My mother loved to do tea anywhere we traveled. Of course, this was especially true anytime we were in London together. I find that I’ve ended up keeping up the same tradition without even realizing it, and each time I’ve visited this city, I try to find one afternoon, at least, when I can take time out for tea. Last time I was there, my friends raved about the service at Claridge’s. I tried, but couldn’t get a booking then. This time, I managed to get a seating on Friday afternoon.
From the minute you sit down at the table, the staff is by your side making sure that you are comfortable and familiar with this pastime associated with another era. You’ve stepped away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Oxford and Regent Streets and the beckoning luxury shops of this Mayfair neighborhood and into a quiet, serene world. To start, you can choose between a traditional Afternoon Tea or splurge a bit and go for the Champagne Tea. The first comes with sandwiches, sweets, and scones while the second has the same items plus a glass of champagne and an individual chocolate creation added to it as well. I opted for the Afternoon Tea.
Once you’ve decided which version of this respite to have, the next task is to pick out which tea to enjoy. The list of about 30 teas covers the globe as well as many varietals, including some exclusive ones like Royal White-Silver Needles. I picked out the Tregothnan one, which is English-grown from an estate in Cornwall that dates back several centuries. It is possible to change teas during your meal, so if you can’t decide between a couple of them, note the ones you’d like to try and talk to the server about sampling those as well.
Then, I needed to select which sandwiches to have. All of them are served on different varieties of organic bread. I went with the typical selection which had Smoked Salmon with an orange butter than went perfectly with the salty, smoky fish; Ham, butter, and watercress; Organic Roast Chicken with tomato; very English Cucumber with cream cheese; and my favorite Egg Mayonnaise and watercress. I was also able to try the vegetarian sandwich plate which had the last two of the above sandwiches plus a Red pepper and hummus; Cheddar cheese and chutney; and Mushroom and lettuce. The cheese one of those was my favorite as the chutney’s sweetness and hint of curry kick cut through the dairy fattiness of the cheddar.
After the sandwiches, I was brought a tray that included two types of scones with clotted cream and their own Marco Polo Tea Jelly. The fluffy scones were the traditional raisin and an apple one. I really enjoyed the contrast that tart green fruit slivers brought to the clotted cream that I dolloped on top of each half. I also put a generous helping of the jelly on top of that. The jelly gave a slightly sweet, floral, fruity essence to every bite of the scones and was a delightful combination with the buttery, rich cream and is exclusive to Claridges. When I discovered that I could buy a jar of the jelly in their gift shop, I snapped up a it so that I could re-create this experience back at home.
Along with the scones came two sweet treats. The one on the left is basically a millefeuille with vanilla bean-speckled pastry cream. Done wrong and these confections taste horrible, sort of like glue and cardboard put together. Done perfectly, as this one was, you get crisp, toasty puff pastry with delicately-flavored vanilla cream slathered between each layer. The star of this plate for me was, however, the Passionfruit Shot. So much beautiful, tropical flavor was came together in this small glass. I wish that all desserts could be this wonderfully constructed.
Burnt sugar style tuile pieces and cubes of fresh pineapple decorated the top of this dish. Then, the spoon touches the passionfruit mousse which has the exact right balance between fruit flavor and fluffy mousse-iness (combining cream, sugar, and eggs). As the fruit in its native state can be somewhat tart and acidic, the chef was a genius in bringing out the tropical, floral notes without those other features showing through. At the bottom of the glass, for that extra punch of flavor was a thin layer of passionfruit curd, further tying together the dish by going back for a sweet finish. I could have eaten a whole tray of these.
To say that it was a special experience to take tea at Claridge’s might sound a bit trite, but this was really one of the best and most enjoyable times that I have every had with this afternoon ritual. The food was fantastic and showed the care and craft that is a hallmark of the hotel. The music was lively but not intrusive at all. The staff was superb and attentive to everything, making sure that I and the other guests had everything that we needed so that we could enjoy taking a moment out to stop the world and relax. The lobby with Art Deco and Art Nouveau finishes brought together in modern harmony is an exquisite setting for any meal. Once I finished, I felt recharged and refreshed, ready to take on more of the adventures that London had to show me.