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.

 

 

Chocolate Afternoon Tea: @landmarklondon

On our leisurely stroll over from Marble Arch we discussed how, despite a luxurious interior, many of our favourite hotels have a rather shabby, uninteresting interior. I believe a lot of it is of a period style, but frankly, I just don’t like it.

What a pleasant surprise when we turned the corner to see the magnificent exterior of The Landmark Hotel, all archways and red brick. I confess our Teasearch had mainly consisted of admiring the beautiful glass-roofed Winter Garden and planning which blend of tea we would have, so discovering this rather attractive structure was a delight.

Once inside the marble lobby the consierge arranged for our special tour of the hotel, taking in the glorious stained- glass windows marked ‘Leeds’, ‘Sheffield’ and (inexplicably) ‘Barnsley’. We strolled around the great function rooms with their wooden panelling and numerous chandeliers and carved fireplaces.

Our tour guide gave us a brief history of the hotel, informing us of its grand beginnings as the Great Central Hotel, a Victorian-era railway hotel intended to serve Marylebone station.

Sadly, as with many of the railway hotels, the advent of the motorcar brought it into decline and it wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s, when the demand for luxury hotels grew, that the site was redeveloped and became The Landmark.   

Once seated in the Winter Garden the afternoon tea itself was wonderful- we both opted for the chocolate afternoon tea by way of celebrating the fact that lent has passed and all things cocoa are now back in my diet.

Disappointingly, the traditional finger sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries were not served on the tiered stand, but individual plates. However this was my only minor criticism and this was made up for by the beautiful free-standing teapot towers.

I keep meaning to make a list of what (in my opinion) makes the perfect afternoon tea, and the Landmark has certainly caused me to come to some conclusion on this.

For me, the detail which marks a hotel above all others is my belief that one should not have to pour one’s own tea. It is not often that one is treated to this level of service, the only other example of this I have experienced was at the Savoy Hotel.

Secondly I believe that if one is paying in the region of £40 for afternoon tea (“£50 for a sandwich”, as Farv often exclaims) that one should leave suitably full-up, having endulged in as much as they feel able to. I can comfortably eat eight finger sandwiches, so presenting me with only four is rather tight-fisted. Thankfully, our server was more than happy to replenish, even allowing us to sample the rather lovely vegetarian fillings.

Thirdly, one should be able to change their variety of tea. Often a server will lead one to believe that one may change blends midway thought, but never gives one the opportunity to. My companion mentioned that the Berkely are very forthcoming with offering a new pot- I’m yet to have the pleasure.  Again, we were fortunate that we were encouraged to try a few different blends; our teapot stand was laden with at least 6 pots. I started with the Winter Garden blend, followed by a caramel black tea and finishing on a white peony.

The chocolate element of the chocolate afternoon tea included chocolate chip scones and various chocolate cakes and pastries. Being super critical we thought that it would have been possible to incorporate it into the bread maybe, and we also thought it would have been a more defined use of dark, milk and whites chocolates. My favourite was the chocolate and coconut macaroon.

All in all, it’s was a great experience. It may not be a name you have ever heard of, but for me this makes it an even greater find (and no ridiculous waiting list!) I would highly recommend it.

Worst First Date: The Alchemist

I often hear urban myths about men organising surprise proposals, or leading their girls on clue-laden missions to discover amazing presents. Hell! I’ve even know of a dad who buys thoughtful presents. But I’m having none of it; I’ve never known a man who can take a girl on a half-decent date. Although a piss up in a brewery is probably within their abilities. I think they save all of their planning skills up for stag weekends.

This has driven me to take command, to actively seek out dream date venues. It’s ironic because the least attractive man to me is one who is weak-willed, unopinionated and frankly, a bit wet.

Some months ago (I stress that this was some time ago, and very much not my current beau) I found The Alchemist on a ‘just opened’ website, and keen to go I found a man to take me. 

And by ‘take me’, I mean he was supposed to meet me at Liverpool St Station, but elected to just go to the bar, get himself a drink and send me a pin of his location on Whatsapp. What a joker! 

Things didn’t get much better when he told me he didn’t date fat girls and that I wasn’t far off this category; that he’d been thinking about asking me out for a while and hadn’t “found anyone better so…”; that this couldn’t be a relationship unless I changed this, this, this, blah blah blah. He told me about his many recent holidays; Kenyan Safari (“you wouldn’t like Africa”), Marbella (“you wouldn’t like Marbs”), San Francisco (“I can’t imagine you in San Fran”). There was no explanation offered either- perhaps I look like I prefer staying at home! 

I left the bar in a rage. At least he paid I suppose.

And yes, I did see him again! Madness!

Anyway, I thought I’d give The Alchemist another chance. A mate date this time.

The cock menu itself is a sight to behold: a folded parchment, illustrated with medieval, scientific diagrams and detailing a whole series of potable potions.

We opted for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party- a sharing cocktail served in teacups (what else!) The mixologist, if that’s the term they choose to adopt, gathered various shaped beakers, an open flame burner, liquids (presumable alchoholic), fruits and herbs. Had we been wearing plastic goggles it might have been a chemistry lesson from the jolly old days of grammar school.   

  

She kindly explained that heating the bottom chamber evaporated the liquid into the top chamber where it inflused with the fruit. The burner is then removed and gravity (I imagine, or maybe a vacuum?) drained/sucked the liquid back into the bottom chamber sans fruit.

Next she dropped dry ice pellets into clean beakers and poured the fruit-infused liquid on top of it which caused a cloud of dry ice to irrupt from the beaker like a tiny volcano. I think this is called sublimation (who’d have thought one would be spouting out these terms over a decade after those dreaded Chem lessons!)   

 

After the dry ice subsided we were left with a beaker full of the most divine cocktail, which we decanted into our willow-patterned teacups. However I couldn’t tell you what was in it!

An absolutely darling bar with an exciting cock list- just pick your date wisely!

#fryhard

Having experienced the cakey/PR genius of Miss Cakehead at a Halloween ‘horror farm’, I couldn’t resist paying a visit to Boxpark, Shoreditch this weekend to get involved in her latest stunt.

Fryhard: taking your favourite treat and deep frying it, which takes it to unbelievable new level.

 

I have to say I was HUGELY disappointed with the pop-up itself- we had an ‘it that it?’ moment as we approached the plain black market stall with a table top fryer on one side and a pile of boxes/packaging on the other. Not what I was expecting at all, certainly not to the usual standard of aforementioned queen of visual display and pleasantly shocking experiences.

The staff, although not rude, just lacked the passion and enthusiasm I was expecting. I’m not a snob by any means, but even at a basic level, in a bar for example, you would expect the server to remember your face long enough to put the drink they have just poured in front of the correct person.

Perhaps pop-ups and ‘experience dining’ have spoiled me; given me a desire for a song and dance every time I’m presented with some weird flavour combination. That is a bit weird come to think of it.

I’ll live.

Anyway, what did I have? Well unfortunately not all of the above was on offer (I presume they had sold out?) so I had a Creme Egg followed a Babybel.

   

The Creme Egg was an absolute one! Melted chocolate and gooey deliciousness in a crispy batter- mmm!

The Babybel, was cheesy. And frankly, who doesn’t love cheese?

The execution was spot on, just a shame about the delivery. I look forward to seeing what she gets up to next.  

Aqua Kyoto

  

There was a noticeable buzz in the office on Monday when the Bookatable email hit our inboxes, tempting us with tantalising images of the brand new floral-themed menu at Aqua Kyoto.

A day later and I found myself in a smoked-mirror elevator making my way up to the fifth floor.

   

On arrival we were presented with a rather lovely gin and sake cock. Ironically I absolutely hate gin, I find sake like drinking warm nail varnish and I’m not a big fan of ginger, but somehow it was rather darling. 

Gin sake cocktail

Gin sake cocktail

We shared the prawn maki and sashimi, followed by the baby chicken and the lamb cutlets. I couldn’t even pick a favourite, it was all too too delicious.

Sushi & Sashimi

Sushi & Sashimi

  

Ramu choppu yaki

Ramu choppu yaki

The dessert was a unique mixture of ice cream, mango and cold rice pudding with shards of sugary coconut (or maybe coconutty sugar) and green candy floss. Quite nice, if a little random.

   Howaito chokoreito umeboshi parufe

Howaito chokoreito umeboshi parufe

Although the entire meal was rather delicious, it literally left us wanting more. I must confess that we purchased takeaway sushi on our way home.

We agreed that Aqua was definitely worth another visit… But that it would take something more substantial than the set menu to satisfy two hungry flappers. 

Botanical Tea Party

Muv was off galavanting last weekend, which, rather awkwardly, left me without a Mother to wait on on Mother’s Day.

Thankfully I managed to get myself pencilled in this weekend and we celebrated as family tradition dictates- with a tea party.

Planning is imperative. A good tea party takes at least a week to plan. There is always a shopping list, a drawing, hours of research and vivid cake-related dreams.

Some of my favourite books for inspiration:

 


I’m a bit of a Pinterest addict and have many boards dedicated to tea, cake and all things vintage. You can follow me here.

Usually, I am rather traditional in my tea fare, but inspired by the likes of Kerstin Rodgers of MsMarmiteLover, Angel Adoree of The Vintage Patisserie and Christabel Beeson of Christabel’s, I’ve tried to do something a little more experimental.

I fancied a bit of botanical theme, with my sweet, miniature greenhouse taking centre-stage. On a normal day I keep seedlings and carnivorous plants in there, but for one day only chocolate strawberries and tomato, basil and mozzarella flowers bloomed.

I have always stuck to the finger-sandwich format, varying the fillings slightly, however I had seen a few examples of the classic Swedish smörgåstårta and rather fancied giving it a try. In essence it’s a cake made from a loaf of bread with savoury fillings. I envisioned some sort of elaborate miniature vegetable plot styling to continue my botanical theme. I intend to jumble together some sort of instructions later. But to give one an idea this was my smoked salmon creation:

Smoked salmon smorgastarta

Smoked salmon smorgastarta

As much as we all enjoyed these rather unconventional sarnies, I found them rather labour intensive. They also required an electric bread knife to be plugged in at the table to enable them to be served- not appropriate for a tea party at all.

Chocolate  brownies

Chocolate brownies

 

Chorizo & apple sausage rolls

Chorizo & apple sausage rolls

These sausage rolls are a firm family favourite, it is often requested that make a batch on a weekend.

Fairy bite shortbread

Fairy bite shortbread

 

Tomato, mozzerella & red onion pizza

Tomato, mozzerella & red onion pizza

This simple pizza was for my darling youngest brother, inspired by our recent skiing trip to the Alps. With all the heavy meats, cheeses and breads, a simple tomato and mozzerella drizzled with pesto was a joy and I’m sure will bring back fond memories forever more.

Heart-shaped scones

Heart-shaped scones

 

Menu:

Chicken smörgåstårta

Salmon smörgåstårta 

Tomato, mozzarella and red onion pizza

Goats cheese, prosciutto and roasted red pepper filo cups

Heart-shaped scones (made by my beautiful sister in law to be) served with clotted cream and strawberry jam

Chocolate brownies with Cadbury’s Pebbles

Fairy bite shortbread

Raspberry macaroons 

Served with Twinnings English Breakfast tea

Jelly snakes (to decorate the table)

You can find instructions for my lotus napkin origami here.

Napkin Origami

I think I could set a Guiness World Record for speed napkin folding. An audience, being recorded on an iPad for future reference and requests to provide folded napkins for a Christening- all weirdly real.

As a bit of a showoff when it comes to table laying, I’ve been googling napkin folding for some years. Of course one usually uses linen napkins, and for formal occasions this is perfect, but white linen is just not right for a kitch afternoon tea set up. So brightly coloured ‘serviettes’ made of paper are what is called for.

I can’t help remembering that Farv once said “you can always judge a restaurant on whether they use real napkins”. My restaurant must be very poor indeed.

He also said (on more than one occasion) “you can tell if someone is hard up if they have only taxed their car for six months”. Thank goodness the tax disk system is now dead and buried! Although rather a pain trying to remember when it’s due!

Anyway, that’s all by the by. Back to the napkin/serviette situation.

The napkin which impresses everyone the most has to be the lotus, which is rather hilarious (slash hugely frustrating) as it is ridiculously easy. Here’s how:

Step 1: Find yourself some attractive napkins (they’re serviettes, but it’s such a ghastly word, I’d rather not). They need to be square, as napkins a generally are.

 

Step 2: Take one napkin. Unfold it. Lay it decorative side down on a flat surface. It is possible to fold napkins across your knee but they don’t look half as neat. I used a table.

Step 3:  Fold each corner to the centre point and crease nicely. There.

 

Step 4: Fold the new corners to the centre point, like so.

 

Step 5: Carefully turn the napkin over. I add ‘carefully’ as the beastly thing often tries to unfold itself.

Step 6: Again, fold the corners to the centre point. See, I told you it wasn’t diffy!

Ok, it does get a bit more tricky now- you might even need to use two hands.

Step 7:  Pick a corner. Turn it over a tad. Hold it down with a finger. Using your other hand, find the loose triangle of napkin at the back and pull it over the top of your finger, rather like a hood. Repeat with the three other corners.

 

 

 

Step 8: Lastly, there are four more loose triangle of napkin on the underside of the lotus. Pull these up to create four more petals. Lovely darling.

 

Hopefully you will end up with something rather like this fine specimen.

 

Step 9: Make bloody loads of them. At speed. Impress everyone.