Checkmate Restaurant – The Park International Hotel
17-129 Cromwell Road, London SW7 4DS
Afternoon tea & glass of prosecco: £16.95* per person
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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