Hallowe’en Afternoon Tea @Lancasterlondon

It’s become an annual tradition that Petula and I celebrate Halloween in the most unauthodox manner we can think of. Previously we have visited a horror farm, and on another occasion we made a haunted house from pieces of toast.

This year, we killed two birds with one wonderful stone and celebrated Halloween over tea. 


Although one has taken tea at The Lancaster previously, and with so many teas to be taken in town it almost seems wasteful to duplicate, however the theme was so vastly different that it was a whole new experience for me.

As we made our way into the tea lounge we were faced by our bloodied and ashen faced server, as silly, young girls do we got the giggles and soon our zombie friend dropped his guard. We were seated at our table and presented with the rather gruesome sounding menu. A cucumber coffin you say?


It is always a joy when Petula and I are permitted to drink our way through the tea menu- a hotel’s speciali-tea (haha!) is usually my first port of call, however on this occasion I’d asked my friend’s permission to have an English Breakfast tea. “Now what is wrong with a cup of EB?” You might ask. “Nothing” I reply, “please feel free to drink EB to your heart’s content.” However, if you are on a voyage of tea discover you won’t get very far from home on English Breakfast. It’s the vanilla of tea, the spaghetti bolognese, the fudge in a box of Miniature Heroes- you can do so much better, my dear. My excuse, if you will hear me out, was that on that particular morning I had taken only one cup of tea using rather old milk, it hadn’t quite turned, but the tea tasted thin and metallic which hung around my throat like a bad memory. Best to get straight back on the horse I thought, remembering the time my brother did fall off a horse, bashed his nose, and was forced to jump straight back on by his girlfriend, despite the blood streaming down his face. In other words, I desperately needed some tea. 

“I’ll have a pot of English Breakfast please.”

A request which was greeted with a look of disgust (I can understand, I was disgusted with myself) from our server who proceeded to lecture me on why I shouldn’t have an EB, and that maybe I might like a chai, as though it were some sort of alien concept to me. I can see where he was coming from, chai is rather lovely after all, but I was rather offended that my choice of EB suggested I was boring. It was so condescending that I had to bite my tongue rather hard! This was my only criticism though, as everybody else was more than accommodating. 


Well the savouries were rather scrummy, the beef being a favourite, the scones small but perfectly formed (cream in a tube in-keeping with the art theme, but no substitute for clotted cream and rather a meagre amount) and the patisserie was very impressive- the dead man’s finger eclair, as I’m going to call it, a clear winner. Unusually the food was not served on tiered plates in the middle of the table, but on a side-table in a boxed filled with dry ice- a theatrical masterpiece! 


Somehow we managed to drag our sitting out for 3 1/2 hours! Sometimes one feels like one is being hurried along, or ignored once a length of time has passed, but not so here- the atmosphere was so comfortable that it seemed a shame to leave. Satisfied that the experience was well worth £35, I’m sure we’ll be back. 

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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.

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.

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.

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.

Cake, Cake, Cake

Afternoon tea is for special occasions.

Nonsense. Have as much tea as you can. It has been observed by many a friend that I do rather love an afternoon tea.

I happened to see a Tweet from the Lancaster Hotel promoting their offer of 50% off afternoon tea with a glass Laurent Perrier. Now perhaps you don’t know, but other than tea and cocktails, flappers only drink champagne, so this suited me just fine!
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The tea itself was divine! The chefs should be commended on their cucumber sandwiches- the best I’ve ever tasted! I’m definitely going to take a leaf out of their book and start seasoning mine. Replenished sandwiches is a big tick in my book too.
The tea lounge was quiet and out of the way so it was easy to relax, and there was no pressure for us to leave, unlike some places, so we ended up staying until 7 o’clock!

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I’ve never been a fan of Halloween due to it’s proximity to and interference with my birthday. But for my love of the unusual I decided that I couldn’t resist the appeal of Cakeageddon. What?! I wasn’t sure either, but mystery is very appealing to me.
On Friday night we drove to Standalone Farm in Letchworth, Herts prepare to be scared slash filled with lovely cake. Themed around the fairytale we were guided round the farm by a “New York detective”, encountering the aftermath of a mass murder… Only all the corpses were made of cake!

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There was even a shop at the end of the tour where one could purchase all manner of disgusting looking (but undoubtedly delicious) cakes.
And yes, the cigarette butts are edible!

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