An afternoon tea with a difference at Como, The Halkin:
It’s around a year since I was at The Halkin for lunch. Ametsa with Arzak instruction already has one Michelin star and is the London offshoot of one of the most famous restaurants in the Basque region of Spain – three-Michelin-starred Arzak. And, as I discovered on a recent trip to San Sebastian, Arzak himself is regarded as being the founder of New Basque Cuisine. So, the idea of a Basque afternoon tea, with perhaps more of an emphasis on savoury than sweet treats, was intriguing.
Tea is served away from the main restaurant in cosy, elegant bar area.
The Halkin is a beautifully designed hotel which looks Georgian but is actually purpose built. Inside, the contemporary interior is minimalist and discrete, the work of architects Laboratorio Associati of Milan. There are just 41 rooms in the Hotel and it’s somewhere that oozes exclusivity.
Sitting in our comfortable armchairs sipping a welcome cava in my case and non-alcoholic Seedlip cocktail for my companion, we reflected that the setting was very different from normal. And, the tea itself is far from ordinary, here they serve Jing teas, one of the top quality tea suppliers in this country. There’s an extensive menu, from which I picked the silver tip jasmine, simply because it’s something I don’t have at home. A light, delicate and slightly floral tea it might not have been the perfect pairing with the savoury dishes but it worked very well with the sweet options.
At The Halkin, afternoon tea starts with a selection of palate cleansers and savouries. Green Pea Cuajada is a kind of curd drink topped with morsels of cheese. The fresh sweet taste of peas made for a refreshing mouthful.
Sweetcorn soup with Txangurro, a Basque speciality made from spider crab, onion and tomato, was rich and velvety, with the spoonfuls of crab meat a pleasant surprise at the bottom of the glass.
Despite not really being an ‘egg’ person, I loved the tiny crisp waffle topped with a quail egg in crunchy panko crumb. Both of us had the perfect runny yolk, quite some achievement! Idiazabal sandwich turned out to be a little toastie. Idiazabal is that basque cheese I last ate when visiting the cider houses in San Sebastian. Served here in near fine dining style with a little onion chutney.
Duck and shallot skewers were beautiful but, I so wanted more. Perfectly charred on the outside with a sticky sweet glaze, they were pink in the middle and tender in the mouth. I’d hardly have expected a failure with the Ham Croquettes and these were spot on, light and creamy with a good balance of ham filling.
Now I suspect if we were in the Basque country, these would be called Pintxos. Certainly, they remind me very much of the food we ate in the pintxos bars around Bilbao and San Sebastian. I don’t remember trying any dessert Pintxos though and next to arrive was a whole selection of sweet little things, which were not always quite as they looked.
Parsnip cob, for example, looked like a tiny piece of sweetcorn but was actually a sponge topped with some kind of soft mousse, formed to look like sweetcorn.
I assume that it contained parsnip, though I couldn’t taste it at all. surrounded by bits of chocolate honeycomb it was a lovely pastry.
The dropped rice pudding cone was a delicate, scented mouthful. Once again, I really couldn’t work out what it was made of, though it had an almondy taste and was coated with chopped pistachios.
I loved the quince and banana cake balls, while Orange toast was a dainty little thing with two crisp wafers of spinach. And of course, I devoured the tiny pot of thick dark chocolate with cinnamon scented churros. Light and crisp, these were perfect.
As I have a strawberry allergy, my lemon sorbet came with a passion fruit consomme, which I imagine was every bit as good as the strawberry one my companion was enjoying.
All in, we felt that we’d enjoyed a substantial yet dainty afternoon tea with a difference. Everything was beautifully presented and the service was excellent. e were impressed by the quality of the dishes and by the attention to detail. And, by the price point which makes this an extremely affordable top quality afternoon tea. The tea is priced at £32pp or £36 with a glass of Cava or a SipSmith cocktail.
Como, The Halkin Hotel