Monthly Archives: May 2019

Afternoon tea at Checkmate Restaurant at The Park International Hotel review – Kensington

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Checkmate Restaurant – The Park International Hotel

17-129 Cromwell Road, London SW7 4DS
Tel: +442073705711
Email: reservations@parkinternationalhotel.com
Afternoon tea & glass of prosecco: £16.95* per person

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Hello fan! It occures to me that Scones in the City is the definition of the wait-hours-for-one-bus-then-three-come-all-at-once adage. For ages I will be unable to post anything due to various commitments (career, other writing projects, hiding indoors to avoid neighbours who might want to become friends so I’ll take in Amazon packages for them etc.), then I will suddenly be struck by the urge to eat everything and take fifteen-hundred photos to mark the occasion. May is that kind of month. The sunshine has encouraged me to venture away from my bumper boxset of The Durrells and indulge my passion for copious cups of tea and delightful dainties. Hence my visit to The Checkmate Restaurant; a hop, skip and a stumble from Gloucester Road tube station in Kensington.

I reserved my table through AfternoonTea.co.uk, a godsend for the dedicated teaholic which saw me reserve my table, put in my special requirements, travel to the hotel and sit down for my booking within the space of an hour-and-a-quarter. It is often thought (quite wrongly) that afternoon tea is reserved only for special occasions and needs to be pre-booked well in advance. With certain establishments this is true, but when the mood strikes and you want to lavish yourself with brightly coloured nibbly things on impulse, I highly recommend a browse through the database of AfternoonTea.co.uk, especially if you want to keep to a budget or just fancy a spontaneous spot of fun near to where you happen to be.

And now that I’ve thanked the website and given them a good plug without any remunerative benefit for yours truly (if you’re reading this, AfternoonTea.co.uk pixies, feel free to lavish me with freebies for my promotional efforts on your behalf. I’m open to all bribes and can easily be brought with fudge) we can discuss the tea itself, which I must say has been one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve experienced since starting this blog.

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First impressions of Checkmate at Park International are highly positive. The interior is smart and modern without being clinical, whilst the classic soul/blues soundtrack and pictures of Bobby Fischer out-nerding Boris Spassky in the 1972 quest to find the world’s greatest chess playing social misfit gives the dining area a comfortable, quirky edge. With few fellow diners it feels as though the waiter is actually happy to have me here so he has something to do. This manifests itself in perfect service as he guides me through the various loose leaf tea options (I select a Afternoon tea blend which is lovely and comes with all the usual tea time accoutrements i.e. a sieve) and provides me with additional hot water without me even asking for it. Clearly he is used to loiterers and has me pegged as one from the start, all of which is fine with me. I’m here for the long haul and I can squeeze a lot of life from these loose leaves. Keep the H20 flowing, my fine fellow! This is brilliant, and to my surprise, it gets even better.

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Firstly, the presentation is perfect. Everything is fresh and clean and elegantly laid out. The Prosecco – even for a non-drinker like me who once tried to dilute champagne by holding a glass of it under a cold tap – is pleasant and a welcomed addition to a tea that would still be good and reasonably priced without it, especially when you consider that in certain establishments in London you can pay more for a glass of fizz than what this tea costs in its entirety. The fact that it tastes devine and not like something you could use to clean submarines is another unexpected bonus.

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The food is excellent and beautifully presented on a sleek three-tier stand. The four finger sandwiches consist of cumcumber, salmon and chicken mayonnaise, an absolutely delicious choice and of which I was able to indulge twice as the restuarant was happy to substitute the normal option of egg for my preferred choice of extra chicken. They were fresh and filling and the perfect amount for one person.

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The two decent sized plain scones are served warm with hearty helpings of thick clotted cream and sweet strawberry jam. If one was to be petty I could say the scones were a little brittle and broke apart when I cut through them, but this doesn’t detract from their perfect consistency on the inside and how tasty they were once loaded with copious amounts of jam and cream. They were lovely, and as I sat scooping up the remaining jam and cream with my fingers and tranferrering it directly into my mouth, I can only say that they were delicious and that I am a total embarrasment to go out to dinner with.

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If one was also being petty, one could also say that there are not enough sweet treats included. Actually, after a generous round of savouries and two scones buried under spoonfuls of rich cream and sticky strawberry jam, these small but delightfully designed desserts were more than enough to round off this tea perfectly. The dainty, lego-brick-sized chocolate and coffee bite is rich without being sickly, the mini blueberry muffin is sinfully sweet and as light as a feather, while the berry mousse square is fluffy and fruity and a lovely way to finish what has been a truly delightful afternoon tea. Everything from the surroundings to the presentation to the quality of the food and beverages has been exceptional, and only goes to emphasize everything that was wrong with the afternoon tea served at The Cinnamon Restaurant at Canary Wharf (see previous post).

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Of course, each tea is unique and each location is different – this blog would be awfully boring if they weren’t – but to enjoy a lovely, well-priced, perfectly designed tea like this after the sub-par snooze-a-thon that was The Cinnamon Restaurant last Sunday just goes to show that higher costs do not always equate to a better experience. Checkmate at Kensington has been a joy and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Verdict: excellent quality, gorgeous food, charming service and fabulous value. 5/5 teacups (and a milk jug, saucer, teapot and sugarbowl. Loved it)

*prices correct as of 18.05.19

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

Afternoon tea at Cinnamon Restaurant & TwoRuba Bar review – Canary Wharf

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Hilton London Cinnamon Restaurant

Canary Wharf, South Quay, Marsh Wall, London E14 9SH
Tel: +442030022445
Cinnamon.canarywharf@hilton.com
Afternoon tea £19.00*
Served 12:00 – 16:00 Monday to Friday
Served 13:00 – 16:00 Saturday & Sunday

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Happy Sunday folks! My report today comes from the mini Mahattan that is Canary Wharf, the glass and steel and metal metropolis of bankers, journalists and others who turn up as the lead story on the news for doing something dubious. I don’t get on with Canary Wharf. Essentially it is a large Meccano set which shows no signs of ever being completed, or to recycle an observation from Karl Pilkington “a massive game of Jenga that has got out of hand.” This remark may not have been directed at Canary Wharf but it still possesses all the architectural merit of a Ikea bookcase being thrown into a skip. It improves at night. Taking the Emirates cable car from Royal Victoria to North Greenwich after dark shows these glittering edifices to their best advantage, and is even better for the fact that you are looking across at it as opposed to walking around it, which makes me feel like Emmet going to work in Bricksburg in The Lego Movie.

But everything here is not awesome. Things are average at best, and so we come to afternoon tea at the Cinnamon Restaurant, Hilton London. Now it should be noted that I wasn’t in the best mood to begin with. I was wearing shoes that were rubbing my heels, I got lost when the Sat Nav on my phone mistook my for Jesus and plotted me as standing in the middle of the Thames, I was boiling hot and I couldn’t get through to the hotel to tell them I might be late and not to give away my table (unlikely as both guests and staff could have all gone home in the same G-Wiz). Already on the back foot, I was looking forward to being overwhelmed with gorgeous food created with the upmost care and attention. After all, its The Hilton! They’re a world-beating brand synonymous with style and quality, right?

Then I remembered ‘Hilton’ is often proceeded by ‘Paris’, and it went steadily downhill from there.

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Now, techically there is nothing wrong with this tea. The restaurant itself is bright and clean with bland mood music playing in the background that no one listens to or is even vaguely entertained by. The layout offers stunning views of the D8 bus stop and the underside of the DLR track. The staff are friendly (when you can find them) and accomodated my request for no egg mayonnaise to be served, showing they are happy to tailor the tea to fit with customers preferences. There is free Wi-Fi which the hostess happily supplied the log-in details for, my pot of Twinnings Green tea was on the table within two minutes of me placing my order (though milk was served with it, suggesting they might not know much about the tea experience they are selling) and the tableware was spotless. Then came the food, which was uninspiring to say the least.

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To say the sandwiches are underwhelming is a understatement. A collection of ham & cheese, salmon and… er, strawberry jam and cheese (I tasted cranberries and thought a cheese slice had been mistakenly added instead of turkey, but no, this was the taste explosion they were going for), the bread was dry, the cheese had a distinct Kraft texture to it (i.e. plastic with no flavour) and the latter combination of jam and cheese made me feel slightly queasy. I don’t know if this was made last minute to substitue for the egg I didn’t want, but there is both a Subway and a Tesco right next door. If you have run out of ingredients just pop in there, buy a BLT and cut it into quarter’s. I’m not that fussy. Don’t make something a mother wouldn’t put in a toddlers lunch box and think you’re providing a gastronomic treat. You’re not Heston Blumenthal, and to be honest I’d rather eat calf brain custard. At least some thought went into that.

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Strawberry jam and cheese sandwich. Served with a straight face by staff who think this is worth paying a service charge for

The large fruit scone is served warm with strawberry perserve and cream, a use for jam that actually does work and doesn’t stick out like a nun in a brothel. It’s nice and filling, and after the tasteless savories is much appreciated, but it is still all very by-the-numbers and dull.

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Then comes the desserts. Many years ago I wrote a not-particularly glowing review of Mason Blanc, Chiswick (now defunct. I hope my review didn’t contribute to its downfall, though given the food I’m not altogether surprised). In it I complained about the slapdash nature of the tea, saying that their collection of sweet treats were simply small chunks of cake cut off a larger cake with a blunt knife and a lack of imagination. To me this was a cheap way of filling a plate and showed that no special thought or effort had gone into making the tea special. The Cinnamon Restaurant tea is yet another example of lazy catering, only here the chunks of cake have shrunk into slivers.

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Comprising of poppy seed cake, almond slices, chocolate walnut brownies and fruit cake, they are all quite nice but very, very ordinary. There is no great display of colour or creativity. It is workman-like and basic and ultimately quite boring. However, the panacotta with summer berry compote is a delight and definitely the highlight of this very disappointing experience, made all the worse by the hostess telling me that I can’t take any of the remaining cakes home as they have no boxes or bags to put them in. Again, this shows a complete lack of thought or planning, and fills me with the determination to sit here stubbornly demanding extra water for my tea as they set up every other table except mine for the dinner service. I will finish what I paid for whilst enjoying the view of the Crossharbour buses passing by. Looking out for them has been far more interesting than looking at this tea.

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Verdict: In the dictionary under ho-hum there is a picture of this tea. Bland and utterly forgettable. 2/5 teacups (half of that score is purely for the panacotta)

*Prices correct as of 12.05.19

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