Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Now and then, I'm quite partial to a nice scone with lashings of jam and cream. As a child, my parents would bribe my sister and I to partake in long drives up to the Dandenongs in Australia to look at ceramics and seemingly endless paintings of bush scenes, with promises of a big Devonshire tea along the way. It always did the trick. The scones were the size of a Gregg Wallace’s head, and never came with the dreaded sultanas (not that I'm suggesting GW's head does). I still measure up all scones since to the high standards they have imprinted on my memory.
Many years ago, I had a lovely afternoon tea at The Savoy for my birthday (although I have no idea what it's like now), and 2 years ago I enjoyed the Fashionista afternoon tea at The Berkeley with some girlfriends (with colourful cakes shaped like handbags and shoes, how could it not be superb?). The afternoon tea at Claridges - complete with art deco finery, live tickling of the ivories on the grand piano, a constantly refreshed serve of sandwiches/cakes/scones and at least 1 major celebrity sighting - still remains hard to beat. Refuel at The Soho Hotel also offers a fun, more casual version. Not that I do this all the time...
However, on Sunday, I was off for a very la-di-dah ladies’ afternoon to try out The Lanesborough for tea with some lovely food bloggers, Mathilde's Cuisine, Food for Think and Gourmet Chick. I merely nibbled at breakfast and skipped lunch in preparation. I was eyeing off the furniture by the time of our 4pm sitting.
The Lanesborough won the UK Tea Council's Award of Excellence 2009 and Best Afternoon Tea in London 2008. It also lays claim to England's first tea sommelier, Karl Kessab, to guide you through your tea selection - although I didn't clap eyes on him on Sunday.
The ritzy main dining room is set off by large round chandeliers, high glass ceilings and big spacious tables, for the pleasure of young and old alike in all their Sunday finery. In contrast to my recent visits to some of London's steakhouses, the crowd is largely women. Dressing up is, of course, half the fun. Soft piano tunes tinkle over the speakers, although the music is not live (despite sounding like it – we were upturning the cushions looking for the piano at one stage).
I am not a huge tea connoisseur, and the only teas I like are certain green teas or Earl Grey. I opted for the Earl Grey, while my companions were more exotic in their selections. The teas came served in individual shiny silver pots, although I was a little disappointed in the flavour and aroma of my tea – it tasted more like English Breakfast tea to me, missing those lovely fragrant bergamot flavours which usually hit me immediately with Earl Grey. The other teas were lovely. My only other word of caution with the tea – go easy if you’re not used to drinking copious cupfuls after 4pm. I had quite a few re-fills, and as a result was still wide eyed into the wee hours of Sunday night (#traps for beginners).
An amuse bouche of a light parfait with berries and chocolate kicked off proceedings. A lovely sign of things to come.
Our 3 tiered bounty of sandwiches, cakes, friands, scones and tea cakes then arrived, accompanied by a plate of heavenly Stilton and caramelised red onion tarts. The sandwiches were more hit and miss – the selection included cucumber (of course); chicken and sundried tomato paste; smoked salmon; and egg filled brioche rolls. The flavours were nice enough (no amazing stand outs) but there were some questions over the freshness of the bread, which was quite dry in places.
The scones were gorgeous – quite dense, and served with delicious strawberry jam, clotted cream and lemon curd. With a mere flick of the wrist, we ordered a second round. The fruity tea cakes were also quite nice.
The next tier of happiness contained some lovely friands - chocolate, carrot cake and lemon varieties. The chocolate was particularly good, although it was so decadent and rich that I could only manage a sliver (we had diplomatically sectioned everything up into quarters for sharing).
And then, at the top, the penthouse. Intricate and colourful cakey/moussey creations set off our tiered stand wonderfully, like a lady’s feathery racing day hat. Very Alice in Wonderland. I really liked all of these, and a Mont Blanc style sweet with meringue and chestnut cream (the one that looks like its wearing wholemeal spaghetti) was scrumptious.
Service was formal, but helpful. Sittings can be booked at 4pm, 4.30pm or 5pm, but maximise the luxury with a 4pm sitting since service ends at 6pm regardless. (No-one wants to be booted out mid friand). We had the pleasure of the standard afternoon tea for £35 per person, although there are more expensive options if you wish to add champagne.
Frocking up for The Lanesborough’s afternoon tea, on the fringes of Hyde Park, is a delightful way to spend a leisurely afternoon. I did think I may never eat again, although of course that all changed as the sun set and I found myself gorging again – separate stomachs for sweet 'n savoury and all that....
The Lanesborough Hotel, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge SW1X 7TA (Ph: +44 (0)20 7259 5599)