An Elegant Afternoon Tea at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Knightsbridge:
Afternoon tea must be one of London’s ultimate treats. In today’s world of healthy smoothies and super salads, sitting drinking a glass of champagne before indulging in sandwiches, clotted cream laden scones and sweet pastries and cakes reeks of hedonism. It takes skill to produce the perfect afternoon tea – a delicate balance between indulgence and restraint. After all, an afternoon tea should never strain the seams of this season’s Versace frock, nor should you feel that your dinner engagement will need to be cancelled due to lack of appetite.
As much as the tea itself matters, the room in which you sit should be relaxed and comfortable, yet luxurious. Service should be attentive but never intrusive. And, you should never feel hurried or rushed.
Tick all the boxes and add an exemplary menu of fine and rare teas and you are well on the way to a winning formula, as I discovered recently at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Knightsbridge when I was invited to join Mina from Kings Road Rock’s.
The relatively newly refurbished Rosebery room is light and elegant with comfortable seating, perfect for relaxing with a friend. What I thought were pretty ornamental trees turned out to be more than just decorative, each one designed to hold an afternoon tea tower that somehow looks just like a chinese birdcake. It’s a neat touch which leaves more space on the tables for eating and drinking. The china and glasses are bespoke, designed especially for the hotel, yet again with a fitting oriental theme. And, the room looks out over some of the finest shops in Knightsbridge…
We start with a glass of Ruinart blanc de blanc champagne. There’s a choice of Ruinart or Krug and an unusual option of a Sake afternoon tea. There’s also a special tea menu for under twelves (little ladies and gentlemen) and one which is entirely focussed on the rare teas offered by the Hotel. The fine tea menu itself is exceptional with around seventeen blends and single estate teas, eight ‘herbal and spa infusions’ and then an exclusive list of premium rare teas which are not included in the set afternoon tea menu but can be added as extras. There’s also a coffee and hot chocolate menu for those who want an alternative to tea.
Sandwiches are served as tiny finger rolls, each one stuffed with delicate fillings. There’s a smoked salmon tartar with creme fraiche and dill, wiltshire cured ham with heritage tomatoes, cucumber and cream cheese, slow roast organic chicken and a tiny brioche bun filled with crab and crayfish.
Scones arrive, warm from the oven. There’s nothing particularly unusual about these – they are classics – not too large, a perfect balance of softness and crumbliness and served with clotted cream, strawberry jam, rose petal jelly and home made lemon curd.
Everything is just so. And there are pastries still to come.
Needless to say I particularly like the lilac macaron with chocolate ganache and violet petals. But, actually each one of these pastries is a miniature masterpiece, with the choux no bigger than my little finger and the meringue basket tiny enough to eat in one (though no lady would ever do that!)
Seasonal cakes and madeleines are a nice extra – again, each one about the size of my little finger so not too overwhelming. And, beautifully moist – something quite hard to achieve with individual cakes.
The building which houses the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in London was originally an exclusive ‘Gentleman’s Club’, with residential apartments for single gentlemen needing a London base. Opened in 1889, just ten years later a fire destroyed much of the upper part of the building. It was fully restored and opened as a hotel in 1902. But, because of the Mandarin Oriental’s origin as a club, the building lacks the lavish entrance of many of its Park Lane competitors. Instead, there’s a richly marbled Victorian staircase and fireplace. When you walk into the Rosebery room the contrast in light creates a stunning ambience. This is somewhere I could happily sit all afternoon, with the bonus of one of the finest teas in London.
Disclaimer: I was treated to a complimentary afternoon tea for the purpose of this review, but would happily return as a paying customer.
London SW1X 7L.