What's afternoon tea all about?

Believe it or not, afternoon tea as we know it was 'invented' in 1840, when a woman from Bedford decided to have a brew and a butty to put her on till tea time. Well, that's not exactly right: it won't surprise you to learn the woman was Anne, 7th Duchess of Bedford, who started gorging on tea and cake mid-afternoon to fill the void of lounging around doing nothing between meals. Yes, afternoon tea is unashamedly posh.

And the one at the Grosvenor must be one of the poshest of them all?

Well, it's certainly high end. There are not many places in the region where you can have afternoon tea that has been prepared in a kitchen that services a Michelin-starred chef (Simon Radley) and serves its tea and coffee in solid silver pots that are worth around £1000 each. And the price, I'll be honest, is not exactly budget. But for a classy treat, it's worth the outlay.

Do we dare ask how much?

Well, it begins at £32 ... each, going up to £45.

Wow. What do you get for that?

For a start a corner table and plush chairs in the Arkle Bar lounge, which is an extremely salubrious spot. When you think Afternoon Tea, you probably think of quaint little tea parlours, but the Grosvenor's been serving it for well over 100 years, although now in the relaxed, low-lit, windowless and quiet lounge, a world away from the bustle out on the street. The Indulgent Afternoon Tea begins with a glass of champagne (Taitinger when my wife and I went), served with strawberries and clotted cream. From there, it's a selection of handmade sandwiches on freshly baked bread. On from that, it's plain and fruit scones with clotted cream and jam, and then a selection of handmade cakes and pastries. It's far to say that this is not the kind of meal to have if you're counting calories (although there'd be plenty of them to count).

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Sounds very dainty.

Well, believe it or not, you can butch it up with the Indulgent Gentleman's Afternoon Tea, which begins with a stiff Hendricks Gin and Tonic instead of the champagne. From there, rather than the more dainty cucumber or smoked salmon or cheese sandwiches, it's on to open rye bread pastrami sandwiches with mustard and pickles.And then probably the best most flavourful sausage roll I've ever eaten, Proper man food.

Man food served on a three-tier cake stand ...

Fair enough. The other sandwich revelation on the Gentleman's Afternoon Tea was actually the smoked haddock on floured bloomer.

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Fish finger sandwiches? Now we're talking.

Not quite fish finger sandwiches, because there's no breadcrumbs, but really juicy, white fish in beautiful crispy batter. And good-sized portions too. It's fair to say after the second round (they will come and replenish your stands throughout the meal), I was in serious danger of having no room left for the scones and cakes.

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But you managed ... ?

For £45, I certainly did. The scones were fresh out of the oven, soft and warm, and to be honest thankfully on the smaller side. I've had some scones that are like bin lids, and just leave you feeling like you've eaten the contents of a cement mixer. These, however, were small enough to make sure there was room for the cakes.

And how were they?

Bearing in mind TV's Paul Hollywood used to make pastries and cakes in the Grosvenor kitchens in his pre-fame days, and comes back here regular for Afternoon Tea when he's in the area, the standard is exceptional.The chocolate eclair was stunning - a big chioux chasm of cream, topped with melting chocolate icing, probably the richest thing I've ever eaten; and the lemon tart with its delicate meringue topping (complete with gold leaf, no less), was a touch of class. My wife's raspberry shortbread and chocolate tort were equally mouthwatering. For a final flourish, they brought out a strawberry gateau with a sliver of chocolate, on which was written (how they did this, I don't know) Happy Birthday in calligraphy. A touch of class to finish, definitely.

Excellent. The one thing you haven't mentioned, however about this Afternoon TEA ...

Oh, of course - the tea. Before the meal starts the waiter comes to your table with a beautiful bespoke tea case, whose lid is opened on an array of fresh leaves of all different hues. Traditionally it used to be served with darjeeling, but there is plenty of choice. I'm normally an Assam or Earl Grey man, but on this occasion it was the hotel's own blend, called Grosvenor Grey, which we chose, which seemed to have a slightly smokier undertone than its near namesake.

So was it worth it?

Let's be clear, at the best part of £100 for tea and sandwiches and cakes, this is most definitely an occasional treat. But so should it be. Pretty much everyone in the lounge was celebrating a wedding anniversary or birthday. Yes, you could spend that on a very fine meal out, but there's something of a spectacle about an afternoon tea that you just don't get from any other meal at any other time of the day.

What you need to know:

Venue: The Arkle Bar Lounge, Chester Grosvenor Hotel, Eastgate Street, Chester, CH1 1LT

Contact details: 01244 324 024 / www.chestergrosvenor.com / @TheGrosvenor

Details of Meal: Afternoon Teas beginning from £32, up to £45 for Gentleman's Indulgent Afternoon Tea

Service: Faultless and attentive

Value For Money: It's not cheap, of course, but a special occasion treat you won't forget.