Sunday, 10 April 2011
Despite the fact that Kate and Wills are totally stealing our wedding limelight this year, I have to admit I'm a liiii-iitttle bit excited about the Royal Wedding. I won't be out on the streets waving a Union Jack (over to you, Sarah) but I will be *dying* to immerse myself in the endless highlight shows and Grazia's fashion analysis. The outfits, the jewels, the drama, the romance - aaaah....
So it was with a skip in my step that I eagerly accepted an invitation to dine with my fabulous friend, Rachel, at the somewhat-gimmicky-but-that's-why-we-love-it Limited Edition Royal Wedding Sapphire Afternoon Tea at Podium restaurant at the London Hilton on Park Lane.
Yes, you heard me right. Inspired by the sapphire engagement rock, the tea includes daintily decorated blue cakes and even a Blue Curacao and berry based "Loveberry" cocktail on arrival (and perhaps even a second one if you happen to spill yours in a moment of enthusiasm - ahem).
Since my last sampling of Podium's afternoon tea, they have been accepted into the Tea Guild in recognition of their high standard. The setting may not be glamorama, but the food and service are sparkling.
We started with a glass of champagne and delicate open sandwiches - the egg and cress and the cucumber with cream cheese and chives being my favourites among the selection, along with Foreman's smoked salmon and horseradish, honey roast ham and Pommery mustard, and prawn mayo with baby gem lettuce. I prefer proper closed sandwiches, but points for originality and they're good.
A Harney & Sons loose leaf black tea and peppermint blend has been specially created to match the afternoon tea and provided the perfect transition from cocktails to cake.
We high-fived ourselves in agreement when given the choice to ditch the fruit scones (dried fruit - way to ruin a good scone), opting for a selection of scrumptious freshly baked plain scones with clotted cream and blueberry jam, and chocolate chip scones with a delicious chocolate praline spread.
Moist blueberry jam cupcakes with K and W iced decorations and chocolate cupcakes with bouquet icing contained a lovely oozy buttermilk goo on the inside, while the top layer of gorgeous miniature fancies was spread out across an EDIBLE white chocolate plate. My favourites were the sweet, white chocolate hearts with tart passionfruit ooziness on the inside and the cheesecake and coconut parcel. Also included were a dainty shortbread wedding cake with gold leaf, biscuit tuile with blueberries and rich green tea truffles in white and milk chocolate.
Unlike the royal wedding, the tea at Podium is indulgent but not extravagant, fun but not pompous. Available from 26 April - 1 May 2011, the Sapphire Afternoon Tea is fairly priced at £32 per person including the cocktail on arrival (or £40 with a glass of champagne). At this price point, it's getting up there with Claridges without the art deco splendour to match - but it does have a cocktail, cakes and fancies that you don't get at Claridges and the like (the standard afternoon tea at Podium is only £25.50 per person). Perhaps to make a fairer comparison, special/seasonal afternoon teas at Claridges cost £50. And, crucially, it's only a short stroll from a commemorative lap of Buckingham Palace.
Podium at the London Hilton on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1BE (Tel: 020 7208 4022)
Saturday, 9 October 2010
When the alarm goes off on Monday morning, it will be Chocolate Week.
Yes, Chocolate Week. This week was British Egg Week, and that was fun (who doesn't like a nutritious omelette)? But in the end, Egg Week is the sensible Birkenstock of Weeks compared to the frivolous, fancy and blatantly indulgent Manolo of Weeks that is Chocolate Week. Chocolate Week has got to be one of the best excuses to make like Augustus Gloop that was ever invented.
My trusty "if-it-involves-chocolate-and-champagne-you-know-my-number" friend, the inimitable Ms P, was surprisingly quick to put up her hand to help me mark the occasion. We were invited down to Podium Restaurant at the London Hilton on the Park for a preview of 2 special afternoon tea packages: The White Chocolate Afternoon Tea (available during Chocolate Week, from 11-17 October 2010) and the Halloween Afternoon Tea (available from 18-31 October 2010). We also cast our eye over the regular Confessions of a Chocoholic Afternoon Tea.
The decor at the Podium Restaurant is not as glamourous and swanky as you might experience (and pay for) at The Ritz or Claridges. And the melodious live piano tunes that accompany your meal are actually emanating from an organ rather than the grand piano that your ear anticipates. But the setting is relaxed and contemporary, the quality and service are excellent. And, as you nibble daintily on your chocolate chips scones with Devonshire clotted cream, it's easy to visualise a grand piano at all times.
Savoury starters include open sandwiches - egg and cress, Foreman's smoked salmon with horseradish, honey roast ham and Pommery mustard, prawn mayonnaise and baby gem lettuce and cucumber with cream cheese and chives. Each is lovely, but not earth shattering, and perhaps the ham sandwich is a bit of a plain Jane. But we are not here for ham.
Our triple decker tiered stands of pure, chocolately indulgence then arrive. Normally, it's one between two, but we're not taking any chances and we road test two between us.
The White Chocolate arrangement is stunning - so much so, that another table comes over to take a photo. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the gorgeous white chocolate tea pot on the top deck. It is surrounded by lychee, raspberry, rosewater mousse and sugared diamonds, white chocolate millefeuille with griottine cherries, a cone of marshmallow and white chocolate ganache, pineapple crumble with white chocolate jelly and a vanilla and white chocolate macaroon. It's all girly, dainty and delicious.
That's just the top shelf.
Underneath, we have 4 cupcakes - chocolate and banana, and milk chocolate and raspberry. And finally, a selection of scones - plain, fruit and chocolate chip, served with clotted cream, strawberry jam and praline chocolate. (The upcoming menu also advertises a white chocolate and raspberry scone.)
The Halloween Afternoon Tea has more of a childish appearance, but loses nothing in taste. The cupcakes are dark chocolate and orange, and gooey toffee - the flavours are quite mild and hard to detect, other than in the icing, which is probably a good thing to avoid the experience becoming too sickly sweet. The top shelf fancies are "miniature toffee apples" (which are actually glaced cherries), an almond paste pumpkin, a dark chocolate witch hat, a white chocolate and raspberry dome and a blood orange chocolate bat.
All the chocolatey bits are made in-house with Valrhona chocolate (70% cocoa), and - this is possibly the best bit - the top shelf of each stand is presented on a large, edible chocolate plate. If you can't get through it all (we couldn't and we're seasoned veterans), you are even presented with quite a glamourous "doggy bag" to take home the leftovers.
Oh, yes the tea. All teas are from the Harney & Sons - we tried the Hilton Afternoon Tea blend which is designed to accompany the chocolate afternoon teas (full flavoured and smokey) and, my favourite, the elegant Imperial Earl Grey. I loved the timers which also allowed us to known when to pour for mild, medium or strong tea.
The Podium Restaurant's Chocolate Week Afternoon Tea (available 11-17 October 2010) and Halloween Afternoon Tea (available 18-31 October 2010) cost £25 - great value for a gorgeously indulgent way to while away a wintery afternoon. The restaurant also offers its standard "Confessions of a Chocaholic" afternoon tea at all times for £22.50 (or £29.50 with a glass of champagne). All afternoon teas are available daily from 2pm-6pm.
Podium Restaurant, London Hilton on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE (Tel: 020 7208 4022
Greedy Diva was a guest of Podium Restaurant.
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)