Well, perhaps not the man himself, but The Kensington Hotel is presenting a delightful afternoon tea that is inspired by the fashion designer who is the focus of an exhibition in London called Savage Beauty. Alexander McQueen was born in London and was known for having worked as chief designer at Givenchy between 1996 and 2001, and for founding his own fashion house. He died in 2010 in Mayfair.
This part of Kensington is known as the Museum Quarter. It’s handy for the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Science Museum, as well as the beautifully ornate Natural History Museum. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are just a short distance away. Kensington became a sought-after location after the arrival of the Underground which came to South Kensington in 1868. Until then it had been rural, green and leafy, and in parts it still is.
The Kensington Hotel is a couple of blocks from South Kensington Station at the corner of Queen’s Gate and the Old Brompton Road. It has a white façade and columns, typical of the style of homes popular with the affluent in the 19th century.
The hotel is charming, displaying a mix of classic and contemporary décor which works in harmony with the original architecture of high ceilings and mouldings. The ground floor offers a collection of interconnecting Drawing Rooms with welcoming sofas and comfy armchairs. Open fires invite the visitor to linger on those often freezing winter and spring afternoons.
Fashion Forward Afternoon Tea
The Kensington Hotel is now presenting a Fashion Forward Afternoon Tea and will do so until August. I love afternoon tea but they are so often spoiled by the ‘themed’ aspect. That leads many a chef to take the easy option of too-sweet foams and mousses and concoctions that would never have been seen gracing a Victorian cake stand. I confess that I feared a tea with a ‘fashion’ theme would be a horror. I had to eat my words …along with some delicious sweets and savouries.
The chef here is a thoughtful craftsman. He has eloquently translated fabric into food and has kept to what, in my opinion, is the original ethos of a traditional teatime spread. The afternoon tea needs, well, tea! I chose a hibiscus blend which I can recommend as a perfect sharp foil for the cakes to come.
But there is a method to eating an afternoon tea and that is to start from the bottom and work up. Our table was laden with temptation which included a platter of crust-off sandwiches to start, with fillings hinting at McQueen’s Scottish inspirations The lowest plate of the 3-tier stand held the ubiquitous (or should be) scones. These were some of the best I have tasted in the past couple of years. They were fresh, the texture had just the right degree of crumble and they were served with real clotted cream. There has been a tendency for restaurants to substitute double cream but clotted cream is British and unique and the marriage of that and strawberry jam is one made in heaven.
A quail egg in shiny gold
The middle tier was intriguing and contemporary: a silver horn of plenty filled with foie gras, a crab and artichoke timbale in stainless steel, and the trio was completed by a miniature nest of cress as a bed for a quail egg in shiny gold. Great metallic visual impact.
The top tier had held our attention since it arrived. This contained an iced cake in the form of one of Alexander McQueen’s celebrated handbags. There was a flamboyant Butterfly Chocolate cake and those insects were also made of chocolate. A cookie with thick marzipan was in the form of a McQueen gown. The macaroon disappeared in one bite, and Pannacota with raspberry sauce helped to balance the array.
This Alexander McQueen Afternoon Tea really does work. It’s a must-have for anyone visiting the exhibition. It’s a must-have for locals who enjoy afternoon tea but would appreciate something a little different. It is most definitely themed but it retains all those traditional qualities that made the archetypal afternoon tea so popular in the first place.
£35.00 per person
This menu is available until 2nd August
Afternoon Tea: 12noon – 6pm
The Kensington Hotel
109 – 113 Queen’s Gate
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018