22 March 2010
Two For Tea
Afternoon tea. Having once written it off as the sort of thing I'd do when I: a) was older; and b) had suddenly and unexpectedly turned into a spinster from the Home Counties, it came as quite a surprise to discover just how, well, nice it can be.
A few years ago, a friend took me for The Fashionista Tea at the Berkeley. Given my dress sense generally makes Clarkson look cutting edge, it was somewhat over my head in terms of in-jokes and references but absolutely "me" in terms of taste and the whole experience. I left with vows of trying more such experiences at hotels around the West End... and then promptly forgot about it.
Until this year, when two invites came my way. First, would I like to come and talk possible travel article(s) over tea at the Lanesborough? And secondly, a fine invite from fellow food and travel writer Craig Butcher, to join him on what we agreed was one of the gayest afternoons two heterosexual men have probably ever enjoyed that didn't involve seeing Mamma Mia: the excellent Van Gogh exhibition at the Royal Academy, followed by a Van Gogh-inspired tea at Fortnum & Mason.
The Lanesborough tea was an utterly charming respite from the classically February weather outside. The tea, their own blend (explained in fantastically incoherent style by ze almost, how you say, comically French waiter) was delicious, and the selection of sandwiches and cakes - after the rich and sharp chocolate-and-cherry amuse -
was every bit as pretty and delicate as you'd expect. Seriously, what is it about cucumber sandwiches that makes them so appealing? Are they genuinely delicious or do I just have some unfulfilled hankering to be one of The Railway Children or something?
The standout though was a warm Stilton tart that was so light you could have popped them all day but so intensely Stilton-y your mouth would have been abuzz after two. As I discovered, having sat near people who apparently didn't want one. Brilliant.
Surprisingly though - and I don't know why it should come as a surprise - Fortnum & Mason pretty much trumped it. The setting isn't quite as elegant, but the seats are way more comfortable, the room is bright and, while there wasn't quite anything to match the aforementioned cheesy tart, the standard of sandwiches was very good, the variety of snackage was excellent, the sausage roll seemed to be equal parts pork and butter and the Van Gogh-inspired cakes - a Sacher-Torte topped with an icing sunflower, for example - were cute but succeeded beyond the novelty value. Best of all though, they offered lemon curd as an option with the scones.
It might photograph in a fairly bland manner but you can't beat it with a pot of Earl Grey.