Richmond Tea Rooms: Manchester’s Wonderland
Time Warp Down the Rabbit Hole
Perhaps Drag and traditional afternoon tea aren’t the most obvious of allies. Nonetheless, if one were to walk down Richmond Street in Manchester’s City Centre when searching for a place to eat, they would assuredly find a painted mural of Anna Phalactic, the Drag world’s answer to the Mad Hatter, greeting them before their dining experience. It is worth note that Phalactic’s visage sits atop a veritable Mount Rushmore of gay icons, including Quentin Crisp and Manchester’s own Alan Turing.
Often, themed eating establishments can come across as twee rather than add to their atmosphere, yet Richmond Tea Room’s successfully creates the impression of Lewis Carroll’s famed fantasy World, and the giant faces painted on the cafe’s faces is akin to a grinning Cheshire Cat, abetting one’s descent down the Rabbit Hole.
Wonderland on the Walls
As one enters, the surreal décor is immediately evident and the Tea Rooms makes no attempt at hiding its source of inspiration. There are two rooms in which one may dine and tables are allocated according to space available. Although the Tea Rooms are usually busy, one is never left waiting to be seated and booking shouldn’t be necessary. My favourite of the rooms is the biggest, or which I colloquially call the ‘Eat Me, Drink Me’ room.
My moniker for this room is rather literal, given that the phrases from Carroll’s seminal book adorn a black and red-chequered wall. In every other respect, the Room very much gives the feel of dining at the Mad Hatters Tea Party which is perhaps the core drive behind the establishment’s name. Chairs are eclectically arranged around tables, mismatched clocks hang on the walls and Wonderland- themed affectations punctuate the quirky room, demonstrating thoughtful attention to detail. Yet in all its peculiarity, the décor is ample in its charm, and successfully brings a smile, and crucially, a sense of wonderment to its diners. I have seen people across generations gaze in glee at their Wonderland surroundings.
Traditionally British Food is Filling and Mouth-Watering
Following my description, I wouldn’t blame someone for thinking dining at Richmond Tea Rooms is an endeavour in eccentricity, wherein the plat du jour is irreverence rather than indulgence, but rest assured, the Tea Rooms offers substance with its style. The menu offers differing types of meals – yet they all fall in the category of being classically British and are ubiquitously hearty and satisfying. Perhaps the most quintessentially British foodstuff is a traditional Full English Breakfast and with the Tea Rooms serving breakfast until 1pm, this is an area in which Richmond Tea Rooms excels. At £11.95, the ‘Richmond Deluxe’ is the most expensive option on the Breakfast Menu, but why not indulge to your fullest capacity when indulging anyway; your taste buds will thank you for it. Journey from Wonderland to decadence with a mouth-watering serving grilled dry-cured bacon; two fried eggs, two premier Cumberland sausages, beans, button mushrooms, frilled tomato and black pudding, all served with two slices of doorstop toast. Of course, there are lighter and vegetarian breakfast options available. A further idea would to be to start your day with a stateside-inspired meal of a Maple Syrup and Bacon Pancake Stack.
For lunch or evening dining, there are options for salads, light meals and cooked sandwiches. A particular favourite is the Quiche of the day at £6.95. Quiche may not always be the most obvious or appetizing option on a menu but Richmond Tea Room’s never fails to be delicately seasoned and both moist and crumbly. If one was to fully adopt the novelty of being in a Wonderland themed establishment, they may order the ‘Tweedle Dum’. This Croque Madame, made with quality ham and cheese is served with sweet, spiced chutney and is a neat way to inject a touch of whimsy into your trip.
Dine for Afternoon Tea, Mad Hats Excluded
Finally, Richmond Tea Rooms is perhaps best known for is its eponymous Afternoon Tea option. Afternoon Tea varies in price. At £18, ‘The Queen’s Tea’ is a more expensive but a particularly delectable choice. This comes with a tempting selection of cakes, finger sandwiches, savoury pastries and a homemade fruit scone served with clotted cream and fruit preserve. Also offered is a pot of tea from the extensive list of varieties available. In fact, the teas offered exhaust every option imaginable. A personal favourite is the Lapsang Souchon, which beautifully offsets the sweetness of the confectionary with its smokier flavour. Teas are of course available with every meal option and needn’t be bought with the ‘Afternoon Tea’ order.
I wouldn’t recommend a trip to Richmond Tea Rooms merely for those who would like an afternoon meal out, yet I would extend the suggestion to those looking for a replacement haunt as part of Manchester City Centre’s Night Life. The venue is open until 11pm and makes an original alternative to a more conventional bar, pub or High Street cocktail joint. The second room contains a large bar, which specializes in making enchanting cocktails on the premises. Although drinks can be taken in either room and with food or without, I prefer the lounge bar atmosphere of the smaller room to drink in, wherein you can watch your tincture being prepared, particularly to unwind with friends in the evening. I recommend the Bramble Cocktail, not only is it masterfully prepared but there’s something incredibly appropriate about a deliciously syrupy gin-based drink to be had in the Victoriana dreamscape you would be sitting in, even if it is a drink surely too mature for Alice herself.
Fitting for a venue that manages to unify an eclectic décor and surreal furnishings with a wholesome dining experience, the word that stays in mind when I think of Richmond Tea Rooms is versatility. This is a versatility that will satisfy your need for something to do, or somewhere to eat in Manchester. The venue has much to offer, whether it’s a family outing with children one afternoon, or whether it’s for relaxed drinks an evening after work or in the weekend, I recommend it as a quirky candidate for a City Centre outing. Alternatively, why not make a first date memorable in a setting you would both surely remember? Overall, it’s a wonder this Wonderland isn’t the word on everyone’s lips, but at least a delicious aftertaste surely will be.