Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published April 25th 2014
A Triumphant Tier of Treats
For my mum's birthday I decided to take her to afternoon tea, and while searching for the perfect place, I came across the Kensington Royal Garden Hotel. Opened in 1965, the independent five star hotel on Kensington High Street has been host to many music legends, including Sonny & Cher, ABBA, and The Monkees.
The hotel has many dining areas, including the Park Terrace Lounge, where overlooks Kensington Gardens. Here they serve afternoon tea between 2pm-5.30pm, which you can book in advance. There is the choice of a Traditional Afternoon Tea for £26 or a Royal Afternoon Tea (which includes balsamic strawberries and champagne) for £36. As it was a present, I bought a gift voucher for a Traditional Afternoon Tea for two. The gift voucher is valid for six months, which gives you plenty of time to pick the perfect date.
We decided to go in late April, because it meant Lent was over, and chocolate could be eaten. While booking our two-hour slot, we were asked if we had any dietary requirements. I thought this showed great consideration and forethought; they clearly plan ahead. Although we are not allergic to anything, neither of us are very good with salmon, and since that is often a staple of an afternoon tea, we requested it be left off the menu, along with no mustard or white bread.
The day we set off we were lucky to have porridge weather. That probably does not sound terribly good, but what I mean is that it was just right for Goldilocks: not too hot, not too cold. We arrived at the hotel at two o'clock, and the layout felt a bit like a time warp. Out at the front stood a parking attendant in a top hat and suave red waistcoat; we entered through a set of rotating doors, and on the other side there was a bellboy, pushing a golden railed luggage cart.
Park Terrace Lounge
From then on, everything was much more modern. The Park Terrace was light, bright, airy, and everything matched perfectly (even the crockery and carpets went together).
The 'view' of Kensington Gardens.
We handed in our gift voucher, and the clerk took our coats to hang in the cloak room; we were then led to a table beside the window, which overlooked Kensington Gardens. Saying this, the high wall does obscure the view somewhat, and Mum was also sat behind the sliding screen curtain, so couldn't see out.
The tables were covered in fine linen table cloths, dainty silver cutlery, china cups, and a lovely yellow orchid. The tables were quite low, which is traditional for afternoon tea, but a tall person might find it a bit awkward. Even I (a shortie) was stooping over my plate occasionally.
From the moment the seats were pulled out for us, the hospitality was exemplary. The staff were polite, courteous, well informed, friendly, and attentive without being intrusive. Our main waiter even offered to take our picture for us. We were made to feel like valued and appreciated guests. If there was one way of describing how I was made to feel, it can be summed up in this clip:
The menu listed a variety of teas with elaborate descriptions. My favourite because of its slightly humorous pretension was the Bai Hao Yin Zhen:
'Exquisitely delicate and tender flavour. The infusion is slightly pink and leaves one with a light and gentle sense of early morning clouds and butterflies.'
As delightful as this sounds, you all know that you can never get a full sense of what something is going to be like, purely by the description alone. I was therefore very impressed when the waiter presented us with a tray of bottled tea leaves, which we were allowed to smell, to help us make our choice. He recommended the red fruits, which is technically not a tea, but an infusion of dried berries.
An afternoon tea that engages all the senses.
Sampling all the bottles was an aromatic adventure; and really helped inform our decision. There were some that I loved the smell of (Bai Hao Yin Zhen, Leaping Tiger, and red fruits) and others that completely turned me off. It was in fact the Darjeeling Ambootia, which I didn't like, that Mum though particularly appealing , so it just goes to show how different everyone's senses are.
Red Fruit Tea
If you have read my previous reviews about afternoon teas, you will know I am not actually that keen on tea or hot drinks in general. For this reason, I went for the red fruits. At first I'll admit that I was not all that keen; I found it too hot, and the flavour not that strong. Mum, however, suggested I put an ice cube in from my water. After that, it took on gorgeously tart taste of red currents.
BYOB: Bring Your Own Bear
We were then served a generous portion of finger sandwiches; there were not just two or three combinations, but several. These included prawn mayonnaise, chicken salad, cheese, beef with gherkins, roasted vegetables, and tomato.
Apart from the chicken, which was a little dry, all the others were delicious. My favourite was the tomato, which was mixed with some kind of chutney that gave it a real fruitiness.
After finishing out sandwiches I said to Mum, 'The only thing I do miss is the tier stand.' Moments later, what should arrive? A three tiered stand of scones, cakes, and pastries. The sandwiches were served separately because there was not enough room. I actually prefer it like this because it gives you a breather between courses.
On the middle tier were four very thinly sliced pieces of cake. Some afternoon teas give you a slice so big that you feel too full to have anything else. This was porridge size (see paragraph four). The cakes included a sharp lemon drizzle, exquisite banana, and fudgey chocolate brownie.
Our dining experience was now accompanied to music, as a pianist began to play on a shiny black piano in the corner. The melody reminded me a bit of Aladdin's 'A Whole New World', but with a classical twist.
It's a Sconsation.
We moved onto the scones, which had risen like a soufflé. They were plumpcious, scrumptious, glumptious, and as aerated as a cloud. One was a light and springy plain scone, while the other spiced with cinnamon. Each of these were enhanced with strawberry and plum conserve, and devonshire clotted cream that was so thick it lifted the plate up, and had the texture of ice cream.
To finish, were a selection of petit fours, which we sliced in half and shared. The lemon cheesecake deserved the word 'cake' in the title, because instead of a biscuit base, they was a soft sponge. The chocolate tart was filled with a dark rich ganache, and decorated with gold. The raspberry sponge was a bit stodgy, not being much more than a dressed up jam roly-poly. But the best thing of the entire meal was the pistachio mousse, which had a creamy smooth texture, and the taste of caramelised nuts.
The experience was rounded off with a chat with our waiter before he finished his shift. The perfect interlude to an afternoon.