Dukes boutique hotel is tucked away in a quiet courtyard in London’s stylish St James’s. It was the winner of “England’s Leading Boutique Hotel” at the World Travel Awards 2011 and it’s no surprise. Whilst its salubrious location is part of the charm it still stands apart from much of the local competition. It has quality in every gleaming fingerplate, every vase of fragrant blooms and every reflection in polished dark wood. It’s been enjoyed for over a century by those who expect and appreciate good taste in both furnishings and food.
Afternoon Tea here is a classic affair. The Lounge offers a quiet idyll, a comfy mix of contemporary seats and sofas with prints and paintings, and intimate nooks in which to unwind. Perhaps this is the most ideal spot for quiet conversation. It’s not a stuffy lounge with silent waiters in squeaky shoes but rather a place to pause the day and recharge batteries. We settled in a corner with a view over the Cognac and Cigar Garden. This is a covered court with couches on which to recline while puffing a fragrant Havana after dinner. It’s open from 8pm.
Afternoon Tea at Dukes is traditional and substantial. Overseas visitors might appreciate some advice about an English teatime. If one is only slightly peckish after a good lunch then perhaps a Cream Tea would be in order at 3pm. This consists of scones, clotted cream and jam. A Devon native will have a slightly different order of application than one from Cornwall. An inhabitant of one of these counties puts the cream onto the scone first and the jam second, and vice versa, but I can never remember who does what. Be assured that your scones will be delicious spread in either fashion.
Clotted cream is another mystery. The name suggests something lumpy and unappetising but the reality is rich and memorable. Clotted cream (sometimes called Devonshire cream) is thick, yellow and made by heating full-cream cow’s milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving the milk in a shallow dish to cool slowly. The cream rises to the surface and forms a thick layer. Cornish clotted cream was given a Protected Designation of Origin in 1998 by European Union directive, as long as the milk is produced in Cornwall and the minimum fat content is 55%; so leave your diet at the door.
A full Afternoon Tea includes that aforementioned cream tea but also savoury sandwiches and other sweet treats and traditional cakes. The Dukes’ tea arrives, as do most other hotel or restaurant teas, on the 3-tier stand. The top plate offers a selection that would have been familiar to Victorians. They would have enjoyed those toasted teacakes, warm scones and slices of fruit cake just as you will. Teatime is about continuity.
The middle plate is the savoury layer of filled sandwiches. There are a lot of sweet temptations on a tea-stand so those salty diversions will help you stay the course. This isn’t a snack to be rushed. An Afternoon Tea worth its name is a hearty meal and one over which to linger. We enjoyed finger sandwiches, naturally sans crusts, filled with ham, beef, salmon or cream cheese and these, we were told, would be replenished on request.
The lowest layer will be the one you will have had your gaze fixed upon since its arrival. This is a plate of fancies and all made in Dukes’ kitchen: miniature chocolate éclairs, Madelines, brownies, and a chef’s special that changes with the season and is mostly fresh fruit-based. The pièce de résistance was the individual lemon meringue pies. They looked almost too good to eat …almost. The case was light and delicate, the filling tangy and fresh and the topping was soft Italian meringue that was deftly torched around the swirls.
You will obviously want tea with your Tea and there is a good selection from which to choose. I always enjoy Earl Grey on such occasions as the citrus hint of bergamot works as a foil to the sweetness of the pastries. It’s a tea to take without milk for it to be truly refreshing.
Dukes is a hotel with an unsurpassed reputation for class. It offers the discerning guest a tranquil oasis in the centre of London and just a short distance from all of the best that the capital has to offer. It’s appreciated by tourists and locals, and its timeless quality is prized by all.
Afternoon Tea available daily from 3pm-5.30pm
• DUKES Champagne Afternoon Tea £34.50
A glass of Champagne
Selection of finger sandwiches
Assorted cakes and pastries
Traditional fruit cake
Warm fruit scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam
All served with your choice of tea
• DUKES Afternoon Tea £24.50
All of the above without the glass of Champagne
Champagne by the glass £12.00
Selection of finger sandwiches £10.25
Warm fruit scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam £8.50
Assorted cakes and pastries £6.50
English fruit cake £6.50
35 St James’s Place, London SW1A 1NY
Area: St James’s
020 7491 4840
Visit Dukes Hotel here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018