Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Claridge's, Mayfair

'Under certain circumstances there are few hours more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea'. Henry James

Any eagle-eyed readers (hello, Mum) may have noticed the proliferation of tea and cakes on the blog lately. This indulgence in one of Britain’s most refined pastimes was crowned by our recent trip to the iconic Claridge’s for afternoon tea. The idea was originally suggested just after Christmas, but the endearing popularity of the place (and the recent TV documentary) meant we had to wait until mid-April for a weekday table for six; which happened to coincide nicely with the Birthday Boy’s special day.

The whole place is just dripping with a discreet razzle dazzle that, from the moment the top-hatted doormen help you through the revolving entrance, can’t fail to charm. The hotel has serious pedigree, and from reading the potted history here, nothing much seems to have changed; you can still imagine bumping into all the Bright Young Things, Hollywood stars and exiled kings who have been here before. Carey Grant even proclaimed he would rather go to Claridge’s than heaven.

The tea rooms are just off the main lobby area. A civilised oasis of art deco inspired calm, complete with musicians to soothe you as you eat your sandwiches. We were shown to a long table flanked by a huge leather sofa, with views out to the pianist, and topped with two comfy armchairs. Of course the sofa made the perfect cheesy photo opportunity, and the staff were only too happy too oblige.

The choice is simple - afternoon tea, featuring a set selection of sandwiches scones and patisserie, served with out without a glass of fizz. The hardest decision is what brew to drink; the tea menu stretches to a dozen or so pages, featuring all manner of rare tisanes and infusions.

It went without question that we would have fizz, although we stuck to ‘regular’ Veuve Cliquot, baulking slightly at the supplement for the rose. As Stealth sagely pointed out to the Birthday Boy, ‘it won’t taste thirteen pound better’.  The flutes themselves are large and generously filled, so at least being slightly pissed takes the edge off the extra expense. And, of course, one can never tire of champagne, darling.

While it may be slightly disappointing to not be offered any warm treats, such as savouries on toast boiled eggs, quiches or other such afternoon staples in days of yore, the food is, as you’d expect, top notch. First come plates of sandwiches, sans crust, filled with cucumber - obviously, smoked salmon and cream cheese, chicken and salad, egg mayo, and ham and tomato. While it may have sounded the most pedestrian, the ham was possibly my pick of a, very good, bunch. Thick, hand carved slices of meat with the comforting tickle of mustard. The walnut bread with chicken was quite also delicious, but the cucumber, benchmark of the finest high teas, was unforgivably soggy.

You may think, as I did, that it would be almost impossible to ever get full eating such dainty morsels, but after being offered, and eating, our second round of sarnies we thought it best to move on to something sweet before we got too stuffed.

To accompany the next course we were served our choice of teas; the Claridge’s royal blend for the plebs, the Tregothan Cornish Earl Grey for the Ewing, and the First flush Darjeeling (the champagne of teas, doncha know) for me. The tea was a glorious thing, from the elegant stripy art deco teapots, to the delicate silver strainers and the box of sugar cubes - from which we had to restrain Stealth on for purloining for her magic tricks.

Most importantly, the drinks kept coming, every time I could see the bottom of my cup, a be-suited arm slipped in to top it up. It typified the service on our visit; friendly, professional and, most importantly, unobtrusive. 

The scones at Claridges are rather unusual, coming in both apple and raisin flavours and being accompanied by dishes of their signature Marco Polo jam and plenty of clotted cream. The scones weren’t the very finest I have partaken in, but they did possess a subtle and unusual fruit flavour which paired nicely with the tea-infused jelly.

The arrival of the cakes heralded the only moment of discord. There were four different types of seasonal desert, but only three of each on the platter. Sensing there could so be teaspoons at dawn, our waiter quickly stepped in to assure us that more could be ordered if required. Despite initially not being too keen on sharing, we all soon learnt that they could be divvied up so everyone could get a taste of everything. Apart from the Ewing and her chocolate brownie; no one would dare to ask for that to be split….

My favourite was the custard and puff pastry millefuille, a truly decadent slice of deliciousness. The miniature shots of lemon meringue pie (they bought extra, so we could all have one each) were also pretty joyful; tart lemon curd, buttery biscuit crumbs and glazed Swiss meringue. Glazed fruit tarts were as pretty as a picture and the chocolate mousse topped chocolate brownie was sinfully squidgy and rich, just as it should be.

As a nice touch they also bought the Birthday Boy an extra brownie topped with a candle. At this point extra cake was totally unneeded, but very much appreciated. Luckily we had the Ewing to help polish it off.

In case there was any danger we would still be hungry, six little boxes of chocolates arrived along with the (sizable) bill. Afternoon tea here isn't cheap, starting at £40, and rising to £63 with a glass of rose champagne. But they say money can't buy class, and that's something Claridge's has in spades. Which is something that can't always be said for me and my lovely dining companions....

Afternoon Tea at Claridge's Hotel on Urbanspoon

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