Vegan Afternoon Tea (Or Not)

I love the concept of afternoon tea. Long summer afternoons filled with cucumber sandwiches and the distant thwack of a cricket ball; short autumn afternoons curled up beside a roaring fire.

Above all, it’s the sense of decadence: nothing else to do but nibble at scones and sip tea (or Prosecco) – and if you happen to be wandering down the Royal Mile, shopping or sightseeing done, you could pop into the Radisson Collection Hotel and do both.

In conjunction with Pumpkin Brown (Grassmarket), Cucina, the hotel restaurant, is offering a vegan afternoon tea, alongside its traditional version. It promises all the taste of savouries, scones and cakes but without gluten, dairy, and refined sugar.

I’m not vegan, but I do (mostly) like healthy eating, so I was very keen to try this option. The seven year old with me was much more suspicious, living by the philosophy that if it hasn’t got cheese in it, is it even real food? Nik, the wonderful restaurant supervisor who looked after us so well, grasped this early on, and we ended up tasting both versions.

The vegan fillings were delicious: BBQ pulled jackfruit, hummus, almonds and oriental vegetables and a warm, spicy quiche; the avocado and cucumber roll never appeared but would offer a nice balance. I have to admit that the bread/wraps weren’t great: dry and the wrap was like microwaved cardboard – still an issue with some gluten-free options – but the pastry on the quiche was lovely and light.

The seven year old loved his ham croquette – the inclusion of a warm option on each menu, and also a small salad (roasted squash and quinoa/beetroot and feta respectively) is a great touch – his cheese and tomato wrap and the smoked salmon.

My scones didn’t have anything like the beautiful rise of the non-vegan versions, and lacked the lightness of taste, but slathered in the excellent ‘clotted cream’ and jam were a joy.

For me, the main difference in the vegan tea were the cakes. My son devoured his own – a chocolate cup, lemon meringue, carrot swiss roll and a fruit salad – and then started on mine. These he tolerated; apparently they tasted too much like the things I bake at home. He didn’t mean this as a compliment (I took it as one!) because I generally cook without sugar. I really appreciated the fruity, much lighter and less sugary taste of the chocolate-berry and lemon-blueberry cheesecakes and the chocolate nut slice. They looked less elegant, more homemade, but there’s no harm in that! The lemon and raspberry tart was very, very tart; we both liked it but I can imagine it’s an acquired taste.

There’s a great selection of teas – traditional and less so – and a cocktail if you’d rather. Mat, the attentive sommelier/supervisor made the seven year old his own icy mocktail, which was a real hit.

So if you’re after a genuine vegan afternoon tea that isn’t an after-thought or lip service, then Pumpkin Brown and Cucina are delivering exactly that. And non-vegan friends won’t be disappointed either. It does take a while to prepare, so best to book ahead, and if these sunny days last, a table on the small terrace would add to the sense of a lingering afternoon…

Served daily 2.30-5.30pm at the Radisson Collection Hotel, George IV Bridge.

Pumpkin Brown x Cucina Afternoon Tea £25.00 (With a cocktail £32.50)

Traditional Afternoon Tea £22.50 (With a cocktail £29.50)


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