The Heights – St Georges Hotel
14 Langham Place
Tel no: 02075800111
Afternoon tea £16.50* (12.5% service charge not included)
Served everyday between 12:00pm – 17:00pm
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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