The Greedy Gluttons Guide to Winter Wonderland – Hyde Park

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Happy 2019! As the season of goodwill draws to a close and we shudder at the prospect of a cold, grey, interminable January, let us bask in the dying embers of Christmas. For this I have ventured into London’s very own Pleasure Island, the only difference being that it is often the adults left feeling like donkeys. It is a festive fairyland of candyfloss and chocholate dipped churros; where one 90 second ride on a rollercoaster costs that of three Tesco meal deals and tellers at the hook a duck concession give you a death stare when you dare to ask for change from a ten pound note. But it is an annual event, and somehow in the depths of my Grinch-sized heart I still find myself smiling fondly at children, staring agog at chair-o-planes and trying on novelty earflap hats to see if bobbles suit me yet. I also go for the food, so let me take you on a culinary tour of Winter Wonderland 2018: where the air smells of sugar and the ground is littered with discarded donuts.

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Chocolate fountains. Like the Trevi fountain you are not allowed to paddle in them

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Hot whiskey, or Irish coffee without the coffee as it should be called. Small cup: £5.95

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Shameless product placement

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Cadbury’s hot chocolate hut

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I know what you’re thinking: where are the sprinkles? Simple. Break the flake up. £4.00

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I really need to set this as the wallpaper for my home page

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Churros with sugar and cinnamon. Not bad for a stretched-out donut

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Kitty Kat Coffee. Many, many jars of sprinkles

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Vast array of green tea available at Kitty Kat Coffee. I’ll have all of them. With cream. And syrup. And sprinkles. £2.00

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Cave of wonders

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Mmmmmm… donuts

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Doughy, sugary, gooey goodness

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Mini pancakes with Golden Syrup masquerading as maple syrup. If you think there is no difference I can tell you there is a very, very, VERY big difference

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A lot of waffle

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50 million E numbers can’t be wrong

I hope you have enjoyed this trek through the ultimate foodie funfare. Have a fantastic new year filled with scones and jam and lots and lots of nibbly things. Till next time, teaholics xx

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Christmas at Simpson’s in the Strand – Covent Garden

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Simpson’s in the Strand

100 Strand

London

WC2R 0EW

Tel no: 020 7420 2111

simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk

Feliz Navidad! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Merry jingle bells to all, and to all a good fight. Or night. Or indeed fight if you are a fan of Eastenders Christmas specials. ‘Tis the season to be stuffed with turkey, bombarded with sprouts and feel your arteries clog with rivers of brandy butter and pouring cream. I once heard a rumour that Christmas was actually a sacred religious festival, but thanks to M&S, John Lewis and rolling coverage of the DFS Boxing day sale we are now able to forget all that pesky business regarding our Lord and Saviour and get down to the true meaning of Christmas: gout. Yes, folks, ’tis the season of chocolate, indigestible puddings and pigs wrapped in thinner slices of pig. It is therefore necessary to wander off the beaten track to bask in the wonder of this most calorific of occasions. Man cannot live by scones alone. So let me treat you to a photographic feast for the mince pies. I bestow upon you that most precious gift: an entire Christmas dinner without any of the washing up. You can thank me later.

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Cream of lobster soup with Chervil cream cheese poured from a teapot. Beats slopping out of a tin into a saucepan

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Puff pastry steak & kidney pie, whipped potato, peas and gravy. For the anti-Xmas rebels amongst us

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Roast Norfolk bronze turkey carved at the table, roast & mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, pigs in blankets, chestnut stuffing, cranberry, bread sauce and gravy

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Not so much hitting a food wall as smashing into it at 100 miles an hour

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Chocolate and mandarin trifle with chocolate custard, mandarins and Grand Marnier Chantilly. If I had chosen the pudding I would have exploded à la Mr Creosote

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Green tea and complimentary mince pies. I will force these down if it kills me, which it very probably will

So there we have it, folks. Christmas courtesy of Simpson’s on the Strand. Let me take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Merry Christmas and an extremely Happy New Year. May 2019 be filled with tea, cakes and plenty of cherry and almonds scones. Till next time, teaholics xxx

 

Scones In Another City: The Hassler Review – Rome

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Hassler Bistrot At Saline Eva

Piazza della Trinità dei Monti, 6, 00187

Traditional Afternoon tea €32*

+39 06 699340

www.hotelhasslerroma.com

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The pièce de résistance of all tea travels throughout the city, the Hassler stands as Rome’s most luxurious hotel. A favourite of Audrey Hepburn, I attempt to channel my inner Princess Anna/Holly Golightly by indulging in the best afternoon tea the city has to offer, though a severe cold and hacking cough leaves be sounding more like Eliza Doolittle. However, for the first time during my trip scones are back on the menu, and this time they come with a choice of blackcurrant jam and orange marmalade, a personal favourite. Plus, as I have dined at the hotel in a non-tea capacity on the previous trip I know that the service is excellent, the surrounding are sumptuous and the food is lovely.

20181130_165442There is however a price to be paid for such luxury. Whereas the afternoon tea at €32 is reasonable in comparison with many teas served in London, a single serving of tiramisu is €23, a price that can only be justified if it is sprinkled with gold dust and they gift you the cutlery as you leave. The tea therefore is all the more desirable.

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The sandwiches are just enough for one person, the tea – a pot of refreshing green followed by a peppy lemon and ginger infusion to sooth my burning throat – was warming, and while the scones are quite small and the fruit option was not available as advertised, they are served warm and with ample helpings of fresh cream and preserves. We are also treated to small slices of chocolate and lemon cake, decorated with raspberries and blueberries to bump up my vitamin C intake.

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The menu also talked of madeleines but these were unavailable during my visit. Normally this would be disappointing as it often suggests a lack of preparation or care in delivering the menu as promised, but here the staff were so accommodating that not only did they apologize for the omission but also provided an extra plate of sandwiches, a second plate of scones AND reduced the cost of the tea to that of their standard cream tea option (€18). This was a wonderful gesture but rather unnecessary, as the tea and the surroundings are more than worth the price and make this a warm and memorable experience.

Verdict: a lavish afternoon tea that all those venturing to the capital should enjoy. 5/5 teacups

*Prices correct as of December 2018

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Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

Scones In Another City: Babington’s Tea room Review – Rome

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Babington’s Tea Room
Piazza di Spagna, 23, 00187
Aunty Annie’s Afternoon Tea €17*
+39 06 678 6027
 https://www.babingtons.com/it

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Located at the foot of the Spanish steps Babingtons was founded in 1893 as a stop off for homesick English travelers craving a nice cup of tea and “none of this foreign muck”. The result is a charming relic of Victorian splendour. Waitresses attend the tables in outfits last seen on Downton Abbey serving traditional British fare at untraditional British prices. However, the Aunty Annie tea includes a satisfying array of mignon cakes and biscuits, along and a pot of Babington’s unique blend tea. I opted for the Babingtons Blue Lady scented tea, a subtle green tea lightly flavoured with cherry, strawberries and figs. As this tea on its own is €11 per pot it is definitely worth investing a little extra to have a proper tea experience.

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If you would like to add a little vitamin C to your diet, freshly squeezed orange juice is available at Babington’s at an eyewatering €9, though as this was amongst the nicest juices I have ever tasted I will recommend a glass with a couple of straws to go around.

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Verdict: Expensive but a tea stop in Rome not to be missed. 4/5 teacups

*Prices correct as of 28/11/2018

Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

Scones In Another City: A glorious glutton’s guide to Rome

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Greetings from Italy. Yes folks, the news that no one but me was looking forward to: Scones in the City has gone international. As I conduct my version of the grand tour (more tea, less syphilis) I will endeavour to inspire envy in my readers with updates on all the tea sipped, scones snaffled and goodies gorged on in a culinary trip to my stomach’s spiritual heartland. And as this truly is nirvana for the most glorious of gluttons, please expect scenes of gratuitous pasta and pizza along the way. Keep checking for regular updates. Arrivederci, teaholics

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Chamomile tea and cinnamon biscuits at Trappizzino, Piazza Trilussa, 46, 00153. The perfect rest stop after teetering across cobbles for three hours

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Cocktail O’clock. Tequila Sunrise &; Strawberry Daiquiri. La Biga Al Colosseo, Via Nicola Salvi, 65, 00184. I can’t attest to the food but at €8 per cocktail it is easy to get very, very merry very, very quickly

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Overlooking the Colosseum at La Biga. Green tea to dilute the alcohol

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Cocktail O’clock. Theatre Cafe, Via Quattro Novembre, 157A, 00187. Strawberry Daiquiri and Aperol Spritz €8 each. A dessert in themselves

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€7 espresso shot at Caffe Greco with complimentary chocolate. (I can’t justify the price but I can sweeten it a little). As a dedicated teaholic I couldn’t distinguish good coffee from liquefied horse manure. However, the presentation is lovely, the staff are immaculate, the decor is charmingly ye-olde worlde, and if I am going to throw back a thimbleful of bitter sludge I can think of nowhere nicer. The perfect stop after visiting The Keats–Shelley Memorial House, the former frequenting the caffe whilst living beside The Spanish Steps

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BiblioBar, Piazza Adriana, 4, 00193. The perfect combination of books and beverages overlooking Castel Sant’Angelo. Outside seating provides romantic views and, most importantly, refreshing green tea and nibbles after a  frantic magnet search at the stalls along the Tiber

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Delights of the BiblioBar. No wonder half the world’s bird population turned up

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Seating at the back of the BiblioBar. Robins and pigeons waiting to swoop on my blackberry jam tart

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My follow diners at Bibliobar. The stuff Hitchcock films are made of

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Trippa Alla Romana at Campo de’ Fiori. I approached this the way campmates approach kangaroo testicles during jungle challenges. The constant reminders of what tripe is coupled with the unpleasant honeycomb texture does not inspire confidence. However, in the spirit of carpe diem, when in Rome and other motivational nonsense I decided to give it a try. The result: bland, chewy nothingness. It isn’t even interesting enough to be bad. Oh well, as Caesar once said; I came, I saw, I masticated for 30 minutes

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La Bottega Del Cioccolato, Via Leonina, 82, 00184. A delightful cross between the candy store at the beginning of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and La Céleste Praline from the novel Chocolat

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The Mouth of Truth going straight into my mouth from La Bottega Del Cioccolato. Gregory Peck not included

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Panetteria Romana, Via della Lungaretta, Trastevere

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Takeaway chocolate rum balls, Panetteria Romana

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Angela’s House chicco di grano (Via di S. Vincenzo, 14, 00187). I recommend the mountains of pineapple and hazel gelato

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‘Happy Tea’ time at “La Fenice” (Via Francesco Crispi 68). A soothing pot of Orange pekoe and delightful collection of biscuits for a impressive €10. The chocolate rum ball is a particular delight

Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

The Berkeley – Knightsbridge

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The Berkeley

Wilton Place

Knightsbridge

SW1X 7RL

Tel: +44 (0)20 7107 8866

http://www.the-berkeley.co.uk 

Prêt-à-Portea £52pp* (12.5% service charge not included)

Prêt-à-Portea served 1pm – 5.30pm

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Back with a bang! If you are to venture back into the heady world of afternoon tea reviews (hello fan, and hello to Jason Issacs) what better place to begin than with The Berkeley and their fashionista-inspired afternoon ‘Pret-a-Portea’. As puns go, this is one of the more bearable. Located in Knightsbridge – home to Harrods, Harvey Nichols and people inexplicably taking pictures of cars pulling up at the lights on Sloan Street – this stylish hotel offers a unique take on the standard afternoon tea with sumptuous savouries, exquisite desserts and waiting staff so attentive that you wouldn’t mind taking them home so they could help you concoct a plan to steal the moon.

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Tea is taken in the Collins room, a tranquil dining area with plush chairs and non-descript muzak playing in the background. The staff are smartly attired, charming and extremely helpful in assisting with your menu choices. They are happy to talk; to explain each and every sandwich filling; every ingredient in the savoury treats; how each delicate cake and biscuit is modelled on what (insert name of pouty stick insect here) wore on that catwalk of (insert name of fashion hotspot where bulimia is in but Primark leggings are out) and how the designer (insert name of someone I might have once heard mentioned in Sex And The City here) oversaw this season’s collection of iced biscuits. This is 5 star service, and I appreciate the enthusiasm, but as I thought Moschino was a type of cherry showing me pictures of young girls in pan stick and glorified painting smocks does little to excite me. A dislike of talking to people outside of a job where I am contractually obliged to feign interest in the humans doesn’t help matters either. I would be more likely to pay the service charge if they promised to stop.

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However, despite this futile attempt to engage me in my surroundings (the fault is all mine. I came for sugar and sweet things), I can report that this was an extraordinarily fun and delightful experience. The savouries are plentiful and my request during the online booking process for a egg mayonnaise-free existence was adhered to. There are a range of moreish finger sandwiches and a selection of appetizers served in small serving dishes including seared yellowfin tuna, Cornish crab with lemon emulsion and smoked duck with brioche (I also sampled a quinoa option which was very… well, quinoa-ry), However, as the menu is amended in accordance with the changing fashion seasons (i.e. when we stop/start turning the radiator on) and nothing ages a blog post more than a blow-by-blow account of food that is no longer available to eat, I would advise checking out the official website for the latest changes to the menu. You will also be able to read through their extensive list of teas. It is worth noting that while a number of other blog posts mention that tea is unlimited and the menu itself does not allude to the precise number of pots included, do check with the waiting staff exactly how many you are entitled to before incurring any unexpected additional costs. I indulged in blackberry, lemon & ginger, vanilla and green sencha before being told that two pots was the usual limit, though additional charges were wavered when my eyes bulged from their sockets and I began to apologies frantically for my piggish behaviour. However, each pot is brewed to perfection and elegantly served in charming Wedgewood China, adding that extra touch of style to the proceedings.

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Of course, to some extent these are but a prelude (though an exceptionally flavoursome one) to the main attraction. This tea is one of the most outstanding owing to the artistry, whimsy and creativity of the desserts. It is the skill and presentation of these beautiful creations that elevates The Berkeley from the luxurious into the realm of the truly unique. There is a genuine sense of excitement upon finishing the savoury part of the tea and waiting for the delivery of the three tiered stand (I found myself diverting my eyes from other tables so it wouldn’t spoil the fun of seeing it as it arrived at mine. At 31 this doesn’t sound charming so much as childish, but what the heck), and there is fun to be had reading the extensive list of designers who have attached their names to apricot sponges and berry compote, Aruna Seth and Richard Quinn and other people I’ve never heard of contributing Victoria Sponge handbags and black forest gateauxs while the likes of Versace and Dolce & Gabbana branch out into the cake trade with designs that cause a stab of pain at the prospect of doing something as uncouth as eating them. Yet design as not eclipsed flavour, and each of these delightful confections succeeds in being both aesthetically pleasing and delicious in equal measure. There is both style and substance in this joyful afternoon tea, and when combined with the surroundings and the exceptional service this is an experience that shouldn’t be missed by any teaholic. And because a picture is worth a thousand words (or 901 if we must split hairs) I leave you with what remains once the edible bathing suit has been consumed.

Verdict: Unique and utterly delightful. 5/5 teacups.

*Prices correct as of 24.9.18

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Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

The Heights – Saint Georges Hotel – Regents Park

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The Heights – St Georges Hotel

14 Langham Place

W1B 2QS

www.saintgeorgeshotel.com

Tel no: 02075800111

Afternoon tea £16.50* (12.5% service charge not included)

Served everyday between 12:00pm – 17:00pm

 

The Heights Afternoon Tea

I have been told off by my fan for neglecting my duties as reviewer and expert on all things tea roomy. ‘You’re hardly going to get book deals and a show where you travel round England in a Morris Minor testing peppermint tea at this rate.’ My pace, admittedly, can be slow owing to other writing and work commitments that don’t allow me to lounge all day in 40’s style cafes daintily sipping on Spode ware and nibbling homemade Jammy Dodgers. What my fan fails to understand however is that while my blog may stall, my appetite only grows with every coconut macaroon consumed. I am insatiable. I think about cakes whilst in the middle of eating one. I plot the next destination on my odyssey while being directed to the table in the current one. I am doing all I can to eat my body weight in tea cakes. It’s just that the eating is rather getting in the way of the writing. We comedic geniuses need sustenance, and sometimes in our haste we forget to bring a notepad.

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The “cosy” surroundings

So I return with a review of The Heights restaurant at the Saint Georges hotel, and it does not get off to the most auspicious start. It is a last minute decision based on seeing the words ‘Afternoon’ and ‘tea’ on the same strategically paced billboard outside. I have a bucket list of places that I absolutely and positively must visit, and have built up such expectations for some that they could not possibly live up to my exacting standards in real life (it involves rivers of chocolate and liquorice lampposts and flamingos serving drinks, so you see the problem) but I am easily drawn off course by something that my finely tuned antennae has previously failed to pick up on. I’m not overwhelmed with where I have been deviated to. The hotel has, if not a run-down feel, then a careworn ‘Crossroad’ motel feel; a tired, “that’ll do” atmosphere that suggests a overnight stay wouldn’t exactly be a jump in a ball pool. I sense Gordon Ramsey in his laughably pointless ‘Hotel Nightmares’ would be swabbing the skirting boards and air conditioning units and not at all liking the results.

But this is conjecture, and not relevant to the matter in hand. Appearances can be deceptive, and while I question if this is the best face it could be showing to the public (the bathrooms are a stylistic cross between faded 1920’s glamour and vivid 1940’s bomb damage) the restaurant on the upper level does offer a very attractive selling point. It isn’t the décor, which reminds me of the dining area of a wacky warehouse restaurant just outside Aston-Under-Lyne. Nor is it the music, an eclectic (with the emphasis very much on mental) smorgasbord of jazz, lift muzik, watery cover versions that weren’t that great when sung by the origin artist and an orchestral version of that good old fashioned summertime smash ‘Good Kind wenceslas’ (I should point out that though this summer has been fairly hit and miss the tops of my legs are sticking to enough leather upholstered furniture to know that this is not the right time for Now! That’s what I call Xmas to be on the shuffle option). What it does offer is a sublime view over central London, in particular the architectural brilliance of the BBC building crafted by everyone’s favourite child molester and dog botherer, Eric Gill (to paraphrase the famous line from the never popular ‘Field of Dreams’: ‘if the pervert builds it, the perverts will come’). It is a truly glorious view, and I deliberately pick a small table by the window in order to enjoy this panoramic aspect of my beloved city. I suspect I also choose this location so I can shrug later and comfort myself with ‘well, that wasn’t great, but it was worth it for the view.’ I’m seeking a consolation prize long before I know what the outcome will be.

The Heights Afternoon Tea

The view overlooking Broadcasting House. The perfect designer for the perfect corporation

I need not have worried. Or maybe I did. Maybe by mentally setting the bar low I was allowing them to leapfrog over it, making the experience that much more enjoyable. Firstly. I am served the tea on a stand. An actual stand. Those of you who have been following this blog over the recent months (WordPress stats tell me I’m quite big in Finland. Hei, ystava, and thanks for all the herrings) I am always a little peeved at the substitution of the customary stand in favour of a vast array of chopping boards, ceiling tiles, roof slates and other equipment foisted onto the singleton diner in lieu of the traditional (and, let’s face it, far more photogenic) stand. It is a war I doubt I will win, and I am always intrigued by the new and imaginative ways people waste their time trying to deviate from a norm that is perfectly lovely just as it is. Secondly, and this sounds rather sad even by my own easily enchanted standards, there is a shortbread served with the tea, a nice if slightly lukewarm pot of English Breakfast (other teas are available and will be sampled in due course, just is case people felt that my preference for the humble British brew was some sort of subliminal nationalism with undercurrents of UKIP). This is not particularly important, but I feel that the inclusion of a small biscuit or amoretti, even if left untouched on the saucer by the recipient, suggests that some thought has gone into the presentation and enjoyment of the beverage by those who serve it. Thirdly, the food is really rather gorgeous.

The Heights Afternoon Tea

Nothing like a good book to set the tone. Unfortunately this wasn’t one of them. The front cover was cute though

The smell of warm scones wafting across the table as the tray is served is a sensory delight. On a par with the smell of bacon drifting up the stairs on a Saturday morning (just before the less pleasant smell of smoke and burnt pan handles when you remember you’ve gone back to bed and left the hob unattended), and having specifically requested that egg be excluded as I am dangerously allergic and will die from blocked airways if a shell is cracked within a mile of my vicinity (people are so fearful of lawsuits you can tell them you only drink liquid saffron served through a gossamer sieve and they’ll concede to your delusions) I enjoy a small but enjoyable collection of sandwiches ranging from mozzarella & cucumber, salmon and ham & tomato, complete with a small pile of leaves that those in the know will recognise as something called “salad”. Endowed with the baring of a walking toffee apple with two sticks, salad isn’t something I gravitate to, a kind of ‘get it over with’ dish that only serves as a side to something far superior. However, I do eat all the green things on this occasion, and they are as nice as any green things can be that you don’t want to eat but feel you should to make dessert a little more guilt free. Not that that is really a issue. Consuming a lifetimes supply of marrows, beats and broccoli won’t combat the effects of this particular sections of treats.

The Heights Afternoon Tea

Jam jam jam. Jam jam jam

Everyone knows that just looking at scones smothered in cream and jam can add an inch to the average waistline. Eating three of the little devils takes things into a new realm of gluttony. I’m not sure why there is three served to one person, nor would I ever question the reasoning behind such a fortuitous decision, but due to their size and light, warm texture they are put away in double quick time. There is however only a small gap left to accommodate what I now come to think of as afters.

The Heights Afternoon Tea

The greatest picture ever taken in the history of photography

This consists of the increasingly ubiquitous macaroons that are turning up on the top tier of many a china stand (or resting on the corner of a reconditioned paving slab, as the case may be), presumably to add a touch of continental glamour. Now, I’m not dissing macaroons. They are very nice. The most famous purveyors of these technicolour delights are of course Laduree, famous for the double decker variation and now flogging plastic souvenir key rings of their creations in Harrods at £15 a pop. They add colour and a touch of elegance to a afternoon tea, and depending on the flavour are more often than not very pleasant to eat. The problem I have is that they turn up with such regularity that the novelty of eating lightly flavoured puffs of air begins to wear thin.

The Heights Afternoon Tea

Sinful. All the best things usually are

Here I am served a trifecta of the blighters, pistachio, raspberry and coffee caramel. They sit in a trail of orange coulis besides a large chocolate and walnut brownie, the piece de resistance of the tea. Brownies, I find, require thought. When I am facing one I find myself mentally trying to compact what came before so as not to spend forty minutes slumped in a chair unable to move afterwards. It also demands to be nibbled. One cannot gobble a browning of such taste and richness in a couple of mouthful. No. Decorum requires that one cut small, manageable sections of it with the side of ones fork, thus prolonging the emotional and spiritual togetherness that exists between one woman and her dessert. Those of you who think that this is elevating pudding to ridiculous heights are probably right. However, when you base a kinda-sorta side-line vocation on what is essentially a B road to diabetes and a ballooning backside, you learn to wax lyrically about cake the way physicists discuss the importance of Higgs Boson. I also reserve the right the create rituals where none previously existed and to talk pretentiously in the third person to add statue to an issue that doesn’t have any status whatsoever. This is what will one day make me an expert in my chosen field and, as my fan pointed out, lead to untold riches as I bus around the south making a pot of Lapsang Souchong last two hours for television.

The Heights Afternoon Tea

However, I’m not sure that The Heights would make it to the final cut if it were to be reviewed on UK Obesity + 1 or whatever those obscure freeview channels are called. As enjoyable as it is, and as good as the food undoubtedly is, the prevailing sense that you are sitting in a neglected Travelodge on the edge of a motorway with a Little Chef across the forecourt isn’t inviting and doesn’t encourage you to linger, especially when the sun burns through the window and the blind unfurls only a quarter of the way down at a odd 45 degree angle. Still, at least the heat kept the scones warm.

Verdict: Good food and a perfect view let down by tired surroundings and bleak interiors. 3 / 5 teacups.

*Prices correct as of 28.8.16

Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

ROBA – Paddington

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ROBA

34 Norfolk Place

Paddington

W2 1QW

Afternoon tea: £14.95* (no service charge)

Booking may be required

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Afternoon tea on a chopping board. Where’s my three tier stand?

I am reliably informed by a number of windows using the England flag as a makeshift blind that sports season is upon us. I am also given to believe that summer, in theory at least, has officially started. It occurs in brief flashes between 16:00pm – 17:00pm, long after you have been caught in a downpour that causes your tights to cling to your legs and your hair to frizz into a style last modelled by Kate Bush in 1978. I reject both concepts. I don’t enjoy downing Piriteze like they are Smarties, nor did I appreciate England losing against an Icelandic 5-a-side team who formed the night before the match down the pub or the occasional cry of ‘Come on Tim!’ wafting across Wimbledon’s centre court by someone either desperate to be on TV or on a ten year time delay.
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So with this in mind I retreat indoors for tea and sandwiches garnished with that most inexplicable of foodstuffs: watercress. My oh my, how I wish someone would explain the reason for this innocuous weeds’ existence. I am convinced it is a plot by Flora to ensure their butter tubs get exposure on primary schools windowsills. However, with the weather being what it is (i.e. typically British) and life in general being rather strange at the moment, I expect others to be seeking refuge in this most comforting of traditions.
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Imagine my surprise then to observe that everyone taking tea in ROBA today could have all gone home in the same Dacia.
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The dining room. Yes, it is actually open

The dining room is immaculate. ROBA is part of the Norfolk Towers hotel, and is therefore like the dining room of every boutique hotel in the country: smart, modern, and utterly without atmosphere that it feels as though you are sitting in hermetically sealed Tupperware. This sounds like a complaint. Normally it would be, but nowhere is it written that afternoon tea must take place amongst doilies and mock Clarice Cliff china, anymore than it is compulsory to eat pasta in restaurants with photos of Sophia Loren and Al Capone decorating the alcoves (also avoid if they have murals on the walls depicting Tuscan seascapes. They are visual distractions to shift focus away from the bland Arrabbiata). The restaurant of ROBA is a bright, clean and trendy place to be, and so relaxed it verges on the catatonic.
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And then I hear something magical. The waitress – a charming woman who actually seems to enjoy what she is doing – informs me that if I would tea AND more sandwiches, all I have to do is ask. MORE FOOD? No questions asked? I love you, ROBA, and I want to come back every week for seconds and thirds till I have to be rolled through the door like Violet Beauregarde after she turns into a blueberry. Of course I have no way of knowing at this stage if I will want extra savouries or if I’d happily pay more to have them remove the food they have already given me, but my expectations have now been raised to ridiculous heights.
ROBA 1

The demon weed: watercress. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, HUH!

Thankfully for my stomach they don’t disappoint. The obligatory egg horror gives way to a hearty selection of salmon, cheese and tomato and a rather delicious cucumber and hummus option, but of course I must run the all-the-sandwiches-you-can-eat-until-you-explode-like-Mr-Creosote test. I therefore order two additional ham and mustard which, though my head is saying yes, my belly is saying ‘Oh God, no more, pleeeeese. We canna takes no more, Captain.’ It’s okay though. I’m on the cusp of the big 3-0. I don’t have to clear my plate or risk being sent off to bed without pudding. In fact, I could go completely mental and eat the mini éclair BEFORE I succumb to the hummus, but for me this would be a step towards pasting tin foil to the windows to stop the MI5 stealing my brain waves. It really does amaze me sometimes that I am able to walk properly given the broom handle I have permanently lodged up my backside.
ROBA 3

Scones under a blizzard of snow

The scones are big and warm and served with jugs of cream and rich strawberry jam (no, it isn’t pouring cream. I think they just ran out of pots). Yet it is the mini patisserie of cakes and éclairs and macaroons that my eyes are drawn to, complete with miniature bonsai trees used to decorate the (rather bland) lemon tart and spiced nut and raisin cake, while the display is given a liberal dusting of ice sugar. It is all very pretty and feminine, though I do take umbrage at the chopping board used in lieu of a stand. Presentation should never take precedence over taste and substance, and this certainly succeeds in the latter two qualities to ensure that this is a favourite of the teas I have indulge in so far in this scone-based odyssey, but given that for the two hours I am occupying chair space there are only two other ladies partaking of tea (leaving most of it untouched, the unappreciative wastrels) it would hardly have been a great sacrifice to have served mine in a similar manner to theirs. I just hope they gave the board a good going over with the Domestos first. Chocolate caramel brownie laced with Salmonella does not read well on a menu.
ROBA 5

A tiny blossom tree. Answers on a postcard as to why this was deemed necessary

Verdict: Excellent value for a delicious afternoon tea, though the atmosphere (or lack of it) may be too sterile for some.
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*Prices correct as of 16.7.16
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Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

 

Little Teas – Scoff & Banter – Covent Garden

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Scoff & Banter

20 Mercer Street

Covent Garden

WC2H 9HD

Cinnamon Caramel Crusted Toast: £5*

Pot of English Breakfast tea: £3.75* (optional 12.5% surcharge)

No booking required

 

Sending this report from the front line of Scoff & Banter, a restaurant in Covent Garden specialising in that most underwhelming of gastronomic choices: classic contemporary British. For those of you unaware of this seemingly oxymoronic cuisine, let me explain the concept in its most simplistic form:

 

1) Spread mashed spuds on top of chewy bits of undercooked mince = classic British fayre

 

2) Charge £12 for it, usually prefaced with “only” to give the illusion of good value  = Contemporary British prices

 

Bon appétit

 

Of course, I don’t agree with paying to eat food ironically. I don’t eat sausage and mash or fish fingers at home, so why I’d pay to eat them in public as though the entire concept of pasta has alluded me is something of a mystery (plus I don’t trust anything of an unnaturally orange hue. Equally applicable to both food stuff and humans). I do however like dessert, especially one that promises to combine cinnamon and caramel to shamelessly sugary effect.
Scoff2

I demand that this plate be filled with more blobs of ice cream. NOW!!!

The interior to S&B is plush and relaxed; purple velvet chairs and upholstered sofas with flower motifs and tea lights lit during the day which rather defeats the point of lighting a tea light to begin with. I – having been on a quest at Neil’s Yard Dairy to source North Staffordshire oatcakes – collapse into a chair and await my order, nibbling the complementary green tea biscuits served with my tea. Do you know that moment when you receive a free biscuit and suddenly you are revising your shopping list to include a box because you’ve forgotten that everything always taste better when its free? Well, green tea biscuits breach this convention. It’s not uncommon. Biscuits that harbour pretentions of health and well being often leave you feeling like a horse chewing through a nose bag of oats.
Scoff1

A weeks worth of sugar consumed in two minutes

The “toast” comes as something of a surprise. To be honest, I had expected to be served focaccia toasted into shrapnel with a caramel compote set to one side. What I actually receive is a crème brulee/ crème caramel / sponge cake delight with vanilla ice cream and a brittle sugar coating that glues my back molars together. Not toast. Definitely not toast. In fact in normal, pre-Scones in the City days I’m not sure if I would have considered this to fit into the category of afternoon tea at all. Yet it does feature tea, and it is taken in the afternoon, and it definitely is great, good and gooey, so it deserves to be recommended on sheer enjoyment and indulgence alone.

 

One thing I will not be recommending however is the God awful Wifi connection that works in intermittent bursts of thirty-second increments before cutting out for three minutes at a time. Damn you, The Cloud! Damn you to hell!

 

 *Prices correct as of 05.6.16

 

Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

 

The Ivy – Kensington Brasserie – Kensington

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The Ivy – Kensington Brasserie

96 Kensington High St,

W8 4SG

Afternoon Tea: £19.75pp* (optional 12.5% surcharge)

Booking Required

 

When you mention to people that you have recently taken afternoon tea at The Ivy, the response tends to be the same:

‘Ohhhhhh, that sounds posh.’

Do not be fooled by this innocuous remark. Assumptions have been made. These include but are not restricted to:

‘Ohhhhhh, lark lady muck here. Stuck-up mare.’

‘Here’s me on beans and she’s swanking it up in the West End. Stuck-up mare.’

‘Thinks she’s Eliza Doolittle after Higgins had a go at her. Stuck-up mare.’

‘Must be coining it in. Stuck-up mare.’

‘Bet she nicked the silverware. Stuck-up mare.’

Firstly, I need to point out that I do not consider having the occasional pot of tea served with sugar tongs to be the height of class distinction. Nor do I believe it elevates me onto a higher rung of the social ladder (it really doesn’t. Besides, some sugar cubes are a bugger to dissolve in hot water, and that’s just not groovy). Secondly – and I do need to stress this as I would rather like to remain in gainful employment – I’m not in the habit of smuggling forks or cruet sets out of restaurants hidden in my bra (not that there wouldn’t be ample room. There’s little else of any worth to fit in there).

Another misconception is that to partake in afternoon tea in such a renowned venue one must either be a) a EuroMillions winner, b) Bertie Wooster, or c) the idle wife of a wealthy stockbroker named Horatio. One expects gilt and opulence and flamingos serving drinks. Essentially, people assume that afternoon tea should be taken in surroundings not unlike the first class lounge of the Titanic before the upholstery got all soggy. If not, you’re throwing away twenty quid in order for someone else to bung the kettle on.

The ivy

The savory plate looking tragically bare. Tempted to eat the leaf printed onto the china

To be partaking of it in The Ivy adds a whole new level of glamour to the experience. Not genuine glamour. There is not a chaise lounge or cream satin slipper in sight. It is more the supposed allure of sitting beside Simon Cowell who may at some point ask to borrow the salt cellar. This is where I need to clarify for the purists that this is not the actual Ivy. I mean, it is The Ivy, but it isn’t The Ivy The Ivy, if you see what I mean which you probably don’t. This is, for the want of a better term, the little sister of its more famous and more established sibling. There are no celebs here on Kensington High Street (at least not on the day we visited). There are however a number of people who are not at all self-conscious about tying napkins around their necks whilst endeavouring to eat soup. Money cannot buy dignity but it does buy you the right to be unconcerned about the image you’re projecting, which in this instance is that the transportation of creamed mushrooms from bowl to mouth has you rather stumped.

I am with my companion who shall remain shameless. Enquiries earlier in the week suggested that we could secure a table on Saturday without needing to book in advance. All good and nice and lovely. Unfortunately my companion, beloved though she is, is not the best person to take along to a restaurant. This is not to suggest that she is in the habit of flicking peas across the room or asking if crayons are only given strictly to children. This is in reference to the infuriating habit she has of claiming to not be hungry during the ordering process, only to then be reminded that actually, all things considered, she is now ready to gnaw through the legs of the table as soon as my order has been delivered. And although she dislikes cake / cares little for macaroons / could not possibly eat cream due to the expanding nature of her thighs etc. we dutifully split the afternoon tea between us. Except for the lemon meringue. That is mine and mine alone on pain of death.

IVY 2

So little food, so much time

The tea itself consists of a small collection of savories; a smoked salmon blini (tiny but lovely); a cucumber and dill finger sandwich (as exciting a use of cucumber as you’re ever likely to find. Insert rude cucumber joke where applicable, like I just tried and failed to do) and a truffled chicken Gougère, something that sounds terribly sophisticated until you remember that it is a choux pastry ball stuffed with a chicken substance that isn’t altogether pleasant on the tongue.

Not to worry. As much as I adore a good Gougère (I’ll refrain from making a good finger joke, though I’ll smuggle the smut in via the brackets) there are scones to eat and copious amounts of camomile tea to consume. And drink it I do, as I seem to have stumbled on the world’s most resilient teabag, so resilient that it can withstand being dunked into four additional pots of hot water without losing any of its flavour (the Everlasting Gobstopper of the tea world) while my companion fills the table with jugs of cold water. I sense this is in the hope that it will dilute the effects of the clotted cream, but she does seem more interested in this then the prospect of fruit cake or lavender flavoured macaroons. Inherently suspicious of anyone who imbibes ice cubes as though they are a free dessert, she is however thrilled with the scones and a small dish of cut strawberries included on the side. We are not a simple people. We know what strawberries look like. We just like unexpected surprises in the form of sliced fruit.

Scones

One of your 5 a day. Very healthy

The desserts are a mixed collection of miniatures which – with the exception of the lemon meringue which I ate out of sequence as soon as the stand was delivered – we dutifully split between us in a way that would be frowned on if anyone was watching, which we quickly find there is. All the time. Waiters hovering and refilling water jugs and collecting knives four seconds after they have been laid to one side. This is apparently what passes for service, and is no way in indicative of the fact that actually, now that you are halfway through your lavender and almond macaroon and have satisfied your curiosity as to what fruit cake served with cheddar tastes like (answer: exactly like fruit cake. The strong taste of the former cancels out the effects of the latter. A shocking waste of good cheese) we would kindly like it if you and your respective derrières removed themselves from this establishment before a milk jug “mysteriously” goes walkabout. We all know what removing plates and other sundry accoutrements from a table means, just the same as we know what the stacking up of chairs means or the yawn from a hostess whose just finished dishing up the crème brûlée. It is a not-so subtle way of speeding you along. The fact that five minutes after my tea had been served our waiter was trying to remove my half-filled cup from the table once it was placed on the saucer only helps to confirm this.

Ivy

Before the lemon meringue pie went bye-bye. Definitely not marzipan on the fruit cake. Sob

Maybe that’s why I wasn’t as blown away by the experience as I had hoped to be. The surrounding are rich and decadent; the presentation is exquisite; the food, though not exception, is pleasant and done with style, and yet it is only really memorable for the overzealousness of the staff in wanting to pick things up and carry things away. I’m not suggesting that it is always elegant or proper to share a tea specifically designed for one person, but then what said person does with their Chocolate Opera cake after it has arrived at the table is their own business (for those not in the know, Chocolate Opera cake is essentially a miniature tiramisu where the wonderful word ‘tiramisu’ has been substituted for nonsense that conjures up images of women wearing breast plates and horned helmets). Or maybe I have misunderstood something. Maybe there was a kitchen shortage and they desperately needed to retrieve every plate, knife and napkin to ensure other diners didn’t go without. There were a lot of people ordering lamb that day. Maybe my napkin was required to avoid unfortunately gravy splashes.

Verdict: Old world style meets Ford production line efficiency. Technically good but rather heartless

*Prices correct as of 21.5.16

Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx