The Salon was formerly St James's Restaurant until Her Majesty the Queen and Their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge opened it early 2012. Now if the last sentence wasn't a royal mouthful enough for you, I insist that you go for the afternoon champagne tea. You really can't beat getting a bit tipsy before enjoying tea (not that the champagne comes by the bucket load).
Upon entering the Salon (I keep wanting to write Saloon), piano tunes either welcome you or give you second thoughts, depending on the quality of elevator music. After you're seated by a cajoling butler-type in the booths with the whiter-than-white table cloths, he hands you the menu of teas.
Calling it a tea menu does do the place injustice. It's more like a tea compendium. A bible for the beloved dried leaves. Each tea sort comes with a delightful little history lesson. I felt compelled to read each and every one and had to tell the butler, sorry, but this menu is so utterly intriguing that I'll be a while yet. Must've been there for hours. As if the writing alone didn't wet my appetite, the butler then arrived with an assortment of teas for tasting. Just tell me I'm indecisive already!
The demonstration involved three or four teas: one black, one green, and a white. Not that one really cares for anything other than black. In any case, the black variety did strike my fancy, which is no mean feat, let me tell you. Called Royal Blend, it was smokier and not quite as floral as my preferred Earl Grey. But I decided, what the hell, you only live once. I'll give it a go!
First the champagne arrives. And, as always when one orders champagne, the glass is not nearly as full as one would like. But, alas, champagne is champagne and one takes what one can get. From there it gets a bit shambolic. The teas arrive and you find yourself double-fisting (unless you're like me and have already inhaled the champagne).
The tea is naturally loose (oh no! someone catch it quick!), and arrives with an adorable strainer (almost wanted to nick one as a souvenir). Please see my pictures for a glimpse of the smashing china (no, it's not a Greek restaurant, we don't throw plates to the floor here).
The sandwiches are run-of-the-mill British finger food. In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, Algy goes on and on about the bloody cucumber sandwiches. Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about. The most interesting creation was the salmon and horseradish on poppy seed bread.
An unlimited supply of cakes and scones to send you rolling home! Clotted cream and insanely sweet strawberry jam make your teeth run and hide at the very sight of them. I have to say the scones were fabulous. Not too sweet, not too dry. Just right. On the cake side we were treated to some right colourful things, saturated with bright colours and sugar. A pistachio cream layer cake looked incredibly busy for its own good. Sadly it was. My favourite was a mandarin orange concoction with a layer of dark chocolate. Just the right degree of tartness to go with that smoky Royal Grey.
All in all a 'truly authentic' high tea experience. So if you're looking to capture the right mood before the next episode of Downton Abbey, I say in the words of Lady Grantham, "It's just the ticket!"