New? The festive afternoon tea is brand new and on the menu for a limited time only, following on from the success of the Paul A Young-designed chocolate tea in October and November.
Where? The InterContinental London Park Lane, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, W1J 7QY www.parklane.intercontinental.com
On the Menu: The traditional afternoon tea has had a festive makeover with spiced scones, turkey sandwiches and Christmas tea blends but is one for chocoholics too thanks to a plate of expertly crafted chocolate creations – the work of world-renowned chocolatier Paul A Young.
First Impressions: The hotel’s entrance is undeniably grand and decked out with tasteful Christmas decorations, including a huge tree by the reception desk. Curiosity led us round to the bar area, but we had to find a waitress and ask them to direct us as we weren’t quite sure where we were headed. Our coats were whisked away and we were seated swiftly but from this moment on it took about fifteen minutes for anyone to come over and offer us a drink, give us menus or acknowledge our arrival, which had we had a drink wouldn’t have been a problem but felt a bit strange with waiters bustling around us to serve other tables whilst ours sat empty.
The Look: The tea takes place in the hotel’s Wellington Lounge which is inviting, cosy and elegant, clad in neutral cream tones with a statement wall of birch-printed wallpaper. On our table was a vase of yellow berries – a nice festive touch. In addition to a couple of sofas which would be ideal for larger groups, the chairs that dot the room are the ideal ‘hotel’ seating. Comfy, luxurious, elegant, once settled in we knew we wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.
What We Ate: The festive tea starts with the tiered cake stands of mini pastries and festive sandwiches – but instead of a layer each for sandwiches, scones and cakes, you start with just the savoury. A stilton, chestnut and walnut vol-au-vent and venison puff were delicate and well-flavoured, but felt as if they should’ve been served warm which let them down a bit. Down to the second tier and three perfectly made sandwiches included salmon and crayfish, ham hock with chutney and traditional turkey and stuffing. At this stage you can ask for another round of sandwiches, and if it wasn’t for what was coming up we definitely would have taken them up on this – the ham hock in particular was delicious; flakes of honey-roasted meat generously stuffed into a finger of squidgy white bread with cranberry and roasted pineapple chutney. The turkey sandwich packed a punch with a strong hum of sage whilst the smoked salmon was a classic and well-filled with crayfish and prawns.
On to the scones and not a hint of baking powder! Hurrah. Our waiter confirmed that the Cornish way of spreading jam first, then clotted cream is indeed the ‘correct’ way although I suspect die-hard Devonshire spreaders will stick to their technique. The classic scone was a delicate size – perfect when you consider just how much you are eating – and made without raisins whilst the festive scone was a little larger and came with the most delicious orange curd. Perfectly spiced and not too sweet, the curd was great for spreading (or dolloping) on its own – no need for jam or cream.
On to the main event; an updated version of Paul A Young’s chocolate tea. A hollow tennis ball-sized bauble of 72% Venezuelan chocolate filled chocolate ganache, orange, cranberry compote and salted caramel hazelnuts sat on a plate of cocoa nibs, with red berries and kumquats there to break up the richness. A crackling embers tart resembled an open fire, with spicy gingerbread tartlet and chocolate ganache balancing each other out. Yet more chocolate came in the form of 65% Grenadian Kalingo dark chocolate shells (resembling cocoa pods) filled with a very sweet mincemeat-infused ganache. All delicious but sadly too much for even a chocoholic like me to polish off. We were defeated.
That was, until the final plate. Our waiter looked almost upset when we said we had no room for the mini mince pie and slice of Christmas cake he brought over, but in true British style we had a bite of each, just to be polite. I never thought I’d say this, but maybe there is such a thing as too much food. It was indulgence at its finest but hey, it is Christmas…
What We Drank: Two pages of teas make for good reading but are a bit of a minefield when you’re not a tea expert. Our waiter was proactive in recommending the Darjeeling, fluently telling us how it’s grown at altitude next to vineyards in India, making it the ‘Champagne’ of the tea world. Delicately brewing over time, as the food arrived, the tea deepened in colour and flavour so it held its own against the different sandwiches.
To accompany the sweet section of the menu, the ‘Christmas tea’ was recommended. Custard and vanilla made it sweet, with cinnamon and other spices giving it subtle heat. You wouldn’t drink the same wine with every course (well not always), so why should you drink the same tea?
Go With: The perfect place to take your mother, or any out-of-towner visiting for the weekend. Equally, it’s sometimes nice to play tourist in your own city so enjoy the tradition, book in a date and clear your evening plans. You won’t be eating after this.
Final Word: Festive and sophisticated, the afternoon tea at The InterContinental London Park Lane is widely considered one of the best (if not the best) in London. It’s traditional but not stuffy, and whilst it adheres to the procedures of the tea time etiquette, it doesn’t feel forced. You get a lot of food for your buck so set aside a whole day, battle the crowds heading to Winter Wonderland and enjoy the calm of the Wellington Lounge instead – everything you’d want from a festive afternoon tea.