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The Dorchester for Afternoon Tea

China Tang

The Dorchester – for breakfast

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- The Dorchester

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The Dorchester for Afternoon Tea

China Tang

The Dorchester – for breakfast

The Dorchester for Afternoon Tea

I am an unashamed supporter of The Dorchester. It’s iconic and has endured – it’s been around for decades, since the start of the 1930s, and its façade still reflects those striking and chiselled architectural features of the Art Deco era. The Dorchester is a vision of pale grey but its colourful and ever-changing front garden softens those sharp lines. Spring presents local and tourist alike with a swathe of yellow daffodils and purple-blue pansies. Manicured, immaculate and welcoming, as one would expect.

It’s not just the planting that gives a welcome. Dark wood and brass are a-gleam with old-fashioned solidity but the staff at The Dorchester is the element that will assure your return. True, it’s unlikely that any of them have worked here since 1931 but they are each instilled with an old-fashioned hospitality ethic that’s hard to find these days.

london restaurant review Guests entering The Dorchester are immediately introduced to the impressive Promenade which must surely be one of the most photographed corners of any hotel. A lesser establishment would have installed a viewing gallery. The Promenade was refurbished in 2005 by Thierry Despont, and he has presented a sumptuous and classic space that is perfect for afternoon tea. In fact, The Promenade changes that typically British culinary institution into an event.

That last phrase isn’t just a poetic exaggeration. Afternoon tea at The Dorchester is considered THE venue of choice for those with an appreciation of genteel class. It’s an ideal spot for birthday celebrations (the piano player will gladly oblige with “Happy Birthday” if tipped the wink) and even the smartest of Hen Parties. The Dorchester is high-end but thoroughly accessible.

The tables are spaced to allow for private conversation. A gentle hum of chatter keeps the Promenade alive but one is never burdened with snippets of others’ lives. You really don’t care if Abner broke his leg on the cruise over. He is doubtless a fine man but he is not yours. Equally Abner's wife isn’t interested in your horrendous electricity bill, though she would likely sympathise. No, the Dorchester Promenade is discreet, but it’s not a dusty library.

“There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.”
- Bernard-Paul Heroux and my grandmother.

Tea refreshes like no other beverage. It has the unique ability to heat in cool weather and cool in the heat of summer. It quenches the thirst but the very process of ‘taking tea’ creates calm. Add plates of sandwiches and some delicate sweet fancies and that simple pot of tea is elevated to the status of a light meal.

london restaurant review The Dorchester is serious about its tea. It offers an excellent range of carefully selected leaves that are not available elsewhere. I had previously enjoyed The Dorchester Blend, a melange of Sri Lankan Ceylon and Golden Assam teas – a bright tea with a malty character and just a slight hint of caramel. It presents a brew best enjoyed with milk and was my tea of choice for breakfast a while back.  This time I was looking for something that would complement the savoury sandwiches as well as those desserts from the top tier of the traditional stand.

Single Estate Greenwood 2nd Flush Assam (strictly limited) is one of the finest Assams from the Greenwood Estate, established in 1839. Do take the opportunity to try this rare tea. I would suggest that you don’t add milk. You will enjoy this tea’s qualities au naturel or with just a slice of lemon.

Your pot of selected tea will arrive and so will a plate of assorted sandwiches. These are of the refined sort with crusts removed. The various fillings are surrounded by complementary flavoured bread which is apparently made by an artisan baker. It’s one of the few items that The Dorchester doesn’t make in-house or more accurately in-hotel: they prefer to source this essential ingredient from a specialist.

The usual form is to have the sandwiches served on that three-tier stand and that always looks impressive but it does have its practical drawback: that aforementioned bread can dry out as you socialise. The waiters at the Dorchester bring around a plate of sandwiches for you to select a few at a time; once you’ve enjoyed those the attentive waiter will supply you with some more.  Sandwiches here can be appreciated at their freshest: cucumber with cream cheese on caraway seed bread, egg mayonnaise with shiso cress on white bread, chicken with wholegrain mustard mayonnaise on basil bread, smoked salmon on granary bread.  Yes, you can pick your favourites and graze till you are suitably semi-packed with savoury, leaving a nook of space for all that is to follow.

What should follow, if you want to stick to the teatime rule, are warm scones served with homemade strawberry jam, or a jam that changes with the season, and Cornish clotted cream. The scones here are two-bite-size, moist and moreish. The joy of The Dorchester is that you can ask for more and the baked goods will arrive warm to your table.

The plate at the summit of the stand will tempt you. These are mostly mousse-based desserts with a layer of shortbread here or a square of brownie there. They are dainty and exquisitely moulded. They remind one of the glittering jewellery that one might have noticed in display cases on the way into the hotel. Small and marvellously decorated, these are gems that are almost too beautiful to eat... almost.

The Dorchester offers various styles of Afternoon Tea and also the more substantial but equally traditional High Tea. There are some tempting Occasion Teas throughout the year: soon the Chelsea Flower Show will be here and they pay homage to that very well at The Promenade.

Chelsea Flower Show Rose Garden Afternoon Tea

Enjoy a multi-sensory feast of delicious cakes, Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, floral arrangements by award-winning garden designer Arne Maynard, and evocative scents by master perfumer Roja Dove.

london restaurant review The ‘Rosé Garden Afternoon Tea’ includes white and pink rose chocolate mousse flower heads, raspberry tart with crystallized rose petal garnish, chocolate macaroon with passion fruit creamaux and orange marmalade, and Earl Grey chocolate mousse with gold leaf, and a selection of finger sandwiches and scones complemented by Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé served in an elegant cherry-blossom design glass.

Garden designer Arne Maynard will transform The Promenade into a representation of the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden designed for this year’s show. Using a variety of roses and delicate plants known for their floral fragrances, the garden will explore the theme of scents and is The Dorchester’s pastry team’s inspiration for the tea cakes.

Working together with Arne, world renowned perfumer and leading fragrance ambassador Roja Dove has created a limited-edition candle, using one of the world’s rarest floral oils, which will be lit during tea service to further enhance guests’ ‘scent’ experience. Inspired by the Laurent-Perrier Bicentenary Garden, the candle features the scent of the rare Rose de Mai.

£54 per person including a glass of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé
£49 per person including a glass of Laurent-Perrier Brut NV

Five sittings daily: 1.15pm, 2.30pm, 3.15pm, 4.45pm, 5.15pm

Prices are inclusive of VAT and exclusive of service charge at 12.5%.

London restaurant review: The Dorchester
Park Lane, London W1K 1QA

Phone: 020 7629 8888
Reservations: 020 7317 6500
Fax: 020 7629 8080

Visit The Dorchester here

food and travel reviews

China Tang – The Dorchester

london asia restaurant I am indeed an unashamed supporter of The Dorchester. Not that they exactly need my patronage but I want to nail my colours to their mast. It’s quality writ large and it never disappoints. If you are looking for classic service and charm then you will appreciate its every plush cushion and impressive vase.

The Dorchester dates back to 1931 and is a vision of polished good Deco taste with a hint of Victoriana. There is more evocative décor in the basement. No, it’s not a storage room for discarded furniture – it’s the very classy China Tang, The Dorchester’s iconic Chinese restaurant (yes, the name does give a clue to its ethnicity).

Sir David Tang, KBE, is a successful Hong Kong businessman and socialite best known as the founder of the Shanghai Tang fashion chain, which he sold in 2006, as well as China Clubs in Hong Kong, Peking and Singapore.

london asian restaurant Sir David is obviously a “hands-on” owner. He has been at the forefront of the restaurant design as well as taking a passionate interest in the most important area – the kitchen. He has not only selected the best chefs from Hong Kong for his eponymous restaurant, he has also composed a menu to reflect the finest of Cantonese cooking.

I know it’s just a matter of taste, visual and culinary, but I consider China Tang to be one of the most remarkable restaurants in London. One is wafted back to the China of the 20s and 30s, when armies of modern “bright young things” sipped cocktails and listened to daring jazz. Shanghai and other Chinese cities were magnets for the jet set, well, OK, in the days before jets.

Sir David has ensured that every guest has a multi-sensory experience. China Tang is striking and eclectic and gives the air of one of those refined restaurants of a bygone age. One can feast one’s eyes on objets d'art and admire the gold-embroidered table linen and metal chopsticks; everything carefully chosen for impact but also practicality. The low ceilings create a cosy ambiance and the buzz of animated conversation adds to the general excitement.

Every Tuesday, China Tang offers an evening of very live jazz in the main dining room, featuring the celebrated duo Kitty La Roar and Nick of Time performing music that will add still more to the sensation of being transported back in time. “Slow Boat to China” and “A Little Street in Singapore” are just so right for China Tang, and Kitty is stunning in a tight black Chinese Cheongsam which has the male diners riveted before she even warbles a word ...and what a voice!

China Tang is said to offer some of the most authentic Cantonese food outside China. I was expecting something special: The Dorchester would not tolerate a naff version of your local high-street “Happy San-Pan”. China Tang doesn’t fiddle with food. No mounds of rice moulded into the two doves of Willow Pattern fame here. No miniature junks ploughing the waves of one’s Hot and Sour soup. Each dish is simply presented and served sans elaborate garnish. The chef doesn’t need to distract you. Fresh ingredients are cooked to perfection.

london asian restaurant The menu offers Cantonese classics so you will find many dishes that sound familiar but I can guarantee that they will be the best examples of those dishes you will ever taste. Try some steamers of dim sum. The dough will be thin and delicate and the fillings aromatic and refined. I particularly enjoyed the pork dumplings, the meat bathed in flavourful broth. A must-try starter is Taro Cakes. These are light and crunchy and thoroughly moreish. I have had them before but these at China Tang are addictive. They look like they are made of that finely-shredded pastry often found topping Middle-Eastern patisserie.

Peking Duck is a signature dish. It’s a delicious extravaganza of glossy mahogany skin (the exact hue of the wooden chairs: how did Sir David manage that?) and moist meat. Then there is the theatre of watching your deft waitress carve the bird: slivers of lacquered skin and then slices of succulent meat. The remainder of the duck will be minced with seasonings and a few other ingredients and served with lettuce for wraps. This is just as much an event as a dish.

China Tang is famous, and rightly so, for its Stir-fried Beef in Black Pepper. This dish was a rich triumph of glazed cubes of meat flecked with black. The flavour was agreeably pungent from the pepper and the texture was melting. This needed no garnish other than some rice, and they have bamboo pots of that, of various sorts.

london asian restaurant Fukien Rice is a traditional dish but seldom seen on menus of lesser restaurants. It’s a rich seafood stew atop rice, a meal in itself and well worth saving some space for. I would suggest trying dishes that you might not find elsewhere. They will be faithful and authentic examples.

Desserts are usually a bit thin on the ground in Chinese restaurants but China Tang has some delightful, Asian inspired sweets. Their Chocolate Steamed Dumplings are legendary, they shine and tempt; while the Green Tea Mousse was light and perfumed. The Black Tea Ice Cream was refreshing with still a pleasant touch of tannin. Balls of fresh papaya completed this quartet of miniature desserts.

I’ll grant you, China Tang isn’t the cheapest restaurant around but it’s still good value for money. One is paying not only for delectable food but also for an exceptional experience. We will return to have a meal in the bar – it offers the same menu as the main restaurant – and try some signature cocktails. This is on my list of favourite restaurants visited in 2011.
london asian restaurant
China Tang opening hours
Monday to Friday: 11:00 am to 3:30 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 am to 4:00 pm

Monday to Sunday: 5:30 pm to 12:00 midnight

Bookings for Lunch and Dinner are strongly recommended; to reserve a table call:
+44 (0) 20 7629 9988

China Tang at The Dorchester,
Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1QA
Phone: 0871 971 3579
Visit China Tang here

food and travel reviews

The Dorchester – for breakfast

It’s one of London’s most iconic hotels. Ask any local or tourist to name a couple of the most famous hotels in London and the Dorchester is liable to be one of those mentioned. It’s been around for a while, since 1931, so it deserves the accolade of Classic with all the positive connotations that word restaurant and hotel review

During the Second World War, the strength of the Dorchester’s concrete construction gave the hotel the reputation of being one the safest buildings in town. Winston Churchill stayed in the hotel, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower took a suite on the first floor, now the Eisenhower Suite.

The hotel closed for a couple of years in the 1980s. Some areas were showing their age and it needed an injection of technology and amenity. The Dorchester has, however, maintained some public areas that offer that opulence of another age, sporting characteristics that we all crave but which are so often lost with unsympathetic refits.

Its location has, no doubt, helped with its prestigious reputation. It’s found on Park Lane in Mayfair, overlooking Hyde Park. Not a bad address, but every hotelier knows that guests will not return if the interior doesn’t match the location, and if service and customer care fall short. There is plenty of competition out there but The Dorchester has maintained its creditable position.

The imposing facade is softened by thoughtful planting, presenting the guest with a veritable cascade of flower and foliage, but the real Dorchester treasures are found the other side of the revolving doors with polished brass trim. It’s the striking Promenade which, for me at least, is the epitome of timeless charm.

The Promenade is a comfy space, a vision of old gold and architectural features that transport one back to a genteel era when potted palms were the norm and one had plenty of staff to polish the silver, and the butler wore a morning suit.

OK, so not many of us have maids and footmen but we can borrow a little of the Dorchester’s luxury every time we visit. It’s a big and sumptuous hotel but it’s not intimidating. Every guest is made to feel at home – like they belong and most importantly, like they are special.

london restaurant and hotel review It was an early morning treat for us – breakfast at a cosy side table in the Promenade. Crisp linen, gleaming cutlery as one would expect, and a stand that would soon be garnished with a plate of croissants, pains au chocolat, Danish pastries and muffins. All of these are made at the Dorchester so you’ll know they are fresh. Small dainties with amber shine. Almost too good to eat... almost.

The Dorchester Bacon Buttie was reassuring and intriguing. It would seem an oxymoron: one of the smartest hotels in London offering butties. Well, yes indeed and it was, just as one would hope, a memorable creation with sweet cured bacon, belly pork and a fried egg served on focaccia. In truth this was such a tower of food that the top segment of bread was presented leaning on the side of the sandwich. This wasn’t a light breakfast option but it was somewhat more interesting than the traditional British breakfast which, although a favourite, can be had almost everywhere.

The belly pork was a delicious departure from a regular breakfast sandwich.  It was sweet, flavourful and with the correct and comforting ratio of meat to creamy fat. That fat is key to the success of the dish. The condiments were, however, traditional: tomato ketchup and brown sauce. Diners will have a strongly-held preference for one or the other and that’s as it should be, but anyway I think there is a law against smearing both; if there isn’t there should be.

The Dorchester does have a breakfast menu of healthy Bircher muesli, cereals or fruit salad for those who treat their bodies like temples – although I did notice a miniature jar of very adult chocolate spread to help down the healthy five-seeded wholemeal bread. Wholemeal toast and carrot and courgette muffins might well be my choice on a future visit.

london restaurant and hotel review Tea is an essential part of any English breakfast and we enjoyed a pot or two of the speciality teas from Harney and Sons, including The Dorchester Blend, a light and refreshing brew that was a delicate foil for the richness of both bacon and pork, and the sticky moreishness of those little pastries.

The Dorchester will not disappoint. It’s been the regular home-from-home for many a celebrity and fatigued businessman, and increasingly for those of us who just periodically like to indulge in the finer things in life. It’s not the cheapest of hotels but it remains the spot that offers predictable quality and a particular ambiance that is hard to replicate – the place for an accessible and memorable treat at any time of the day.

London restaurant review: The Dorchester
Park Lane, London W1K 1QA

Phone: 020 7629 8888
Reservations: 020 7317 6500
Fax: 020 7629 8080

Visit the Dorchester here

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