Afternoon Tea at the Gilbert Scott, St Pancras:
There are places in London that I’ve long intended to visit. One such is Sir John Soane’s Museum, historic home of the London architect in Lincoln’s Inn. He designed the house to work both as a home and as a setting for an eclectic collection of antiquities and art. Before his death he established it as a museum by Act of Parliament in 1833 to ensure that the interiors were preserved as they were at the time of his death. I am delighted when Madeleine suggests we precede our John Soane themed afternoon tea at the Gilbert Scott with a visit to the museum.
13 Lincoln Inn Fields is a fascinating rabbit warren of a house. The arrangement of artifacts date to when Sir John Soane was appointed professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806. He started to organise his personal collection of books, paintings, casts and models, offering students access to the house before and after his lectures at the Academy.
The connection between John Soane and Sir George Gilbert Scott, who designed the original hotel at St Pancras Station, is a curious one. Not only was Gilbert Scott a trustee of the Museum but he also created an award winning telephone box based on Sir John Soane’s Mausoleum. Designed by Soane on the death of his wife, the Mausoleum is just around the corner from St Pancras Station and from what is now the Gilbert Scott Bar and Restaurant.
Tea starts with a Rake’s Gin Gargle cocktail named after ‘A Rake’s Progress by William Hogarth. The original paintings were acquired by Sir John Soane in 1802 and form part of a collection of art in the Museum. A delicious concoction of Sipsmith’s sloe gin and champagne with a twist of orange, I’d find myself loitering a little too long in the gin houses if this was on offer.
Savouries are delicious. We both particularly enjoy the lightly toasted ‘Architect Club’ sandwich and devour the initial plate of savouries so quickly we are offered (and accept) a second helping of everything. There’s a vegetarian quiche and a very traditional cheese and pickle sandwich. And, an olive, hummus and red pepper ‘scroll’ which represents the Greek and Roman artefacts that Soane collected throughout his life.
Eating scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, I can well imagine being back in the museum in the Monk’s Parlour. Light and moist, these are well prepared and very fresh.
The cakes and sweets are an opportunity to showcase the skill and creativity of the pastry chef. A tiny Marshmallow tea ‘light’ really does look like the small round mirror set in the ceilings of some of the smaller rooms of the museum. Lady Soane’s chocolate delice is a rich, creamy tribute to the woman at the centre of John’s life.
A biscuit ‘bone’ is titled ‘Alas poor Fanny’s lemon sable’ as a nod to Mrs Soane’s dog, buried in the yard of the house, with a headstone bearing the same words. Finally, a nicely piquant ‘Grand Tour’ rhubarb and ginger trifle reminds us that much of Soane’s inspiration came from a Grand Tour lasting three years. Intended to be funded from a £60 a year scholarship, Soane ended up £120 in debt at the end of the trip – a fortune in those days.
Two pots of tea each (I’m drinking white tea while Madeleine has opted for Assam from a short list of possibilities) complete our afternoon. Service is exemplary and the Gothic Victorian surroundings evoke times past. It’s a decadent and glamorous treat, one I highly recommend. Afternoon tea starts at £29 – with the cocktail it is £40.
Entry to the John Soane museum is free, provides context and makes a worthwhile digression.
The Gilbert Scott
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
Disclaimer: We were invited to tea at the Gilbert Scott for the purpose of writing a review. All views are editorial.