Butterflies and Daisies – Cherish Finden’s new Afternoon Tea at the Langham:
I love afternoon tea. I accept far too many invitations for tea and I have become something of an aficionado. But where in London serves the best afternoon tea? That’s one of those enigmas which will never be solved for me, there are far too many variables of personal taste. Some diners like a substantial tea, others prefer something more delicate. The balance of sweet to savoury dishes, of sandwiches and the type of scones are all personal. I’d never presume to try and give an answer. But, where will you find the best pastry chef? For me there’s only one response and that is at the Langham Palm Court, where Cherish Finden works her magic.
I’ve been invited to the preview events for the Palm Court afternoon teas for a few years now. If I can I always go. Glasses of champagne, sandwiches and savouries fill us all up, but best of all the new range of afternoon tea cakes are presented, usually by a very enthusiastic Cherish. I remember her enthusiasm when she presented the ‘London Season’ tea, a wonderful concoction of miniatures – tiny ‘Ladies Day’ hats, a ‘Centre Court’ Valrhona Chocolate Tart complete with tennis racket for Wimbledon and For Chelsea Flower Show, an English Rose Garden Chocolate Cremeux. I seem to recollect her telling us that she was very competitive and something of a perfectionist.
This year, I was fortunate enough to go along for the preview of the afternoon tea with Wedgwood and then to be invited back to see how the event worked in ‘service’. An invitation I was hardly likely to refuse, it is always interesting to try a tea in context – even if the staff are aware you’ve been sent along to review. It’s a far more authentic experience and of course, you can always spy on your neighbours to check if they are being treated differently. And, particularly with afternoon tea, the service and ambience are critical elements.
We arrived for an early tea – the 1pm sitting was our choice. It’s worth remembering that teas in most of London’s 5 star hotels are not ‘light’ affairs. There’s usually more food than you’d eat for lunch, and the Langham offers refills if you happen to be hungry. So, unless you have a particularly healthy appetite, it is easy to substitute Tea for Lunch or even Dinner. At the Langham there’s even a ‘high tea’ variation, with an additional savoury dish.
Sitting at our table, with elegant silver, a single rose and white linen tablecloth and napkins we might just have been Anna Duchess of Bedford, who was reputed to have invented the afternoon tea and who had miraculously appeared at Palm Court to ensure that everything went smoothly.
We started with rather a modern ‘tradition’, a very welcomed glass of Laurent Perrier Brut champagne. The tea menu at the Langham is comprehensive and comprises a number of house blends together with classic Wedgwood teas and some unusual speciality teas and infusions.
I picked the fragrant Silk Road blend, Chinese silver needle with Jasmine and Iranian rosebuds. Delicately scented it seemed like the perfect choice to accompany the food. At the Langham each tea is brewed for a set time and then the leaves are removed so that the pot doesn’t become stewed. It worked fabulously, although I have to admit I may just have been a bit distracted by the food.
First a delicate amuse bouche of apricot yoghurt panna cotta with strawberries for everyone except me. I can’t eat fresh strawberries, but we’d warned the restaurant ahead of time so mine came without the strawberries. It was light and creamy, beautifully refreshing and tasty.
Then, a selection of sandwiches.
I carefully turned down the cucumber and cream cheese one, on the basis that there was a lot more food to come. But, I couldn’t possibly have refused the truffled duck egg brioche, with a generous shaving of black truffle on top. And, the smoked salmon with asparagus on a rye cracker was my personal favourite from the preview event. Peppered beef pastrami and red Leicester coleslaw on caraway and coco bread was rich and delicious and corn fed chicken with golden sultana on carrot bread had something of the effect of a rather posh coronation chicken.
We WERE offered more sandwiches and we did turn them down. That was actually quite a good decision, given the quantities of food to come.
We’d picked the High Tea option which comes with an additional savoury dish. In my case ‘oeuf poché à la reine’, a poached egg on a truffled chicken and foie gras brioche. Melanie from Sunny in London who had joined me, picked the smoked salmon tartare with Beefeater gin dressing and keta caviar.
Both were beautifully presented – mine with a just runny yolk to the egg which spilt out over the brioche to make a delicious concoction.
Then scones. Beautifully presented, warm and wrapped in a linen napkin, they were light and fluffy. It’s quite a challenge to produce scones which are not in the least bit dry and crumbly as successfully as here, at the Langham, served as is tradition, with clotted cream and strawberry jam.
The pastries of course, were the star of the show. Everything inspired by Wedgwood. Butterfly bloom, taking inspiration from the Wedgwood collection of the same name features a shortbread tower filled with salted caramel and topped with two delicate filigree hand crafted butterflies to represent the bloom of spring. Wedgwood wild strawberry, made with a wild strawberry pâté de fruit and pistachio cream macaron to replicate the Wedgwood design. The tiny Hathaway Rose lemon victoria sponge was filled with a delicate raspberry and lime jam. Perhaps my personal favourite, the Yuzu for You was a delicious and exotic mixture of Langham’s own no.150 chocolate with a yuzu filling on a chocolate sable. And, Paisley Parcel, a miniature opera cake with kahlua and double expresso with white chocolate buttons decorated with a bespoke white and blue paisley Wedgewood design.
We did then try a small glass of N V Laurent Perrier Rose, the second of three Laurent Perrier champagnes on the menu at the Langham. Meanwhile, the pianist charmed us, setting a perfect ambience in the elegant surroundings of Palm Court.
We thought we’d reached the end of the tea, but there was still more to come in the form of a tiny light pastry tart. Mine was filled with tropical fruit while Melanie enjoyed a red fruits version. If anything these reminded me of French patisserie – I think the pastry is called pate brisee and I still remember my mother showing me how to make it, with cubes of chilled butter, sugar and an egg nesting in a mound of white flour. To create the dough you pull the flour into the fat and egg mixture with your finger tips. If you are fortunate, you’ll get a pastry that can be rolled. It’s delicate and hard to work with. If you over mix it, then you get a leathery effect. Of course, here the pastry was perfect. But, I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
I’d initially thought the tea might be limited by my strawberry allergy. But, I have no issue with cooked strawberries and for the most part the cakes and pastries needed no alteration for me.
It was a fine tea, with excellent service. I still don’t want to pick ‘the best’ afternoon tea in London, but, the Langham afternoon tea does rank right up there. Partly the elegant setting, partly the impeccable service and partly the sensational patisserie. The menu itself does also set the tea apart. There are excellent options to chose from both in terms of the teas and in terms of the menu.
Thank you to all the staff at the Langham, particularly Cherish and her team of extraordinary pastry chefs, for such a wonderful afternoon.
The Langham Afternoon Tea is priced at £49 per person, £59 per person including a glass of N.V Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne and £64 per person including a glass of N.V Laurent-Perrier Brut Champagne Rosé. High tea, with the extra savoury dish, has a premium of £8.00
There are three afternoon sittings starting at 1pm.