London’s afternoon tea trade never ceases to amaze me with its reinvention and gimmicks, but recently I was reminded of the joy that a classic, properly put together afternoon tea can bring. Not a speck of novelty in sight, no quirky crockery, our afternoon tea at Flemings Mayfair Hotel with its menu crafted by Shaun Rankin of Ormer Mayfair was all about the fundamentals; fresh sandwiches, light scones, delicious cakes, and well-brewed tea. Pinkies out, ladies and gents, it was time to play make-believe and whisk ourselves back to those bygone eras where teas were always a commonplace and classy affair.
The decor of the Drawing Room in Flemings Mayfair is one worthy of a wide-eyed gaze, and I’m not even ashamed to admit that I may have let out a teeny tiny little gasp we as we stepped in. The walls of the Indian-inspired tea room are beautifully hand painted with scenes from ‘early India’ which contrasted nicely with striking teal seats which just envelope you as you sink into them. We settled snugly into our corner table, one of the best in the house in my opinion, with a glass of champagne and the extensive tea menu.
The Drawing Room only serves the finest teas from The East India Company, and alongside the other ten or so options, they’ve even teamed up to develop the signature blend black breakfast tea for the hotel! While that would certainly be my tea of choice in the morning, in the afternoon with my sandwiches and cakes, I prefer something lighter like a green tea with jasmine. Maybe it’s something drilled into me from years of family yum cha lunches, but I do find it more refreshing and aids digestion, which is quite sensible when there’s a tower of food in your future.
I always feel bad for the sandwiches; they’re literally the bottom of the pecking order in the afternoon tea hierarchy… no one’s really here for them, we’re fangirls for the scones and the cakes… the sandwiches are just there to make us feel less guilty about consuming more sugar than one would need in a week, let alone an afternoon. These precisely trimmed bread fingers and little brioche roll were filled with traditional combinations: egg mayonnaise and cress, mild cheddar and pickles, smoked Scottish salmon and cream cheese, ham and pesto, chicken and tarragon, all mostly good but they’ll never be the star attraction.
The cheddar and pickles surprised us by coming out as our top choice, while the ham and pesto proved to be the biggest disappointment to my ham-loving certain someone. His verdict was that the ham element was lost, while mine was that the bread was a touch too crusty. Despite having horrendous memories of being that girl who opened her lunchbox to unleash an egg sandwich bomb in the classroom, I’m quite fond of them now… the texture and balance of egg to mayonnaise in this one was spot on, however the roll, though cute as anything, was too dry!
Moving up in the afternoon tea world, we made it to the scones. We could launch into the age old ‘jam or cream first’ debate, but I’m from neither Devon nor Cornwall and I just plop them both on in fairly equal measure so it doesn’t matter much to me. Instead, lets focus on the scones themselves, probably the best we have ever had – not a statement either of us makes lightly. I’m not sure what secret recipe Shaun Rankin uses but they were surprisingly airy under that crust – all the satisfaction of gorging on a carb-lovers dream but with none of the stodge. At Flemings Mayfair, their scones are baked to order and the difference is evident!
And now for my favourite part of proceedings… the cakes! Have I mentioned only a million and one times that I’m a sucker for a sweet treat? A fiend for the sugar? A slave to confectionary? When I set my eyes on these top tier goodies, my heart skipped a beat and my stomach did a flip; these cakes were huge. Then I came back down to earth, counted them up and realised we weren’t getting a second plate of them… I was supposed to be sharing them with a certain someone. My greedy gut was momentarily disappointed but in all honesty, we barely had room between us for all of them so there was no way I could have devour them all alone.
We duly followed the recommendation to start with the passionfruit tart, a wise choice which gave our tastebuds a curt smack with its tart vibrancy. Which cake to tackle next required a bit more consideration… the pavlova, the Victoria sponge, or the profiteroles. In the end the pavlova was too tempting and I gleefully broke through the crisp meringue to reveal an oozy centre of strawberry cream and lemon verbena. So delightfully decadent, it actually defeated us and we were forced to save the other cakes for dessert that evening! I’m glad we didn’t abandon them in the Drawing Room as they turned out to be my favourites; a Victoria sponge so light and dreamy, and in stark contrast, a cluster of cherry and pistachio profiteroles covered in a caramel and chocolate were so sinfully sweet!
We’re actually overrun with choices for afternoon teas in London, there’s quite literally something for every taste, in every style but the ones that will never go out of fashion are the classic ones like this. When there are no gimmicks in the food, the whole experience must stand on its own two feet. Not all the sandwiches were perfect but as we moved up the tiers, everything got better and better, and throughout it all, the service was effortlessly professional. Explanations were delivered with enthusiasm, teas were topped up when they needed to be, and we were left to relax and chat for the rest of the time… no pushiness, no rushing… just as any good afternoon tea should be!
Who serves your favourite afternoon tea in London?
Thanks to Flemings Mayfair Hotel for indulging me in such a decadent afternoon tea, but as always, all opinions are mine and mine alone!
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