A few days before Christmas I was feeling a bit grinchy. I had tried and failed to get into Winter Wonderland (a 45 minute line just to get in!), Amazon didn’t deliver my Christmas presents in time and I hadn’t been arsed to put the Christmas tree up. To help overcome my internal grinch Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi suggested a Christmas afternoon tea at the Intercontinental Westminster.
I had a bit of a an epic journey to get there, Google took me to the wrong hotel, the tube was down and a crazy black cab driver didn’t tell me he was cash only till the of the journey and then made me pay for the privilege of going to a cash machine. But when I walked into the hotel the drama of the journey washed away and I was at a Christmasy peace.
The room was filled with beautiful Christmas trees (decorated with sugar plums, peacocks and fairies), a five person choir singing carols in the corner of the room and a glass of champagne waiting for me on the table. The only way it could have got more anti-grinch was if there had been a little drummer boy waiting to take my coat; but you know, child labour laws being what they are…
We had opted for the endless Champagne version of the afternoon tea because that is how we Kiwi blogger girls roll. So Emma and I quickly got to the important business of catching up and putting the world to rights. The sandwiches were a genuine delight, fresh bread* and tasty flavour combos. We then moved on to the scones which were slightly less of a success. Our lovely waiter told us to let him know when we were ready for scones so he could bring them out hot. But well, when they arrived the scones had the memory of warmth at the very best. They were yum, but note to Intercontinental Westminster, don’t get my hopes up about toasty hot scones if you cant deliver.
The hot eccles cakes on the other hand may be the best afternoon delight I have ever had. Melt in your mouth and the perfect combo of flaky pastry and raisins.
The biggest downfall of the Intercontinental Westminster afternoon tea is what is normally the highlight, the top tier. The chocolate macaroon was too rich and overpowering, the thing in the shot glass we couldn’t identify (passion fruit? mango? strangely lumpy?) and the worst bit is that for £45 a head we had to share. Every other afternoon tea I have ever been to brings out enough treats so that everyone at the table can try every different cake. Or at the very least they bring out replacements as soon as they are eaten so the effect is the same. Not so much here. We either had to split the unsplitable, decapitate the snowman or miss out on some of the afternoon tea.
So all up it was a nice dose of Christmas spirit and a lovely catch up with Emma but I probably wouldn’t be back to the Intercontinental for afternoon tea.
*It amazes me how many afternoon teas go wrong on this step
When I arrived back in London (don’t worry, plenty of more New Zealand posts to come!) the first thing I noticed is that winter ‘happened’ while I was away. So I quickly formulated a plan to hibernate for the next few months. The plan was going strong until I was invited to the Jing tea masterclass. What is a girl to do? Stay inside nice and cozy, or go outside and try some of the best teas the world has to offer. Not a hard choice really, so like Ross and Rachel I put my hibernation on a break and went out to find me some Jing.
The masterclass was held at Center Point which has frankly bonkers views over London, amazing to go up there at Christmas time and see the reverse view of the Oxford Street Christmas lights. After being dazzled by the lights I sat down to drink me some tea.
Turns out I’ve been making tea wrong all these years. If you put boiling water on tea leaves it essentially scalds them, which gives a bitter flavour to your drink. Ideally tea should be made between 70&80 degrees (depending on if it is black or green tea), or if you are skint and don’t own a thermometer I have worked this out to be a boiled kettle after one Downton Abbey ad break – I’m technical like that.
I know what you are saying, get to the £45 cup of tea. We tried four different teas over the night, starting with a delicious white tea called Silver Needle which I slightly lost my heart to. It is made of the tea leaved picked first and not processed at all, which gives it the most delicate flavour. I think Silver Needle would make the perfect summer drink … if summer ever arrives.
Then after trying a couple more teas including the incredibly named Phoenix Honey Orchid (which was the colour of a post apocalyptic sunset) we moved on to the big daddy, the Jing Wild Wuyi Gold. This tea is made of the rarest leaves and were only picked once so there is a seriously limited supply, in fact there is only one restaurant in the UK that stocks it (the Fat Duck of course!).
And this is where I reveal that I am a total pleb. I thought that the Jing Wild Wuyi Gold was a really good cup of tea but at my heart I don’t think you can beat a cup of earl grey. Thankfully Jing makes one of the nicest Earl Greys I have ever tasted, so good in fact that I have had two cups during this post.
For those of you with a tea lover in your family I’m going to let you in on a little secret, although Jing is not avaliable in shops you can buy it all on their website. I would love to say that I just got Mum some for Christmas, but I may or may not be drinking that now…
Birthdays are tricky in London. You don’t really want to give anything that can’t be packed into a suitcase and you want it to be special, something they would not buy for themselves. One of my best friends cracked the London birthday code and started the tradition of giving an afternoon tea. Rules are that the location is entirely secret, all the birthday girl knows is the nearest tube station. It all started with my birthday this year, where I was told to meet at the St Pauls tube station and we had afternoon tea at Beas of Bloomsbury. So for her birthday I told her to meet me at the Barbican tube station and we then walked round the corner to have afternoon tea at the Modern Pantry.
We went for the champagne afternoon tea, because who can really pass up a lychee bellini on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Then we had the hard decision of what teas to drink, the list wasn’t as long as I was expecting but the descriptions were so enticing (imagine the ‘fruity oak’ descriptions normally found on a wine list) that the length didn’t matter at all.
I was slightly underwhelmed by the amount of food on offer. Normally an afternoon tea has at least four sandwich flavour options, whereas the Modern Pantry only had two. But the funny thing is that for two people it was actually the exact right amount i.e. we were full but still able to move at the end of it. Maybe it is just a bit of psychology that they need to play with, cut the sandwiches in half and there will visually be more to entice the eater.
The huge source of entertainment throughout the afternoon was the family having tea at the next table over. The mother spent the entire time trying to reason with a two year old, giving her the option of a high chair and then trying to verbally convince her it was the best option. The mother went as far as to get down on her knees to show this two year old how much better life would be if she sat a little higher. As two childless expats we watched incredulous and decided that if we were ever crazy enough to bring a toddler to a posh afternoon tea, we would tell not ask.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I do love an afternoon tea. So when I was in Brighton I simply had to try the afternoon tea at the Metro Deco tea salon.
The kooky little cafe/bar is about a ten minute walk from the pier (although if snowing this walk feels more like a Himalayan trek) and serves tea during the day and prohibition themed cocktails at night. Sadly I was too early for the delicious looking cocktails, so tea for one it was.
On such a cold day the selection of rolls, cakes, scones and a special Easter treat were just the ticket. Not to mention the extensive list of tea – my favourite was the white tea with rosé petals. Next time I am in town I will sure to be in to try the cocktails!