Floral Afternoon tea

Step 1: If at all possible win a competition in which the prize is the hottest afternoon tea in town; the Scents of Summer afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Park Lane.

Step 2: Call to confirm your booking and have the man on the phone promise you free prosecco because you booked online. Promptly forget about this offer of prosecco and never ever ask for it #myliverthanksme

Step 3: Change your outfit at least five times before leaving home because a) you are going to a hotel that is two squares away from GO on the Monopoly board and b) because you are going to tea with Angloyankophile who is the most stylish girl in the history of creation (I am slowly Single White Female-ing her and plan to start with getting the same camera).

Step 4: After all your hard work corralling the curls into a shape that can fit through doorways make sure you get caught in a torrential downpour between Green Park tube and the Intercontinental Park Lane to ensure your hair grows three sizes by the time you arrive.

Step 5: Walk into the plush Wellington Lounge of the Intercontinental, see Angloyankophile sitting at the table and promptly break into a huge grin because she is an awesome human who is well worth getting big hair for.

Step 6: Look at the tea list, have the tea list explained to you, know your own mind and what tea you like. Panic and just say yes to the last thing that the waiter said. Then panic again and just order whatever Angloyankophile ordered (see above stalking comment).

Healthy jelly shot

Step 7: Try to convince yourself that grown-up bloggers would say yes to the jelly wheat-grass shot on the top of the afternoon tea tray. Then realise that you are not a grownup and if I have to eat wheat-grass jelly I never want to grow up.

Step 8: Get a tad overexcited at the multi-coloured swirl sandwiches and fall face first into your plate eating them all in a minute flat. Look up like a startled ferret when Angloyankophile asks which is your favourite, then hastily try to remember what they tasted like. It was the butternut squash by the way – why do more afternoon teas not play with squash?

Bright coloured sandwiches

Step 9: Try not to laugh at Angloyankophiles expression when the waiter comes and sprays us with perfume between courses. Apparently something to do with involving all the senses in the afternoon tea (it is called Scents of Summer after all) but actually just brilliantly entertaining to watch a surprise perfume attack.

Floral Afternoon tea treat tray

Step 10: Marvel at the utterly gorgeous treat plate of flowers, chocolate shards, and EDIBLE ROCKS that is presented at the end of the afternoon tea. Almost too beautiful to eat (almost, we are not animals after all) and quite simply the most stunning afternoon tea plate I have ever had. EAT ALL THE THINGS.

 

Just follow those ten easy steps and you too can afternoon tea!!!

Fortnum and Mason scones

I shudder to think how much I have spent on afternoon tea in the last three years. It’s always been a bit of an escape for me. When I couldn’t afford to travel, an afternoon tea was that hint of luxury that I needed to refresh my faith in London. I mean afternoon tea is expensive (£30 to £60) but that is one hell of a lot cheaper than a weekend away, so an afternoon tea junkie I became. As always when you do something a lot, you become quite jaded to the entire thing, so at the start of this year I decided to stop. Why pay that much money when I was no longer enjoying the experience and just critiquing the fluffiness of the scones. That was until I got an email from Zomato asking if I wanted to take the Fortnum and Mason version for a spin…ok, one last tea.

It’s not often an afternoon tea starts with you doubled over laughing, particularly not in such a refined venue as Fortnum and Mason. I walked through the door of the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon just as the pianist started playing the Downton Abbey theme song, utter genius. I was worried that Fortnum and Mason was going to be totally up itself (there were £80 Easter eggs for sale downstairs), but hearing the theme song of that ultimate upstairs/downstairs drama totally put paid to that.

First step in any afternoon tea is to choose the tea – duh. But Fortnum was the first place that I had seen the addition of single estate teas (you pay extra for them) which means that the tea was harvested from one estate or garden rather than mixing from multiple. This also means that like an uber posh wine you can tell variances year on year, and between the same styles of different estates. I never knew I was drinking my tea like such a pleb. I now look at the store brought earl grey in my cupboard with haughty derision. And in case you are thinking that I am over exaggerate the ‘specialness’ of the Fortnum and Mason tea selection, this is a real life explanation of the drying process for one of the white teas “This tea is made from large leaf trees in Jinggu which are left to wilt under moonlight until completely dried”. WILT UNDER MOONLIGHT. Fortnum I love you.

Fortnum and Mason sweets

This was also the most chilled out afternoon tea I had been to, thinking back to the Ritz or Sketch where you are hemmed in like a multi-estate tea in a supermarket tea bag, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Room had enough space between tables that no-one would overhear your salacious gossip about the Lord and the parlour maid. And then the pianist started playing Avicii, oh god can I marry that man.

The food was on par, very traditional sandwiches and scones with some unique flavour combinations on the top tier. I loved that they kept coming over and asking if we wanted more food, and actually come to think of it when they brought over the food the waiter said “don’t worry you don’t have to share, just ask and I will bring you more”. Amazing.

And just as we were stuffed enough to roll indecorously down the stairs, the waiter came and asked if we wanted anything off the cake trolley. WE HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE CAKE TROLLY. Yes in addition to your single estate and three tiered (endlessly replaced) afternoon tea there is also a cake trolley to select from at will. Now I see why the Dowager Countess is always so hard done by, this being a toff thing is hard. We looked at the cake trolley, we did a lap of the tea room to try and fit the cake in but it was to no avail.

Lamenting the cake trolley and continuing to sing the praises of the vastly entertaining pianist we wandered out into the cold London streets. Fortnum and Mason totally surpassed my expectations, a five star London afternoon tea of course has to have perfect food but it was the calm atmosphere, friendly (not intimidating) staff and entertaining music that has ha d me raving about Fortnum and Mason ever since.

 

Sanderson Afternoon Tea plates

My amazing friend Islay got married a couple of months ago in a beautiful ceremony in the hills of South Africa. We fully intended to have a celebratory afternoon tea before her wedding but life seemed to get in the way. So in December we snuck off from work early and went to the Sanderson for their Mad Hatters afternoon tea.

Sanderson Afternoon Tea Sweet

The Sanderson is a bit of a strange one, an ugly building that is hiding an interior full of design gems. Its the sort of place where you turn a corner and are surprised by a couch in the shape of a giant pair of lips…as you do. The afternoon tea is held in an internal courtyard which is covered in winter and open to the elements in summer. It is an ideal afternoon tea spot for winter because you get the feeling of the outdoors but they have pashminas and heaters just to keep things cosy.

Things got off to a great start with the tea selection. Instead of giving us a boring list the waitress brought out four little glass jars each containing a different tea infusion. After doing the sniff test I went for the apple pie and Islay the mint chocolate. Nice to see a bit of creativity applied to the tea part of the feast.

Sanderson Afternoon Tea tea options

The Sanderson is not the place to go if you are after an insane Mad Hatters experience, its more like they take inspiration from the books for a refined and very proper afternoon tea. For example on the middle tier of sweet treats the only nod to the Mad Hatter was the clock face design on one of the round cakes. I’m not saying this restraint is a bad thing, just that it’s a more serious adult afternoon tea rather than a crazy fun strictly to theme tea.

Sanderson Afternoon Tea savory tray

The biggest nod to Alice in Wonderland is probably the ‘drink me’ potion in the small brown bottle, it was filled with three layers of mousse/gel including a sour passion fruit and velvety coconut; it was simply delicious. There were also the very cute meringue carrots on the top tier hidden amongst the greenery, not full of flavour (just tasted like meringue) but a lovely idea.

Sanderson Afternoon Tea carrots

The other thing that I really liked was that for the first time in London I had a savoury scone. The savoury scone is something that you will see in almost every kiwi cafe, but for some reason it has yet to make an impression on the UK afternoon tea scene. Even better was that just like we got clotted cream for the sweet scones, we were served a herb butter for the savoury. Good work team.

What the Sanderson has got 100% right is the amount of food. Most afternoon teas leave me feeling like you have to roll me home, I like to call it the food drunk feeling (leaves you staggering and you can’t thing straight because you are so overfull). But the Sanderson was just enough to leave you stuffed but not stupidly full. I think it was because the scones and sandwiches were of a sensible size (i.e. small enough to eat all of them) whereas at so many hotels you are full after just the savouries!

The Sanderson was such a pleasant setting to spend hours talking about love, marriage and travels; helped along by a glass or two of champagne. And after the mad mad world of the Saunderson afternoon tea we went off into the cold London insanity of Oxford street at Christmas time.

Christmas Afternoon Tea

There are many strange things about blogging; stalking people on twitter, it being socially acceptable for your food to get cold while you take photos of it, not to mention the overuse of the words awesome/brilliant/amazing. But among the strangest is the ability to get a preview of a Christmas afternoon tea in September, complete with carols played on a harp.

Last Christmas I went to the Intercontinental St James and was entirely underwhelmed by their offering; the scones were cold, the treats a bit meh and the ultimate offence they made us share the solo helping of sweet things. So when I heard that the Bloggers Afternoon Tea was going back to the same hotel for a preview of their Christmas afternoon I was not exactly amped. I know that the hotel had changed its name to the Conrad St James and I just had my fingers crossed that the afternoon tea offering had had a revamp as well.

The London Blogger afternoon teas are fantastic, if you are a blogger and want to talk shop/meet some fellow typing crazies then you have to sign up for the next one. Conversations with my table veered wildly between camera settings, the best cafes in London and how to approach PR companies. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate these chances to chat, its entirely different to listening to a formal talk or the hidden desperation of networking. This tea is just celebrating or commiserating the highs and lows of being a blogger.

Christmas Afternoon Tea at the Conrad St James

This hobby or career (depending on your inclinations) doesn’t have a rule book. There is no degree or career path, and even if you tried to copy the tactics of someone else it is no guarantee of success. So as silly as it sounds the casual chatter of bloggers drinking tea (and champagne) is actually the best way to learn, grow and refine your craft. Oh and it turns out that Sony cameras have a selfie mode…go figure.

Sorry I got a bit distracted there. Christmas right? I had nothing to fear, the Conrad afternoon tea was every bit as magical as I could have wished for. After a standard but really tasty sandwich and scone diversion, I focused mainly on the top tier which held special Christmas savories. My favorite by far (good enough to use the ‘hey look over there’ tactic to steal one from another blogger) was the mini-venison pie, just so full of flavour and meaty pastry goodness. Also worth a mention are the spreads that the scones came with, normally you get clotted cream and a jam (or lemon curd if the chef has something to prove). But finally a hotel is doing something a bit different and we were served blackberry curd – other afternoon teas take note, the spreads is an area where you can be creative!

Scones at the Conrad St James

After consuming my body weight in Jing tea the grand  finale was revealed to us. Under a glass canopy was an entire winter wonderland scene, complete with Christmas trees, scarf wearing snowmen and snow. In that moment even though we were having an Indian summer and it was still September I was instantly transported to the world of mulled wine, presents and bad Christmas jumpers.

I went straight for the ginger and white chocolate snowflake macaron, a beautiful light flavour to have as part of a massive afternoon tea. I then tried to tackle the Christmas tree which was without being overly dramatic (totally unlike me) was shocking. I was expecting chocolate or cake at the very least, but my spoon went straight through it. It was a berry moose on top of a brownie rolled in something green with chocolate stars on. An absolute masterpiece. Again it was lovely to see something so light in an afternoon tea, it just means you can eat more.

Since this is Christmas lets end this post with a moral: if you are looking for a magical themed Christmas afternoon tea I vote go to the Conrad St James. And if you can take a group of 3o bloggers along then all the better.

Conrad St James Christmas Afternoon Tea

xx