We are truly blessed with marvellous hotels in London. They are diverse, and one can always find something to appeal, no matter what one’s taste. If you are looking for 5-star luxury, an excellent location, and a selection of fine dining experiences, then perhaps Grosvenor House has your name on it and there is Anna’s Afternoon Tea here!
I have had many visits here, both as a journalist and as a guest, but this would be my first afternoon tea in the Park Room. This must be one of the most beautiful tea rooms in the capital. It’s bathed in light even in dull weather. Its wall of windows looks out over iconic Hyde Park and equally iconic red buses and black cabs. They are not the only convenient modes of transport: Grosvenor House sits between Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch Underground stations.
By the eighteenth century people in England were already enjoying tea in the afternoon. But the popularity of that ‘between lunch and dinner’ occasion dates from the early nineteenth century. It was at this time that Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is said to have complained of ‘having that sinking feeling’ during the late afternoon. Anna was born in 1783, and in 1808 she married Francis Russell who became the seventh Duke of Bedford. Anna, a friend of Queen Victoria, perfected the delicious sweet and savoury format of sandwiches and cakes that we enjoy today.
Both delicious and whimsical
Executive Pastry Chef Dale DeSimone has 20 years of experience across hotels and restaurants in the USA, the UAE and London, and joined Grosvenor House in 2015. He has an evident skill and a passion for confectioning striking sweets. His creations are both delicious and whimsical. Almost too good to eat …but it would be a shame to miss the texture and taste of these miniature desserts.
But mum would always say ‘no afters before befores’ so, in traditional fashion we started at the bottom plate of the 3-tier stand. The selection of finger sandwiches here included light cucumber with garden mint butter, and North Atlantic cold-water prawn dressed with classic Marie Rose sauce.
For those who want some meaty savouries then honey roast Yorkshire ham with Colman’s English mustard will likely tick a box. I was pleased to actually notice the mustard on this sandwich – Colman’s was indeed a Victorian favourite: Jeremiah Colman started his mustard and flour business in 1814.
Roast Aberdeen Angus beef with creamed horseradish was another substantial sandwich with great flavour, and again taking advantage of a well-loved condiment; but perhaps the star of the first tier was a sandwich of smoked Oakham chicken, with tarragon and crème fraîche. One can ask for extra sandwiches, which are bought out freshly made.
Original and moreish
The classic crustless sandwiches are not the only savouries on offer at the Park Room. One is also presented with open sandwiches, and they are original and moreish. Don’t miss Forman’s smoked Scottish salmon with cream cheese. This company is famous for its fish products and they too have a long history. The Forman family has been curing and smoking fish in the East End of London since 1905!
Burford brown eggs from Clarence Court made a classic egg-mayonnaise open sandwich, flecked with bright chives. This farm has also been around for a number of years – 90 of them. It’s so good to find a chef who demonstrates both innovation and continuity in his teatime offerings.
Another must-have for afternoon tea are scones. The Park Room has on its menu flaky plain and raisin buttermilk scones, but this tea-room ups its game from the more usual jams with a selection of home-made spreads which are outstanding. We tried rose petal, rhubarb and ginger, and gooseberry jams along with Devonshire clotted cream. There is probably less artistic licence when it comes to scones: they are either just right, or to be left alone, drying in crummy mediocrity on one’s delicate side-plate. Nothing was left on our plates, and it would have been tempting to ask for more had we not been staring at that marvellous top plate for the last hour.
What an array! Ginger curd with passionfruit coulis, green apple and coriander mousse (my favourite), trio of chocolate ring, milk chocolate, almond and banana sponge, lemon myrtle and raspberry pavlova were lovely to look at but, more importantly, were all delicious. Aesthetics were not sacrificed for taste but formed a partnership which showcased the chef’s ingenuity.
There could be a Victoria sandwich cake
But a purist might have had a vision of a nineteenth century afternoon tea around a log fire, with a couple of old-fashioned cakes cut in wedges, eaten with relish (the emotion, not the pickle) while reading a quality newspaper for the latest from the Boer War. There are indeed such cakes here, and they will satisfy any classic tea aficionado. There could be a Victoria sandwich cake, a chocolate cake, a lemon drizzle cake and a fruit cake. Childhood memories will be awakened, at least if you were a British child.
Afternoon tea is a light meal but it does have a structure. There is, however, space for the chef to make his own mark. Chef Dale DeSimone has struck a perfect balance of both timeless tradition and contemporary innovation. I think this is one of the best afternoon teas in London. It will introduce overseas visitors to a degree of formality, and will entice those already familiar with the event to enjoy something a little different.
Offered with your choice of either: Classic Tea selection from Newby £42.50 per person
or: Rare & Exclusive Tea selection from Newby £45.50 per person
Add a glass of Champagne for an additional £10 per person
or Rosé Champagne for an additional £12 per person
Afternoon Tea: 12.30pm – 6.00pm
The pianist will perform daily from 2.00pm until 6.00pm
Phone: +44(0)20 7399 8452
Visit The Park Room here
Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel
86-90 Park Lane
London, W1K 7TN
Visit Grosvenor House here