After flying all night on a transatlantic flight, my daughter and I arrived in Britain early one Saturday morning. Before landing, the captain announced that the local London weather was sunny, calm and 60F/16C, just about as good as it gets on an early fall day in England. Later that day, we had a reservation for afternoon tea at one of the grandest hotels in London – The Lanesborough. After catching a few quick hours of sleep, we made our way over to Hyde Park Corner where we walked under the Wellington Arch on our way to the hotel. Approaching the front entrance, I couldn’t help but notice the number of Rolls Royce’s parked nearby – some bearing license plates from foreign countries. Now that’s the way to travel- have your automobile shipped with you.
The doormen of the hotel greeted us with a direct in-your-eye sincerity and showed us into the hotel lobby. You can take afternoon tea at The Lanesborough in a number of places including the Withdrawing Room and The Library, but we chose the main venue – Aplsely’s. After being seated at a table on the upper tier with a nice view of the entire length of the room, we immediately become aware of the buzz of many muted conversations coming from every corner of this fully engaged facility.
The Lanesborough Hotel occupies a building that was formerly used by St. George’s Hospital, built in 1828 and associated with Florence Nightingale. “The Lanesborough is an adventure in gracious style and a revival of traditional hospitality. You will be received as an honored guest in a private home, a 96 room and 46 suite private home. Filled with Regency-era furnishings and a decor recalling a 19th century London townhouse restored to its original grandeur. You’ll experience the timeless essence of British style, tradition and the famous British art of personal service which is practiced with efficiency and aplomb.” – Paula Jessop.
As the piano player serenaded us in the background, our Italian waiter introduced himself and offered us a menu which included almost 30 different types of teas, personally selected by The Lanesborough’s own in-house Tea Sommelier. Even though he said he was relatively new and still learning, our waiter was quite knowledgeable about the teas on the menu and after some discussion, I chose the Afternoon Tea Blend – the hotel’s signature offering. It is described as a blend of Darjeeling, finest China Keemun and whole rose buds and was outstanding. My daughter chose the Silver Needle White – long, soft and downy, composed of first spring buds of the Da-Bai tea plant from the Fuding region and it was delicate and exquisite. (The Lanesborough also offers an optional Gluten & Dairy Free Afternoon Tea and uses Rosenthal Fine Bone China – Jade Pattern.)
A unique feature of the Lanesborough Afternoon Tea is that your tea will be brought to your table in a samovar – a metal urn invented by the Russians in the mid-eighteenth century. There is an attachment on top for the tea concentrate. “In the late 1700’s the English started using silver samovars to make tea. Considered an objet d’art by many today, we have revived this charming tradition at The Lanesborough.”
Our waiter then presented us with a “pre-dessert,” or what I would call an amuse bouche, consisting of a small parfait-style glass with layered guava jelly, vanilla creme brulee, and shortbread with strawberry foam on top.
While enjoying our tea, the ambiance of the room, and the live piano music in the background, the three tier tray was brought to our table. The savouries on the lowest level included a memorable roast beef sandwich on granary bread with stilton cheese. The combination of the roast beef and stilton cheese was quite distinctive and very appealing to both myself and my daughter. The other crustless sandwiches included chicken salad with curry and raisins, cucumber and cream cheese on sun-dried tomato bread, tuna salad with watercress, and pain brioche with smoked salmon and red cress. A goat cheese and leek quiche completed the savouries on the lowest tier.
On the second tier was a chocolate swirl marble cake with bits of orange on top, a carrot cake with cream cheese and walnut, and a plum cheesecake.
As you slowly work your way through all of these delicacies, the waiter brings out the scones and tea cakes and encourages you to sample them while they’re still warm. This is good advice. The tea cakes are served with melted cinammon butter and the scones were absolutely delicious with jam and clotted cream, one of the true highlights of our afternoon.
Finally, and even though you might be fully sated at this point, you have to just “peek” at the top level sweets which include a mango Madeleine with a thin strip of chocolate, an exotic cake with passion fruit, mango, strawberry and shortbread, and a pistachio white chocolate brownie.
This was a truly memorable afternoon that I was fortunate to share with my daughter and one that I will not soon forget. As we were leaving though the hotel lobby, I noticed people having tea by the fireplace in the Withdrawing Room. Maybe next time?