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. 

Tea Memories

  

A second-hand teabag, a spoonful of sugar and a large quantity of milk- that’s how I remember it.

We’d be having a sleepover at Nana’s. Already in our pyjamas, with a tea towel tucked into our collars in case of spillage, sipping the warm, milky tea while Sandy Pussycat stretched himself out on the hearth rug.

These are my memories of tea.

***

We’d be at Granny’s, in her farm house kitchen, eating crusty cheese rolls while various dogs wound in and out of table legs and human legs. 

The teacups were pale blue or yellow and she always used a teapot. Always milk first. Everyone added their own sugar, which invariably meant you put at least three spoonfuls in your tiny cup. 

***

Farv always said you weren’t grown up unless you drank tea or coffee. I tried both. I didn’t like either. Tea didn’t taste the same at home.

***

A builder called Stuart was at our house. He drank tea like a chain-smoker puffed on cigarettes. He had a round, friendly face and we all thought he was wonderful.

Muv would send me to collect his cup for the next round and, completely deadpan, he’d say “I had to chew that!”

“Right, that’s it!” I thought, spooning marmite, gravy granules and a few drops of Tabasco into his brew. George’s Marvellous Medicine.

***

The tea came out of a machine. So did the coffee and the orange squash. I was new and everyone drank something different. A 32, a 34… They all knew the machine’s code for their preference. 

The tea was thin and smelt horrid, but the office was cold and the liquid was warming.

I carried six steaming cups on a tray. One of ‘the men’ made me jump and what I didn’t spill on my poor hands became jumbled up in the cups. Hot chocolate-tea was surprisingly pleasant.

***

Christmas Markets

  
The first rule of being a flapper is:

Never turn down an invitation*

Also known as ‘burning the candle at both ends’, which was a darn-sight easier when I was 18. A decade on, I found myself attending a rather swanky soirée (read boozy work Christmas party) on the Friday night, which lead, uncomfortably straight into a 6am coach trip to the continent. One declined the offer of a hotel room for fear of somewhat over-doing it and missing one’s connection, deciding that it was somehow better to have a minuscule few moments of sleep at home. One rolled out of bed in such an unladylike fashion at 5 o’clock, had the maid fling some clothes on her and her chauffeur put her on the coach.

Some 10 or so hours later, after the most treacherous of channel crossings, our party arrived in Lille.   

 First thing first, a visit to Sephora. For those of you not familiar, it’s like Superdrug set in a nightclub. Pay on one’s credit card and save the euros for the marché.

Rather a fleeting visit to Lille, but we managed to sample a local delicacy, something like dauphinoise potatoes with a layer of fromage on top. I opted for the mont d’or. Quite lovely.   
 This was followed by a chocolate tête which resembled a Tunnocks teacake. I lugged these about for several hours ’til we gave in and ate them all.   

 And that was the end of my Lille adventure. We arrived at our hotel, drank some Pschitt (I kid you not) and retired for the night.

 We rose early the next morning, breakfasted, and onwards to Belgium.

Belgian chocolate being a staple of one’s diet, Bruges was likely to be one’s idea of heaven.  

Having crossed sweet stone bridges and meandered through adorable cobbled streets we popped into this tiny tea room on the promise of the most wonderful hot chocolate. Let me just say they lived up to the claim on their canopy. 

    
 After much wandering and purchasing we took luncheon in a café bar advertising something along the lines of, and you’ll have to excuse my Flemish, ‘camembert in de oven’. 

Served with apple and bread, it was absolutely divine. And of course one was gasping for a cup of chai by this point… But couldn’t help laughing when a silver tray covered in a paper doily arrived, topped with a glass and a teabag sachet. One couldn’t decide whether they thought they were serving British royalty, or had just got it completely wrong!   

 I’d spotted a shop earlier in the day and knew I had to drag Muv in there when I had the chance. Dille & Kamille is a kind of Scandi homeware store where everything should be considered for purchase. It was a job to control oneself!

I left with a lovely set of tea leaf measuring spoons, a biscuit cutter, a bag of Christmas tea and a jar of green pesto (a favourite of my brother). I was dangerously close to purchasing a stack of Flemish recipe books but I realised this was madness! This is definitely a shop we’d appreciate in the UK- please bring it over!   

   
At 5pm it was time to embark on the long journey home laden with chocolate. Despite the extreme levels of tiredness one had a rather jolly time. Bruges is definitely worth another visit in the near future, what a wonderful city.

*unless it’s for Netflix & chill, in which case one is permitted to break the rule.

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.

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.

 

 

Serendipity

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Can we do something lovely today?

Quite a standard text message to receive from my darling friend Amy on a weekend morning. Oh course it must involve food- that goes without saying.

So we popped into our most favourite café in the world, Serendipity in Hertford. This place, honestly is wonderful. They do those delightful milkshakes with chocolate bars blended into them, heavenly homemade cakes and every sandwich filling you might care to think of (and even the ones you haven’t!)

I usually opt for Cajun chicken, roasted peppers and cream cheese in warm arctic bread and probably a curly wurly milkshake. Today, however, it was the brunch time classic eggs benedict. I washed mine down with a pot of tea, and Amy with a milkybar white hot chocolate, which went down an absolute treat by all accounts.
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I absolutely adore this little café with all it’s sweet little decorations on the walls and the ceiling. There is outdoor seating which is wonderful in summer for indulging in a cheeky cream tea or even an ice cream from their outdoor stand.
It’s amazing to think that such a darling place can survive when in recent years the town planners have allowed at least 3 coffee shop chains to invade our little town, one of them is actually next door! To me, it just shows that Serendipity has earned it’s reputation and proves that independent establishments can hold their own against the big boys.

Following an afternoon of leisure we sped down to the village church for the Christingle service. Not ones usual style admittedly- flappers are usually sneaking back into the house after a night out while the oldies are getting ready for church.

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However I do love a bit of God now and then and I’ve discovered it is possible for one to rave to O Come All Ye Faithful so one might as well as not. I’m calling it ‘raving AND behaving’

Flappers & Tea Parties Part 2

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The other obvious thing to do on a weekend is have a tea party. And funnily enough it coincided with a need for an engagement party.
I’m not going to lie, I’m incredible at tea parties. I believe in doing things properly, so I begrudge buying anything in but this means I have to slave away for hours to get the results.
I also have a real thing for the details so have, for a long time, been collecting crockery and special objects to set the scene.IMG_6262.JPG
Normally I talk my guests through the names of dishes, the ingredients, whether they’re halal slash vegetarian slash suitable for people allergic to pepper. But frankly I couldn’t be bothered this time, so I made labels.
I also got fed up with doing the usual cucumber, egg, smoked salmon and ham sandwiches so thought I’d mix it up a bit.

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I looked to Pinterest for tea party inspiration and came up with some right crackers-

Another caramelised banana and rum sandwich, Vicar?

Alright, there wasn’t a vicar present but you get the idea.

The menu:

Champagne with mango juice ice cubes and edible glitter
Chorizo & apple sausage rolls
Vegetable pizza
Sliders
Chicken & mayo rolls
Egg mayonnaise & smoked salmon on French bread
Chocolate spread & sprinkles sandwiches
Caramelised banana and rum sandwiches
Tyrell’s Swanky Vegetable Crisps
Scones
Butterfly cakes
Layered chocolate cake
Cake pops
Cucumber with pesto cream cheese
Sticky date flapjack

Needless to say we had a fabulous time.

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Glitter sprinkled mango ice cubes

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Chorizo & apple sausage rolls

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ham & cheese swirls

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chocolate sprinkle sandwiches with heart cutout

Happy Birthday to me!

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I celebrated my birthday last week. Not an important one so I didn’t go too mad, but as a rule it must always include tea & cake, so I dragged my bestest girls out for a spot of afternoon tea.
I found this amazing website called www.afternoontea.co.uk a few months ago and have been looking for an excuse ever since. As well as tempting you with photos from every tea establishment around they also have some really good offers. I opted for afternoon tea with unlimited Laurent Perrier at Intercontinental Westminster. This is the first time I’ve ever mixed booze with tea and frankly I was a little worried. I decided on a jasmine tea, rather than the old English breakfast as I have been involved in alcohol slash milk related situations in my younger days, and let’s just say it’s best avoided.
I have to say, Intercontinental was such a good choice as it’s the perfect balance of classy and informal. In my opinion there’s nothing worse than a whisperingly-formal venue where all the guests look like they’ve just got out of bed!

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I must say a big thanks to the boy, who not only lugged my shopping bags around all day but also bought me this delicious Tatty Divine / Rob Ryan ring AND the Ciate advent calendar. What a doll!