English afternoon tea is the kind of indulgent meal that makes a party out of a simple cuppa. In the English Tea Room of Brown's Hotel, The Tea Guild's Top London Afternoon Tea for 2009 and a repeat award winner, they do it to perfection.
London's Oldest Hotel
Lord Byron's manservant and his wife bought four Mayfair townhouses and opened Brown's Hotel in 1837 with a legacy from Byron himself. It was the first real hotel in London. It passed through the hands of several owners and the 5-star London hotel is now part of the Rocco Forte group of luxury hotels. Despite being totally refurbished within the past five year, the hotel's English Tea Room, with its dark oak paneling and overstuffed armchairs has just the right atmosphere for a traditional English afternoon tea.
AmbianceThe English Tea Room at Brown's is relaxed and unstuffy. Tables dressed with white linens are set with silvery tea pots stands. A pianist entertains guests and uniformed, attentive staff are never far. Yet it's comfortable rather than grand - perhaps because the room itself seems intimate.
Tea and all the trimmings
A choice of 17 different teas includes black teas, green teas and infusions. Fresh mint, fresh ginger and a blend of rosebud and silver needle tea are also available. Knowledgable servers can help you choose.
Traditional tea is a four "course" extravaganza of sandwiches, pastries, scones with jam and cream, followed by cakes from the trolley. "Tea-Tox" Healthy Afternoon Tea is a lower-fat, almost sugar-free alternative. Either can be accompanied by a glass of Ruinart champagne or a "healthy" lower calorie champagne.
We tried everything.
A highlight of my traditional tea included a kir royale jelly, delicate and quivering like slightly solid champagne on a spoon. Pastries were filled with rich dark chocolate and fruity mousses. Four of Brown's award-winning scones arrived warm and wrapped in a cloth napkin to be eaten with homemade strawberry preserves and what can only be described as a slab of incredibly more-ish clotted cream.
The Healthy Option
My companion's "Tea-Tox" tea included an assortment of savory bites - poached salmon and dill creme fraiche, smoked chicken and guacamole - served on leaves and tiny bits of interesting bread.
Healthy sweets included a flourless chocolate cake, an orange cake with yogurt topping and blueberries with lemon cream in a sugarless chocolate cup. The healthy assortment also included fruit skewers with yogurt and honey.
Plates are continually refilled, for both the traditional and healthy teas, so no chance of leaving hungry.
We sampled some delicious Ruinart champagne and a low-cal, healthy alternative which, we both agreed, lacked character.
After a meal of "dessert", it seems astounding to be offered dessert - but that's what afternoon tea is all about. I passed on mine, a choice of cakes from the trolley. The healthy dessert, a rhubarb sorbet, was oddly grassy.