Christmas Spirit at Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair, English Tea Room:
Breathe a sign of relief, London’s oldest hotel, Brown’s of Mayfair doesn’t put Christmas decorations up until 1st December, sparing us all the feeling that everything has been dragging on just a little too long by the big day. But, on the first of December the festivities start in earnest with a tree and wealth of decorations decking every inch of the halls created by nearby Fortnum and Mason and a festive afternoon tea served in the English Tea Room.
What’s more, there’s not one, but two versions of tea on offer. Obviously there’s the decadent, calorie laden traditional tea with sandwiches and savouries, fuit and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve, an assortment of pastries and then a slice of yule log or Christmas cake (or both if you prefer). But, perhaps you need to fit into that party frock on New Year’s Eve, perhaps you’ve just had too many Christmas lunches, or perhaps you forgot to skip lunch (which in my book you should always do if you are planning to go out for afternoon tea). In that case, Brown’s have a Tea-Tox healthy afternoon tea – gluten free, lactose free and sugar free, but somehow managing to include chocolate cake, sorbet and an assortment of savory canapes.
The English Tea Room is a cosy, wood panelled place, with an open fire, a pianist and comfy wing chairs and sofas. It still maintains an impressive elegance, helped greatly by the immaculate, tailcoat clad staff. And, there’s a touch of the contemporary in the art on the walls. We sit by the fire, sipping Ruinart champagne and trying to pick our tea from a long list of options from Jing. This is a place that takes their tea menu very seriously, there’s a tea sommelier and a seasonal tea library. In need of a seasonal de-tox, I opt for the organic dragon well green tea with a meadow fresh flavour that works perfectly as an afternoon pick-me-up while Madeleine chooses Brown’s afternoon blend. The teas arrive in traditional silver teapots, with a timer to make sure you don’t rush things and a pretty silver strainer to stop any leaves escaping. It is ever so perfect, just the way it should be.
The first of our tea towers arrives. We’ve agreed to try both versions of the seasonal afternoon tea. But, we’ve forgotten that this kind of tea is almost always ‘unlimited’ – you can have more of sandwiches, savouries and pastries. Perhaps we shouldn’t be suprised that we are presented with two helpings of all the savouries. We cope admirably, helped along by the fact that everything on the plate is delicious.
From a finger roll laden with generous slices of moist turkey breast, stuffing and a rich cranberry preserve to a tiny bagel with some of the best smoked salmon that either of us have sampled for a while. There’s nothing complicated here, just excellent quality sandwich fillings in ultra fresh bread.
We move on to scones which arrive with lashings of clotted cream and a generous helping of strawberry preserve. Both of us prefer the plain scones – in my case that might just have something with the large quantities of cream I’m heaping on each half.
Meanwhile, healthy option tea has arrived. We love the canapes – I’m particularly taken by the chicory leaf with smoked mackerel and a soft boiled quail’s egg while Madeleine is raving about the smoked chicken and guacamole on spelt bread. If you are on a tea-tox, you don’t get offered scones. Instead there are fruit kebabs, which are delicious but just a little too healthy for me, despite the honey yoghurt dip. Mind you, I don’t suppose many people choosing the healthy option will precede it with a full plate of sandwiches and a couple of scones.
The cakes on the top tier of the healthy option look remarkably unhealthy, a chocolate tulipe (chocolate cup filled with creme fraiche and blueberries), a chocolate and raspberry slice made with soya milk, sugar free Valrhona chocolate custard layered with a gluten free chocolate sponge, mango and coconut rice conde – a kind of set rice pudding topped with a mango jelly glaze and a sugar free cranberry and autumn fruit jelly that I genuinely prefer to the full-fat ‘blood orange’ jelly on the other side.
Nothing though, can top the chestnut tart on the ‘naughty’ side and on balance we both decide we prefer being indulgent. I have a strawberry allergy so I can’t even try the sorbet that replaces the option of Christmas cake or yule log to finish the tea. And, here in this most traditional of settings for afternoon tea, Christmas cake seems entirely appropriate.
Throughout December, The English Tea Room will be serving both of their award-winning traditional afternoon teas with a festive twist, to the accompaniment of the resident pianist playing Christmas carols. Tea starts at £47.50 per person or £57.50 with a glass of Ruinart NV champagne. If you start to feel jaded I’d recommend this perfect antidote to Christmas fatigue – you’ll loose any Scrooge like tendencies the minute you walk through the door.
The English Tea Room
33 Albemarle St
London W1S 4BP