The Ivy – Kensington Brasserie
96 Kensington High St,
Afternoon Tea: £19.75pp* (optional 12.5% surcharge)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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