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Goûter at Sofitel London St James – La Vie Parisienne in London
While a Londoner at heart, France and in particular Paris has always had a special charm for me. Near enough to be accessible but glamorised by language, style and food, I grew up with aspirations to live and work there. On my first solo trip to Paris at the age of 11 or 12, I met my French friend and her father at Gare de Lyon. Dinner was at Le Train Bleu – to my eyes the epitome of chic decadence and all things French. I remember eating snails (Monsieur had something of a sense of humour) and steak frites. I remember the disgusting coffee. How could they manage to produce something so very different to the nice soothing cups of instant coffee I was occasionally allowed at home? Too polite to ask for milk I laced the small expresso cup with four or five sugar cubes. And drank VERY quickly.
French style is elusive. A certain way of wearing a scarf, consistently well manicured nails, heels that are high enough to show the curve of a calf but not to make the wearer visibly uncomfortable. And food that astonishes the tastebuds without over-indulging and ruining the figure. Afternoon tea is something which we like to ‘own’ in the UK, and yet I remember being taken for tea in Chambéry, near where my French friends spent their summer holidays. The windows of the tea room were filled, not with slices of Victoria sponge and chocolate cake but with delicate jewels – tiny biscuits and macaron, miniature cakes, all perfectly decorated and bowls of sugared almonds. Madame sipped on weak tea without milk and ate a macaron or two. But we were indulged with citron pressé and an ice-cream dessert called Mont Blanc – a base of meringue topped with ice-cream, marrons glacés puree, chantilly cream and a scattering of chopped marrons glacés.
The purpose of my trips to France was to improve my French. In that I failed dismally, my friends enjoyed trying out their English with me far too much for me to struggle with an alien tongue. So I never learnt that the French call afternoon tea ‘Goûter’. I do think, though, I learnt something of the French Art de Vivre through my trips to Savoie and Paris. And, so I was delighted to be invited to sample Goûter at Sofitel London St James, a charming hotel which somehow manages to infuse English hospitality with French Savoir-Faire. To make things better, the Goûters are from Maison Pierre Hermé – a wonderful selection of pastries and macarons from the ‘Picasso of Pastry’.
There are two set menus for Goûter, both priced at £25 per person – Quatre Heures, which is chocolate themed and Mogador, which takes one of Pierre Hermé’s best loved Fetish flavours – milk chocolate and passion fruit as its starting point. Each includes a brioche mousseline, sweet, light enriched bread. Choose Quatre Heures for a portion of a Praline Noisette, Pierre Herme’s own hazelnut praline – a delicious chocolate spread that I can eat by the spoonful given the opportunity. Or Mogador for a rich yet not overwhelming orange, apricot and pineapple jam. If I’m honest, I had favourites on each plate – the Sables Infiniment Chocolate from the Quatre Heures were delicate melt in the mouth chocolate shortbread pastries with a touch of fleur de sel, while the Mogador Goûter included some fabulous ganache bonbons flavoured with passionfruit and enrobed in milk chocolate. Hard to choose…so perhaps best to take a friend so you can share both menus.
There’s also an a la carte for those who prefer their own selection of cakes. These Mogador and Infiniment Chocolat Porcelana macarons are from the Mogador Goûter, but if your fetish is for macarons, you can simply order by the plateful.
If you are feeling decadent, then all of this can be served with a hot or cold dark chocolate drink (67% cocoa). Or a fragrant iced china tea with almonds, cardamom and jasmine. But, my preference was for the the Ispahan tea, a delicately flavoured black tea with rose, litchi and raspberry. It’s one of Pierre Hermé’s classic fetish flavours and, if like me, you fall in love with that particular heady mixture of flavours, pop into Pierre Hermé in Lowdes street or Selfridges and you’ll find all sorts of treats to take home including confiture and pate de fruits, perfect for a grown up stocking filler…
Goûter though should be seen as bit of self-indulgence French style. All this takes place in the Balcon, the elegant and charming restaurant at the Sofitel London St James – the perfect treat to relax after your Christmas shopping.
Sofitel London St James
6 Waterloo Place,
13 Lowndes Street,
Disclaimer: I enjoyed Goûter as a guest of Sofitel London St James and some of the photography here is courtesy of the hotel and of Pierre Hermé