Afternoon Tea @Langham_London


The Langham has been on my ‘to do’ list for rather a long time. It was a happy coincidence that my dear, dear friend Petula was looking for a venue for her birthday tea and up popped an email in our inboxes.

“Did you get an email about-”

“Afternoon tea at The Langham?”

“And the private room?”

“Yes! How exciting!”

And so it was booked.

When booking for 10 guests or more, one is able to request a private dining room. One half expected to be shut away in a windowless room, but as it turned out we were seated in a beautiful, bright room with a large dining table and the full attention of two servers.


 I have come to expect a stuffy, sometimes snobbish atmosphere with my afternoon tea; a sense of respecting the ritual, rather than an elitist club. I believe there is a proper way to behave on these occasions and I do have a problem with those who choose to wear jeans to tea- how truly awful!

The Langham was somehow different to what I was expecting. The sense of propriety was certainly there- our servers laid napkins across our laps, tea was poured for us (very important in my ‘afternoon tea’ books!) yet they both had the most sparkling personalities I have ever encountered in the hotel world. We felt so well looked after, so amused, and it was all very genuine.

A lovely moment was when one of the guests- an afternoon tea virgin-  thought she spied slices of chocolate cake from across the room. ‘No, no’ we said, ‘they’re sandwiches!’ Of course, we were referring to the dark, rye bread. ‘Oh, chocolate sandwiches!’ She exclaimed. Even Bhau, our server, was laughing at her mistake and a few minutes later he emerged from the kitchen with a tray of Nutella sandwiches! How delightful!


The sandwiches, or savouries as I should probably call them were a play on the traditional- egg and artichoke for example. Some worked- the eclair was absolutely divine… Some less so, beef and ‘slaw for example was a bit too obscure for my taste, but I commend them on their adventurousness.


  
Unusually, we were served a lemon posset palette-cleanser. I’m not a lemon fan at all, but it was actually rather lovely and certainly did the job.

Darling Bhau soon discovered that it was Petula’s birthday celebration and arrived with a ‘special’ tray of the most wonderful salted-caramel tartlets and was insistent that she was served her scone in the same way as Her Majesty, the Queen on her birthday. It was a sweet, if rather hilarious moment when he cut her scone with a knife and fork, then spread it with jam and clotted cream (in the wrong order I hasten to add!) Thankfully he stopped short of feeding her, or I might have burst with laughter!


 You might call me a little mean but having sipped hundreds of cups of breakfast and afternoon blends, I’m after something a little different and am keen to test my server’s tea knowledge. Unfortunately I don’t remember the other gentleman’s name, but he did a fine job of meeting my exacting requirements and took the time to explain what made this tea special.



The cakes and pastries were pleasant- one never manages to test them all for fear of feeling rather sick by the end and kindly, we were given sweet little boxes to take them away in. I particularly adored the shortbread teapot.

I had seen that the cocktail bar in The Langham had recently received an award of excellence, but it being a Saturday night and all, there was rather a wait to get in. Perhaps one might venture in next time.

All in all, a highly recommended experience for food and frivolity.

Oreo Cake

  

My dear friend Petula is rather partial to an Oreo biscuit (or cookie, as I believe they are actually called) so with her birthday approaching I set myself the challenge of creating her an Oreo cake.

I sketched out some ideas and decided upon chocolate sponge cakes sandwiched together by a crushed Oreo buttercream. Knowing the biscuits themselves are a very dark brown/black colour I realised that the brown of the cacao powder was never going to be dark enough so a dark chocolate ganache was required to cover it.

  
Experimental baker that I am, I created some sort of chocolate-caramel ganache, and then, because I like to make my life difficult, I covered the sponges individually so the buttercream would be neatly exposed.

  
I made a vanilla buttercream then crushed a whole packet of Oreos into it- terrible!

  
Once sandwiched I topped with a lovely, shiny dark chocolate ganache.

And this is where I made things really difficult for myself-

   
 I spent two hours cutting out a template for the Oreo design. Time well spent though I believe, as the finished cake did look rather spectacular.

   
  

Never one for a huge fuss, there were no candle or a horrific rendition of Happy Birthday, just a slice of cake and a cup of tea. It went down rather well I thought!
  

100 Years of Jazz in 99 Minutes

  
It’s funny how things work out isn’t it? 

Six years ago, in the midst of my English Literature degree I fell in love with a module called Post-Victorian Literature, and more specifically, Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies.

The novel is a satire of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s, with their carefree attitudes and wild antics. I don’t know whether it was because up until this point I had been studying the starchy Victorian novel, or because it was a reflection of the lifestyle I was living back then- but I loved it! 

The lecturer, a Mr. Chris Baldick, was himself rather old-fashioned, highly intelligent and completely mesmerising. We sat in an attic room with a tiny window, scribbling down his every word. My favourite ever Baldick quote is “What on earth is ‘fat-pig style’?” in reference to Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

I was so home-sick that I returned home the day after I’d submitted my work. Nestled back in my own room I delved into Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth and Nancy Mitford’s Highland Fling. I absorbed various biographies on the Mitford sisters, Josephine Baker, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Nancy Cunard- one discovery led to another and I was hooked.

Trend setter that I am, flappers and 1920’s style have become the theme du jour over the last few years, allowing me to make the most of my vast collection of embellished dresses and beaded head dresses. I’ve attended Gatsby-style balls, Charleston dance classes, spent New Year’s Eve in full flapper attire and found myself at an amazing 20’s themed Secret Cinema event.

With dancing, one usually encounters music and I soon found an interest in the, then, new US import- jazz music.

Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if a hand-written invitation had been passed to me by the butler over breakfast. However these days, one has to make do with an email in their inbox. Would I do ___ the honour of attending a jazz soirée, etc. etc. The venue was two hours away and in two days time!

 
I knew my darling Nana would love to experience this so I took her as my companion. And what a wonderful time we had! For some reason we were given the best seats in the house and as the band emerged from the back of the hall we couldn’t help but grin. I can’t pretent to be a jazz expert of any sort but I just know I enjoy it!

Of course, jazz music transcends several decades and countries (as the band demonstrated by marching us through the last 100 years of the genre in little over an hour and a half), but my obsession with flappers has blinded me to everything else. So when Nana told me she used to jive to jazz in the 50’s, it was a whole new discovery for me. There is something beautiful about triggering an old memory- I could have cried with joy when she relived the days of dancing with my late grandad. How they moved from London to the countryside as a young, newly married couple and that their new friends were rather taken-aback by their exuberant, largely improvised jiving. Nana said she wasn’t keen on the attention but grandad would drag her on to the dance floor and it would end in a round of applause.

We purchased a CD from the band and listened to it on the two hour drive home, remembering the serene expression on the drummer’s face, the unbelievable speed of the pianist’s fingers and the goosebump-enducing singing voice of the trumpet player, of all people!

Afternoon Tea @BelgravesLondon

 I was going to start by saying “America doesn’t do tea property” but then I realised I am actually writing about an American hotel so I will retract that statement.

We had just spent the last 10 days in an extremely Americanised Mexican hotel. Jet lag had us ordering pots of tea and sweet pastries at “six thirdy” AM, or half past six as we say. Rumours were flying round that the previous week the hotel had run out of English Breakfast tea bags- needless to say, things were rather tense. No, I did not want a “cawfee” instead.

As a safety measure and a treat (who doesn’t need a treat the moment they get back from vacation- oh crumbs! They’ve got me at it now! Holiday) I booked us afternoon tea in Pont Street Restaurant at the Belgraves Hotel. 

After a very welcoming arrival we were seated in a very sweet alcove surrounded by windows. Glasses of champagne arrives with our choice of rose or raspberry pearls in the bottom.  
 And unfortunately that was the best of the service, because we seemed to be rather neglected after that. Some minutes later we were asked something along the lines of “Well what tea are you having?” despite not yet having received the tea menu. One of our servers cheerfully explained that she had been rather late for work- we were unsure how to respond to this. Later on when my green tea had become too strong, I attempted to request some fresh hot water, but in a near empty restaurant staff were buzzing around, paying us no attention. I’m not the type to shout “Garçon!”, but it was impossible to make eye contact with anyone. Eventually my request was fulfilled, no questions asked.
Enough about the service, because the food made up for it. 

 Other than the unusual option of grated cheese and pickle, which seemed rather rustic along side the traditional fillings, the sandwiches with good- moist, fresh and thick. But the pièce de résistance had to be the Marie Antoinette themed cake stand.

  
 I cannot give enough praise to the pastry chefs for the sheer variety on the stack. One usually finds that after the sandwiches one is faced with an overwhelming pile of sweet cakes, but here there was a perfect balance of sweet and savoury- the foie gras and the hollandaise quail’s egg were favourites. Our server was happy to give us a little box to take away, so my playing card biscuit was saved for later and was an absolute delight.
I did find the price quite shocking, not because I didn’t value the effort with the food, but because I don’t think Pont Street yet has the reputation to charge at this rate. I hope the service was a one-off because I would be inclined to visit again in the future.

And yes, Americans can do tea properly.

Don’t play with knives, kids

I’ve had to take a bit of a break from crafting and blogging of late. It’s been tough but I think I’ve learnt my lesson…

Playing around with a notebook, some washi tape and a scalpel, I stopped to have a tiny bite of granola, freshly baked by Muv- it was delicious by the way. When out the corner of my eye, I spied the scalpel rolling off the edge of the table. My lightening-fast reaction was to catch said knife between my forearm and my thigh. I obviously imagined myself as some sort of cricketer.

The next thing I knew the handle of the scalpel was dangling from my arm and the entire blade was embedded just below my wrist.

To cut a long story short (no pun intended)- although the gash itself was small, it had gone deep enough in that it had caused some damage. I had investigative surgery and it was found that I had severed a nerve, but luckily the tendons were still intact. 

Six weeks later and I still have no sensation along the back of a couple of my fingers, and super-sensitive nerve endings on the back of my hand, which rather feels like I’ve suffered a burn.

There is no guarantee that my hand will ever be back to ‘normal’ and I obviously have a whopper of a scar, which is still rather sore, but it could have been a lot worse had the blade entered at a different point. I’m so thankful that I still have the use of all of my fingers- imagine the difficulty of learning to craft one-handed.

It did take rather longer than expected but I’ve finally managed to complete the birthday card I had been working on, although it’s now extremely late! 

@ChambordChannel presents: Cake for Dinner

  One often dreams of living on the ‘C’ diet- chocolate, cake, champagne and perhaps the odd cocktail too. Rather fat-making in reality. 

Joyfully, one was given the opportunity to live the dream for an evening- a three course meal made entirely of cake, washed down with Chambord cocktails.

On arrival we were presented with a fork and golden bib inscribed with the oddly French-sounding phrase:

And who wouldn’t want to be served a champagne cocktail by gentlemen dressed as flamingos? 

We were led through a lovely faux topiary archway, which was dotted with tropical flowers. To our great surprise the centres of the flowers were edible. So we ate them.

 Our attention was soon grabbed by a fantastic looking feast: a roasted pig’s head, a tower of peas, a mountain of carrots, black pudding, scallops, garlic snails and cheese.

However…   

                

One found ones plate piled entirely with cake and covered in a caramel ‘gravy’. Sick-making indeed.

Once we felt we could eat no more, we proceeded through a bookcase and into a curious room of drawers.    

Within each drawer was a spoon for everyone, required for our ‘dessert’. The golden pineapple was opened and a new door was revealed- leading to a bar, of all things. 

Deliciously French music filled the room and we all cheered in celebration as the barman removed the cork (and neck) of a champagne bottle by zealously tapping it with the base of a champagne flute. How marvellous!

It was here we found our final course- a Chambord jelly. One’s recollection of the taste is rather vague but, fine.

  

I feel picking the finale session was a stroke of genius as there seemed to be a surplus of alcohol and one was rather sloshed by the end of the evening. Flapper-eque indeed.

Ethel’s Quick Guide to: The Smörgåstårta

It was Pinterest actually which inspired me to create a smörgåstårta. A Swedish ‘cakewich’ for want of a better word. Traditionally they are seafood based, but chicken works as a fussy-person alternative.

I didn’t follow a recipe, as such, as it’s quite self explanatory. The important thing is to have an idea of what you want it to look like, because running out of decorative ingredients would be the worst, worst thing darling.

For the chicken version:

1 rectangular loaf

2 tubs of cream cheese

1/2 pot of sour cream

5 eggs (boiled)

1 chicken (roasted)

1 avocado 

Mayonnaise 

For the decoration:

Radishes 

Carrots (with tops)

Cucumber

Tomato tops (waste product from another recipe)

Seeds picked from a bag of trail mix

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Carefully remove all the crusts from the loaf. I left the crust on the base in the hope it would provide some stability (it didn’t). Slice it into 4 horizontal layers.

Fill each layer-

  • Layer 1: Slice eggs. Put one aside for decoration. Bash the others around a little in a bowl, add mayonnaise and season to taste. Spoon on to bread, spread, add a little cress if you like. Top with next layer.
  • Layer 2: Strip breast meat from chicken (resist popping in ones mouth if one can). Mix with a little mayonnaise. Spoon on to bread. Top with next layer.
  • Layer 3: Mash avocado. Spread on to bread. Top with final layer.

Mix one tub of cream cheese with half the sour cream. Using a spatula coat entire loaf in cream cheese mix.

Decorate as you see fit.

For the seafood version:

I followed the same method but for the layers used crab meat, smoked salmon and mackerel pâté with cucumber respectively. I topped with prawns and some adorable salmon appetisers, and on the sides some finely chopped chives. Use anything you deem appropriate. Not seafood sticks darling. Vile.