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.
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.
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
SUNDAY 20 MAY – SUNDAY 27 MAY
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.
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
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018