy, it's a buttery Earl Grey for people (Like me!) who'd otherwise see the act of adding milk to it as anathema. On the cocktail front, we were treated to Once Upon A Time In Mexico, a far more civilized version of Tequila, lime and Coke. Sarsaparilla was mixed with el Jimador and soda-streamed Earl Grey, then topped with a massive wedge of lemon and a healthy sprinkling of charcoal-baked sea salt. The last savoury dish of the evening was lamb with an Imperial Earl Grey gravy, ratatouille and a minty pea purée. 

At this point, someone pulled out the Wolfschmidt Kümmel. I very responsibly passed my shot to someone else. Our last tea was called Cleanse, a chai based blend with cardamom, cacao beans, ginger and dates. I liked it so much I drained my glass before I remembered to take a picture, so you'll have to imagine what it looks like. 

Our last cocktail was dubbed Tea Totalled, a massively indulgent drink that turned Cleanse on its head entirely. The chai was brewed in stout, then mixed with cacao beans, ginger, Ylang Ylang and the dry but sweet Elements 8 Rum. In addition, it also came with a massive dollop of peanut butter, condensed milk and lashings of whipped cream on top. It was dreamy. On its own it would have made a more than filling dessert, but the kitchen had whipped up plates of Chocolate Marquis with clotted cream ice cream for us as well - utter decadence. 

By the end of dinner (Which magically only cost £25), I literally had to run to the train station to make the departure on time, but it was worth it. It had been a pretty spectacular day trip for something that had been largely unplanned. 

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