Afternoon Tea with Helen Vass at Dunkeld House Hotel

I’ve only ever watched half an episode of The Great British Bake Off (I think they were baking gingerbread houses or something similar) but I haven’t been living under a rock so I do know how much of a hit the TV show is, and how skilled the contestants are. That’s why, when Dunkeld House Hotel asked me to join them for afternoon tea with GBBO Creme de la Creme winner Helen Vass, I knew I was in for a treat. I tried hard not to accept too eagerly – but there was cake involved so I failed spectacularly, of course.

Dunkeld House Hotel has recently changed hands so, over the last few months, the venue has been undergoing major renovations, to the bill of over £2million. The first thing I noticed was that the staff were particularly attentive and friendly (a major step up from the Hilton days), the second was the new extension which is perfectly in keeping with the exterior of the hotel, and the third was the new decor and arrangement of the restaurant – modern but not out of context with the beautiful surroundings (the hotel is set in the Perthshire countryside, right on the bank of the River Tay). So far, so good, but I’ll report more on the hotel later as we’re going for an overnight stay once the work to the spa is complete.

Anyway – the afternoon tea, which is why we’re here. Well, it was the best afternoon tea I’ve had in Scotland, the second best in the UK. And believe me, I’ve indulged in afternoon tea many a time! Why was this one in particular such a success? Because everything was super fresh (no hard bread or crusts in sight) and there was more than enough to fill us up at 1pm until 9pm at night. There were lots of sandwiches (chicken, beef, cheese, smoked salmon, egg) spread right to the edge – a very important sandwich factor – as well as two medium scones each (one fruit, one plain), FIVE desserts, a glass of prosecco each plus a top up, the same with the tea.

The desserts were courtesy of Helen Vass, the pastry chef from Glasgow who won GBBO’s Creme de la Creme last year and who is now setting out on her own. The rest was an indication of a regular afternoon tea the the hotel, which offers dainty sandwiches, sweet and savoury treats and tea, prosecco optional. (By the way, the hotel has a new pastry chef joining them at the end of this month, very exciting, I do love a good pastry chef.)

I have to admit, though the sandwiches and scones were beyond delicious, the desserts were absolutely divine and completely stole the show; they were so full of flavour and beautifully presented. These were desserts fit for a queen, completely beyond the hotel’s 4* rating.

I couldn’t tell you what I liked most because there were three out of the five that I enjoyed equally, each as mouth watering as the next. They were the lemon meringue and blueberry tart (the lemon was so zesty, the meringue fluffy and sticky), the yoghurt panna cotta, raspberry gel and blueberry (so creamy but not overkill – there was a distinct yoghurt-y flavour rather than the taste of full fat you can often get with too much cream, obviously something Helen had considered given that we already had plenty of cream with our scones) and the raspberry sachertorte (sweet and tart and rich and gooey, all of my favourite things).

The biggest surprise was the coffee chantilly cream profiterole. Though I’m a total coffee addict (read as coffee snob), I’m not big on coffee flavoured foods, nor do I like profiteroles. So, I bit into this one first thinking I wouldn’t really enjoy it and would therefore save the others until last, but it turned out to be amazing! The coffee seemed real, as if I were actually tasting it fresh from the filter, and the pastry was so light it was barely there. Surely that meant barely any calories too, yes?

The fifth dessert was a mango and passion fruit mousse on a sable biscuit. Again, the type of dessert I could take or leave, but the intense flavour of the exotic fruits was jaw dropping, so much so that the husband and I kept saying how impressive it was, neither of us getting bored of the repeated statement because we really couldn’t quite believe our taste buds.

My new life may now include milk in bottles alongside my fizz… but cake, always cake.

With thanks to Dunkeld House Hotel for having us for afternoon tea, and to Helen Vass for desserts worth eating.

Afternoon tea with Helen Vass at Dunkeld House Hotel was £35pp. Afternoon tea at the hotel is currently £15pp, rising to £24pp in May following the arrival of the new pastry chef. I would highly recommend afternoon tea at the hotel, and would urge anyone who enjoys the finer, sweeter things in life to track Helen down and book in, wherever she is.

Images: Kris Miller


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