Royal weddings always spark a frenzy of themed tie-ins, and afternoon teas at top London hotels are right at the top of that list. We paid a visit to the Royal Horseguards Hotel to see if they live up to that royal tag.
It’s not hard to pinpoint why afternoon tea gets given the royal treatment. Along with fish and chips, Shakespeare and cricket on the village green, it’s one of the things most obviously associated with Britain in the eyes of anglophiles – and anglophiles visiting London are the absolute target market for any good hotel’s afternoon tea.
But what can you expect from a royal tea? Well, let’s take the Royal Horseguards Hotel as an example, a place based in a glorious building in the heart of London – just a few yards off Whitehall – whose architect modelled it on an 18th century French chateau.
It’s a place that takes afternoon tea unbelievably seriously – the menu runs to eight pages, including descriptive paragraphs of the dozens of teas available (on which more later). There are several different menu options for lighter appetites – starting from £11.50 – but we went for the full Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea, served in a hotel lounge which isn’t as grand as the building’s façade, though perfectly pleasant and comfortable with staff who were unfailingly friendly.
A glass of Taittinger got things off to a fine start almost as we sat down – and frankly, something alcoholic was probably in order given what happened next. A tray holding a dozen different types of tea leaf was presented from which to choose. My companion went for ‘Persian Pomegranate’, which was the colour of Ribena, and delicious if not exactly what the palate expects with finger sandwiches and scones.
I had the house specialty: the hotel’s own ‘Strawberries and Cream’ tea blend which, while based on strong black teas (chiefly Assam and Ceylon) has a real hit of strawberries and cream flavour. It’s almost Heston Blumenthal-esque, a flavour that confounds your expectations. The waitress suggested it would be best without milk, but we tried it with and without – with milk was definitely better, thickening the tea in a manner which worked well.
The sandwiches showed an equally playful touch, with home-made breads having been both coloured and flavoured (with cacao, sun-dried tomato, pesto, lemon and black olive) to create as pretty a row of sarnies as you’ll ever see. The fillings – all the usuals, including London-smoked salmon – were all very fine, but the highlight of the savouries was undoubtedly the subtle and delectable crayfish Marie Rose crouton. We asked for more of those, and were far from the only table to do so.
The cakes – along with the table decorations – were where the royal theme had been most liberally applied. There was a miniature pecan pie decorated with the Stars and Stripes, mini red velvet cakes with delicately hand-made icing crowns on the top, chocolate brownie bites ‘wearing’ wedding hats and white chocolate-covered popcorn clusters, again each one wearing crowns.
Each tasted lovely as well as looking so – the pecan pies were the best of all. The only major question mark for me was the scones, which looked cute as buttons but were a little biscuity, rather than the soft, warm, almost-falling-apart scone you’d wish for. Then again, my companion for the tea loved them that way – adding a sort of ‘You say po-tay-to/ I say po-tah-to’ element to the afternoon that seems entirely fitting for a transatlantic-themed tea.
Royal Afternoon Tea at the Royal Horseguards Hotel – £39.50 including a glass of Taittinger champagne. You can see the full menu and book at the hotel’s website.
Three other right royal afternoon teas in London
The Savoy – Not far from the Royal Horseguards, The Savoy’s executive chef has come up with a royal-themed tea including a soft chocolate ganache which they claim is the Queen’s favourite cake. £68, or £85 with a glass of sparkling Rathfinny
The Conrad – This hotel in St James’s has a royal afternoon tea with a lemon and elderflower lollipop, in tribute to the flavour of Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake. £35, or £45 with a glass of Taittinger.
Fortnum & Mason – The world’s greatest grocer has a royal tea, and like the Conrad they’ve featured a tribute to the ‘real’ wedding cake: a lemon and elderflower mini celebration cake topped with an H and an M, and ribboned with a commemorative design. £85, including a glass of Blanc des Blancs champagne.
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