The first thing that should be said about Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester Hotel in London is that the room where it is served, the marble and gilt “Promenade,” is a drop dead gorgeous-stunning space that was somehow made even more beautiful by the Holiday decorations on this mid-December day in London. Pictures do not do this room justice – it is a first class, take your breath away kind of venue.
As I was entering the Dorchester, my thoughts were that since this is a Monday afternoon, perhaps it will not be as full as it otherwise might be on say, a Saturday or a Sunday. I was wrong. The Promenade was absolutely bristling with activity, every table within sight – filled. Guests were milling about the lobby dressed in their holiday finest, gesturing in a spirited fashion, and I wondered if maybe I had missed the memo that the entire city of London was meeting here today.
The Dorchester is a luxury hotel built in 1931 and owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. Located on Park Lane in London’s Mayfair District, it has views overlooking Hyde Park and has played host to many high profile celebrities. On a previous stay here some years ago, my wife and I were returning to the hotel when we encountered Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales coming down an elevator and being ushered into a nearby waiting car.
There didn’t seem to be any tables open for afternoon tea, but the Promenade’s staff was able to find one for me, and before long, I was settled in and soon approached by my waiter. I have to tell you that this gentleman couldn’t have been more helpful or solicitous. He was willing to offer as much or as little help as necessary, depending on whatever my needs were, with the utmost discretion and lack of pretense. I got the sense that the staff here was truly willing to make my experience as memorable and worry free as possible.
There were twenty-four tea selections on the menu and, predictably, my waiter was there to offer his assistance in explaining the various choices. I often like to try the house blend, which in this case, was The Dorchester Blend, made from… “silvery Ceylon and golden Assam.” The waiter explained that this particular tea is served in only two places in the world – The Dorchester Hotel and the First Class Cabin on British Airways. How could I pass up an introduction like that? So I chose it, and it lived up to its advanced billing – an exquisite mid-strength tea that was more flavorful than English Breakfast Tea.
For the food accompaniment, I could have selected the Afternoon Tea, but I opted for the Festive High Tea instead. The difference is that you receive a heavier food option with the High Tea – your choice of either a Pan Seared Breast of Duck with caramelized pears and roasted chestnuts, or a White Onion Tart with Brie and a mixed herb salad, or a Smoked Haddock with an organic poached egg served with a champagne sauce. (I chose the breast of duck, more on that below).
As I mentioned, The Promenade was a literal buzz of activity. I was seated at a low table with low sofa seating. To my left was a group of six or seven young English women all sharing the same table, talking it up, having a great time, sipping champagne, and acting is if they hadn’t seen each other in over a year, which may not have been far from the truth. To my right were a mother and daughter from the U.S. The daughter was just finishing up her university semester abroad and mother had come to visit her and take in some of London’s top attractions. After the afternoon tea at The Dorchester, they were going to see Les Miserables in the West End. Directly ahead were grandmother, daughter and son-in-law with two babies. This was a lively, yet somehow still relaxed, group today.
While you’re enjoying your special house blend of Dorchester Tea, the waiter will come by with a white oval dish filled with an assortment of finger sandwiches – Turkey with sausage meat stuffing and cranberry on basil bread, Cucumber with cream cheese on caraway seed bread, Honey roast ham with pickles on sun-blushed tomato bread, Egg mayonnaise with shiso cress on white bread, and Smoked salmon on granary bread. The finger sandwiches were very fresh and moist and prepared on bread that seemed as if it were just baked ten minutes ago. I thought the Honey roast ham was the best.
Since I was having the Festive High Tea, I was entitled to a heavier food option which, for me, was the seared duck breast. The way it was prepared and presented, it could have been the main course at a high end restaurant. It was delicious. If you were planning to attend the theater afterward, I imagine the High Tea option would be a very good choice as a pre-theater meal.
The fruit (raisin) and plain scones are placed on your tray with linen napkins folded over them to keep them warm. I thought the condiments were particularly good: clotted cream, fresh strawberry jam and a blueberry summer pudding – the jam and summer pudding were filled with thick chunks of fresh fruit.
As if this weren’t enough, the sweets soon arrive with Mince pies, Black Forest cake and several other selections that the waiter describes in detail. I just had to look at them. Of course, they were all gorgeous works of art. Unfortunately, the High Tea menu had taken its toll on my appetite and the dessert course seemed a bit too much at the time. My waiter offered to box them up for me, but since they were all freshly made, I didn’t think they would travel well on a trans-Atlantic flight.
Throughout the afternoon, I found myself unconsciously delaying, not eating right away. I wanted to sit back and absorb what was going on. The room was bristling with activity, and there was a very positive “vibe” going on. The ambiance made you want to linger through the afternoon, not rush. Light piano music was playing, and you think to yourself… if I don’t eat the finger sandwiches, they will have to let me stay, won’t they? So I deliberately took my time this afternoon to prolong the experience in The Promenade. It was an odd sensation that I don’t recall having in such a way before.
When it at last came time to say good bye, I stopped for a moment, turned around to look at the room one more time, and said to a hotel staff member who was in the area, “Isn’t that room beautiful?” As we both looked back at it, he said, “It’s stunning, sir.”