High Tea in Wonderland at Manchester Museum for MIF15: Up the rabbit hole

Polly Checkland Harding
Chef Mary-Ellen McTague with dodo and hare

Eat me, drink me, steal me… The secrets of High Tea in Wonderland – an MIF15 event that left us feeling ten feet tall.

High Tea in Wonderland is one of MIF15’s most closely guarded events. Turn up to Manchester Museum, ready to be led behind scenes for a mysterious meal, and you’ll be sworn to secrecy, trusted not to post any photos of the event until the end of the run. You’re not given long to savour this sense of group collusion before noticing that a dapper white rabbit has appeared in the ranks – and so it begins. Bystanders watch bemusedly as a slow moving troupe of humans tries to keep up with a roundabout route through the museum, discovering that, in Wonderland, down is up and up is down.

“Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear / We can begin to feed…”

Where are you falling upwards to? Good Twitter sleuths will already have spotted that the Botany Department has become mysteriously festooned with bunting in the last month – suffice it to say that you’ll never before have seen the city from this angle. Each room is dotted with artefacts from the museum that nod to the Alice in Wonderland characters, others of the cast appearing in person to guide you through. “Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear / We can begin to feed…”

The menu is beautifully illusory; a seeming sweet turns out to be savoury, tea’s not tea and a Cheshire Cat acid tab will make you no more than smiley. Oh, and make sure you say goodbye to the White Rabbit. No wonder that it’s both inventive and luxuriously flavoured: the acclaimed chef behind the event, Mary-Ellen McTague, has built up a reputation for elegantly tasty plates. She and her team excel here, with the food the highlight – so come hungry. More about High Tea in Wonderland we can’t speak of; we’re keeping our playing cards close to our chest.

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