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

 

Sketch dining room Sketch has had massively mixed reviews from people I’ve spoken to, but the afternoon tea looked so enticing that I just had to had to go. Luckily I had the perfect excuse as a friend and I were looking for somewhere to have a birthday/engagement (hers)/new job/ bank holiday ‘and holy crap it’s sunny’ celebration.

Sketch is a bit of an afternoon tea factory at the weekends, which has been one of the biggest complaints from others who have gone. You are crammed in as tight as can be and there are trays flying everywhere. Also, if you are not in the glade room (made to look like Oberon’s clearing by a very cleaver artist who decoupaged the wallpaper) the room is arty but super dark for a tea room which normally specialise in light and airy*. No it wasn’t the most relaxing afternoon tea I have had (we were asked to hurry up because they had another booking), but the food was so good that it completely made up for it (even if I couldn’t take good photos because it was so damn dark!).Sketch savory plateAfter starting with a gin cocktail we quickly tucked into the food, which between the tiered treats, little bowl of marshmallows with macrons, scones and a mini-cheesecake in a shot glass was a little daunting to say the least!

Highlight of the entire thing was the croc monsieur that they served as one of the savory sandwiches. Amazing to see them doing something different on the part of the afternoon tea that is normally interchangeable across every hotel in London. It came hot, with a filling of pesto and mozzarella and served as a little finger in parchment tied up with a little yellow bow. Tasty, naughty and pretty – perfect combination to start an afternoon tea. The rest of the savory plate was amazing too, with each sandwich having a little touch to elevate it from the ordinary like the egg and mayonnaise that came with a little fried quails egg on top.

Sketch sweets

Funnily enough the sweets were less imaginative than the savory plate, but it was still up there with the nicest I’ve had. It was the small portions that still packed some serious flavour that was the key, especially the coffee eclair which I loved loved loved. The scones were also better than normal by serving them hot (a couple of other tea places promised this and then served them stone cold).

All in all Sketch is definitely a place I will return to just for the innovative food.  I think when you go just expect it to be a bustling tea hub, or if thats not your thing just eat in the glade during the week.

xx

*I think the main room above has recently been redone entirely in pick, I need to go back to see!

Science afternoon tea

I’ve been to a fair few afternoon teas in London, some good, some bad but most pretty much forgettable. I know that sounds pretty harsh, but although I can name the hotels they were set in, I could not for the life of me tell you what I ate or what they looked like (without reading my own blog that is). Well, thankfully that all changed last Monday, the Ampersand hotel in South Kensington asked a group of bloggers over to try their new Science afternoon tea.

When I asked my boss for the afternoon off work because I was going to a Science afternoon tea, he laughed and said yes. Then he asked “what are you actually going to do?” ah… a Science afternoon tea? Incredulous he said that I thought I was joking, oh boy he couldn’t have been more wrong, science is a very serious persuite after all.

Science afternoon tea savory

Normally the bottom sandwich tier is the most lackluster, hotels may switch up the fillings but by and large there is no site of any other creativity. For the Science tea the Ampersand topped any other I have tried by serving gougeres – essentially like a sandwich with choux pastry instead of bread. Super tasty and a complete relief to not see the same old bread that has been sitting out for most of the day. The scones were little, tasty and again slightly different to normal because while on was plaine the other was white chocolate, it was a little too sweet for me (leave the chocolate for the top tier) but it was another refreshing change.

Then for THE TOP TIER. It was finally time to EAT ALL THE SCIENCE. I am a true kid at heart, and before long I was making roars, evil cackles and the soundtrack to an exploding volcano, just so much damn fun. And it was interactive too, you had to slurp up your evil potion, quickly save the dinosaurs from the wafting dry ice and self medicate yourself with the cherry compote in the weird squeezey thing (what is it caled? At school science was never my strong point). Laughter filled the entire table as this group of professional bloggers all rediscovered their inner children at exactly the same moment. Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t all about gimmic, there were some serious flavours as well. The fiery planet was raspberry and white chocolate, the potion was a citrus cocktail and the best best best was the volcano which was actually a mango mouse – my favorite kind of volcano.

Science afternoon tea beaker

Now this review has been a little weird for me to write, the science tea on Monday was a magic experience and one that I raved about to everyone I met. I was so happy to be able to write about a comped experience with a completely clear conscience, because I loved it so much and thought everyone should go. The service was perfection, with coats taken when walking in, smiling waiters and water on the table without asking. I love it so much that I went back the following weekend, and that’s where this review becomes awkward.

Coats were not taken, water only on request, we had to ask to order food and when we did there was quite an attitude that we were not all ordering a full afternoon tea. When one on our table ordered the science tea, but asked for it to be as gluten free as possible, they dropped the science entirely and just brought a normal gluten free tea – how hard would it have been to just add the beaker, chocolate dinosaurs and dry ice? An the ultimate no for me is when they brought out the wrong tea for someone at the table and then argued before replacing it. Dude, in a good restaurant you just smile and replace it – what is the cost of some tea leaves compared to a returning customer (or not). And to add insult to injury this second time the scones were doughy inside.

So, I’ve seen the Ampersand at its best and I’ve seen it at its worst. I would seriously recommend the Science afternoon tea for the fun, novelty and brilliant flavours. But given my second experience I probably won’t be back.

Science afternoon teaa empty

Royal Horseguards afternoon tea

I’ve told you before about the amazing community of bloggers in London, well the other day I got to hang out with a bunch of them at the Royal Horseguards hotel in Westminster. Bunch doesn’t sound right as a collective noun for a group of bloggers… I propose that we start calling a group of bloggers a ‘click’ (anyone who has been out to dinner with a blogger will get it!).

So in a riverside room at the Royal Hourseguards we made friends with Chef Ben, our food magician for the afternoon. We started with a quick tour of the terrace while sipping our champagne – look at that view! I think we all decided that this was definitely the life for us, I was made to sip champagne in a luxury hotel while talking blogs, travel and brunch.

Royal Horseguards view

And to the food. It must be fairly intimidating to cook for a click of bloggers (see, click just sounds right!), but Ben and his team did the hotel proud. After some tasty finger sandwiches I may have gone a little overboard with the scones, you see we had some gluten free bloggers at the table so what on earth were we to do with the extra scones? Ah, eat them.

I ate so many scones that I kind of ran out of room for the top tier, a fact that made me super sad. I managed to squeeze in the mango tart with coconut marshmallow, lovely spring flavours and pretty pretty mouthfuls is a good sign of what I missed out on. I can’t really complain, the scones were amazing and maybe Chef Ben will invite me back to try his top tier. Wait, that came out wrong.

I love meeting new bloggers, not just because its the best way to find new reading material, but also because as school yard as it sounds you get a chance to meet new friends. I may or may not have already started twitter stalking JessonThames and we are brunching this weekend!

I can’t wait to meet the click at the next blogging event, and maybe next time I will not get quite so hyped up on sugar and wont lead to this sort of incident…

Chef Ben twitter