By the age of 70, the average British female will have undergone three distinct phases of adulthood. Having spanned half a century, these will culminate in her ultimate demise in a piss-drenched nursing home chair. The first phase, whose women are known as Type A, covers the early twenties through thirties and is typified by weekends spent knocking back shots in singles bars, sharing toilet cubicles with girl friends, boshing swedgers in Ibiza nightclubs and having occasional one night stands before agonising over whether such behaviour makes for a slut. (No is the short answer, although sucking off his best mate in the bogs ten minutes prior to that probably does.)
The second phase of adulthood, whose adherents are known as Type B, involves fine dining, home baking, reminiscing about 80s bands and blogging about cakes, whilst always feeling compelled to insert clauses to suitably justify their consumption. This stage of life also requires its subjects to worry about their weight (yet never enough to actually do anything about it), to drink wine habitually (but only in moderation ‘with food’), and to occasionally descend upon Newcastle for hen parties that involve donning matching pink t-shirts and tiaras before getting smashed on Smirnoff Ice.
The third and final phase of life that such women enter involves knitting, sherry, bingo and getting up unreasonably early to take the (free) bus into town for tea and cake at M&S. This phase, thankfully, is presently concluded by death.
From the male perspective, how can you tell that the fun-loving, outgoing party girl you’ve met in your twenties isn’t going to turn into an obese 30-something knitter with a penchant for cupcakes and bread with seeds in? The short answer is that you can’t. You just cross your fingers, hope for the best and keep a shotgun handy in case you wake up one morning and, suddenly realising what you’ve turned into, do the decent thing and serve your brains up across the breakfast bar, ruining the Damask wallpaper in the process.
Of course the three phases of male adulthood aren’t especially endearing either, incorporating hair loss, obesity and Thai brides, but we’ll deal with them another time. Today, we’re only interested in analysing Type B females: The Home-Makers, we’ll call them.
As regular readers of this weblog will have deduced, I am neither Type B nor of the feminine persuasion, which begs the question: what exactly am I doing attending afternoon tea parties of the sort last seen in Agatha Christie novels? Well, let me try and pitifully explain…
A year ago I read an article about QoT hostess Angela’s modern take on traditional home baking, and a part of me (I’m guessing the stomach) was instantly intrigued. Fast-forward a few months and Edinburgh Uncovered sprung up, providing a convenient excuse for sampling such dainty fare under the auspices of providing a review for the public. (That such a review would inevitably turn into a rambling soliloquy about spuriously-contrived Type B women was neither here nor there.) How else was this Buckfast-swilling, language-mangling reprobate supposed to justify attending the sort of dignified social gathering that his Buckfast-swilling language-mangling mates would otherwise have mocked him for? Scotland’s shame isn’t sectarian chanting at football matches or domestic violence – it’s gutter-level bloggers trying to muscle in on middle-class events way beyond their lowly status. Basically, I was Billy Elliot and the Queen of Tarts was my ballet partner. It was wrong and yet so right.
Imagine a quaint English village where the village clock is permanently stood at ten past two and the vicar can be found enjoying afternoon tea at The Privets. A place where scones come with lashings of clotted cream and jam, and gossip revolves around the unsightly length of Mrs Aithlewaite’s hedge. A place where ladies are served in parlours and God is served in churches. Now imagine transporting that place to the darkest depths of Leith and dropping it into a street filled with junkies, football casuals and dealers, as well as a few undesirable elements. On a block riddled with prostitutes, Queen of Tarts is the undoubted queen of, well, tarts.
(Disclaimer: I’m not implying that QoT is actually in the red light district, and I say this for both the reputation of QoT and for that of its virtuous neighbours. It’s actually in a very nice part of Leith. God forbid that postcode prices in the EH7 should start plummeting on account of a harsh EU review. (Incidentally, that’s two reviews in a row now that have required disclaimers. Is the EU blog getting more risque, or has it always peddled such filth since day one?))
Curiously, the roles are reversed upon walking up the path to this unassuming parlour: the only indication that you are entering a revered tea emporium is a discreet Queen of Tarts sticker clinging to one of the buzzers. It feels like you’re stepping into a brothel, or so I would imagine. Inside however, the only seediness you’re likely to find is in one of Angela’s mini picnic loaves.
It takes a lot of guts to invite a bunch of strangers into your house, sit them around your table and serve them your home-baked offerings. After all, you really don’t know who you’ve invited until they walk through your door, and by that point it’s too late for taking exception to the cut of their jib. All you can do is smile bravely, keep plying them with tea and pray that they don’t make off with the silver sugar spoons. The premise behind QoT, explained in Angela’s own words, is as follows:
‘At 2pm on a Saturday (and sometimes even a Sunday) of each month, the Queens open our Parlour to around 15 strangers united in their love for the intriguing, and the delectable. For around two hours we serve course after course of delicious homebaking which includes a dinky teacup of soup, savoury treats and many sweet bites all washed down with specially selected teas.’
While the idea of serving afternoon tea is nothing new, Angela has taken this quaint yet stuffy concept and given it a modern-day makeover. With the sort of quiches that Miss Marple would get her bloomers in a twist over and the best aspects of social media being used to promote the venture, tea is a slick – yet never soulless – experience. Lace tablecloths are laid, napkins are folded, the best china is looked out and a suitably chilled iPod gurgles merrily in the background. Civilisation has never looked more civilised. The date of my visit happened to coincide with Queen of Tarts’ first birthday. The organisers of many social events, upon reaching their inaugural anniversary, commemorate it in time-honoured fashion – by hiring a few burlesque dancers and banging seven-gram rocks in the toilets. QoT, as you may have guessed, does things slightly differently. Instead of Columbia’s finest, we get Angela’s finest asparagus tarts, Granny Smith granita and dark chocolate & cherry fudge. The food is prepared with love, and not in the corporate coffee chain way, ersatz “X”s inked onto sandwich wrappers that have been printed in their thousands in factories. No, the food really has been prepared with love, back when love actually meant something and wasn’t just a word for a girl to throw back at a guy to crush his quivering heart into 1000 pieces…sorry, I digress. Anyway, the food is prepared with the L-word and served up in shot glasses, tea pots and on cake stands. But mostly in shot glasses, it must be said, which is just as well given the number of courses that are provided. I made it eight, though if you were to count the generous tea refills, it was 327. This impressed me immensely, as it takes me three days to even make a slice of toast. Every time I pop the bread in, I decide to go for a pee, get distracted on the way back from the bathroom and forget all about it until I suddenly remember the cold toast and have to start the process all over again. How on earth does Angela manage to cook up eight courses for 15 guests in a small kitchen the size of, well, a small kitchen? I couldn’t help wondering if there were an army of oompa loompas hidden behind the wainscoting, busy shelling peas and gluing tops on macaroons.
The food, baked with varying degrees of success, is nevertheless charming and utterly delectable. A vodka-less Bloody Mary kickstarts proceedings, followed by an array of home bakes of the type last described in an Enid Blyton novel. My dining companions, although quite different from myself, are genial and generous. I did feel a pang of guilt at having composed a rambling introduction about Type B women several hours prior to meeting them, but in the event they proved to be nothing like my crude stereotype, preventing the need for a hasty rewrite. In any case, after sampling Angela’s herby green soup, I started to wonder if Type B women might actually have been right all along – perhaps dinner parties and afternoon tea are more satisfying than engaging in cocaine-fuelled sex with strangers in nightclub toilets. Less instantly gratifying perhaps, but also less fleetingly ephemeral. It’s not being disparaging to observe that you know the sort of people you’re going to meet at Queen of Tarts, any more than it is to observe that 90% of Asian shopkeepers would rather talk on their mobile phones than sell you fags. Fascinating as it would be to rock up at a QoT tea party and find yourself sitting next to a pish-stained tramp who proceeded to regale you with his life story in exchange for the contents of your hip flask (a deal in which you inexplicably lost out twice), the fact remains that if you want such cultural liaisons, you can always go and sit in the padded seats at Tynecastle. In Auntie’s parlour however, the company is lively, the food is amazing and the hostess really is the Queen of Tarts. Now if only someone could write a review that would do the place justice.
Try: Booking ahead and bringing a doggy bag.
Avoid: Inviting foul-mouthed bloggers to your civilised afternoon tea parties.
Typical prices: £5.80 booking fee followed by a discretionary donation (about £20)