Struggling to maintain your patience in the face of having to explain to bemused members of waiting staff – yet again – that, no, parmesan cheese isn’t vegetarian, and you’re very sorry but you’re just really not a fan of brie, before being offered a fruit salad in lieu of your companions’ gelatine-laden delights? Still want to exercise your basic human right to plough your way through eight desserts in the space of one afternoon? Well, After Nyne’s resident fashionista-turned-foodie, Samantha Simmonds, has done the (extremely) hard work for you, seeking out the afternoon teas guaranteed to keep you a happy herbivore from start to finish – yep, all the way from cranberry-studded sarnie to golden egg. Oh, and they all offer carnivorous options, too – so you can still keep the fussy meat-eater in your life happy (just make sure they keep their mitts off your risotto balls).
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at One Aldwych
If you have any sense of occasion, start with a Cocktail Charlie. Seriously – even if that occasion is “day ending in y”. A steaming concoction of Dalmore whisky, Grand Marnier Cherry, chocolate bitters, grapefruit juice, cherry syrup and champagne, it’s up there with the best cocktails I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling… After one delicious pot-full, though, it was time to (albeit rather reluctantly) move onto the tea. I opted for Mango Noir, followed by Sugarcane Black, but, if you really want to get into the spirit of things, Chocolate Tea is also on offer…
Although One Aldwych don’t advertise a vegetarian menu per se, most items included in their standard afternoon tea are veggie, and they’re happy to provide alternatives to the couple that aren’t. A compact but select array (unlimited refills are available, but beware – it’s worth saving room for what’s to come!) of savoury pastries and sandwiches was dished up: along with the heritage tomato tart, leek and stilton quiche and egg and cress mini-roll from the regular menu, we were served cheese and pickle and cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches in lieu of smoked salmon and roast beef. Having never formerly been able to stomach stilton in any way, shape or form, I was a little dubious about the quiche, but went in for a tentative nibble anyway, only to be met by an exquisitely flavoured, mouth-melting delicacy – the Oompa-Loompas have clearly been hard at work in the One Aldwych kitchens to work such magic…
The obligatory (and exceedingly tasty) scone was accompanied by summer berry jam, apple and meadowsweet compote, Devonshire clotted cream and, appropriately bizarrely, blueberry brioche. Giant cocoa beans dotted about the full-to-bursting bread basket, meanwhile, turned out to be warm, goo-ily wonderful chocolate financiers…
I opted to begin my three-tiered “third course” with a “palate cleanser” in the form of a gloriously smooth and creamy chocolate caramel milkshake, before moving onto the raspberry trifle (finished with a congenially crunchy rose-flavoured topping), rhubarb jam and vanilla custard-filled doughnut (liberally sugared and meltingly delicious, in the way all real doughnuts should be), and disturbingly convincing “golden egg”, from which, it transpired, smooth mango puree-topped vanilla cheesecake could be spooned from a satisfyingly chunky (and swiftly demolished) milk chocolate shell. The “mystery” homemade candy floss (there’s a prize for those who manage to guess the flavour correctly, so I won’t spoil the game) meanwhile, I saved ’til last… and, having somehow made it through three decades on Earth without sampling the delights of clouds spun from sugar, I couldn’t have picked a better moment to try my first ‘floss.
The Best Bit
Cocktail Charlie and that golden egg both make a strong case for themselves, but, ten days on, I can still recall the precise taste and texture of that candy floss…
You want all the fun of the fair… minus the actual fair.
One Aldwych is at (funnily enough) One Aldwych, London WC2B 4BZ. Afternoon tea is served between 12.30pm and 3.30pm Monday-Saturday and 12.30pm and 4.30pm on Sundays. Reserve your table here.
Vegetarian Afternoon Tea at the Amaranto Lounge, Four Seasons Park Lane
If you so wish, you may choose to begin your afternoon tea at the Amaranto with a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne or Bollinger Rosé Champagne – don’t worry, dear readers, I forced myself to sample both, all the better to advise you. And… I couldn’t tell the difference. But my grandmother, who may or may not boast a slightly more cultivated palette for the nuances of alcoholic beverages (despite never imbibing more than two – admittedly rather large sips – at any one sitting) assures me that the Rosé version is worth the extra £7 on the price tag. Take from that what you will – if, like me, your standard night out once involved the consumption of half a dozen bottles of Smirnoff Ice, then anything prefaced by the word “Bollinger” is more than likely to satisfy.
Having delivered her considered verdict, however, and been offered another glass-full, good old nana plaintively uttered the immortal words, “I prefer tea to champagne!” in the general direction of our poor, somewhat awestruck server (“…I have never heard this before!”), resulting in the swift delivery of a pot of Earl Grey. And, enhanced by liberal infusions of bergamot, this was definitely Earl Grey with added swag – equally pleasing to the palettes of grandmother and granddaughter alike.
The Amaranto boasts a dedicated vegetarian savoury menu – no need to double up on the egg and cress when you’ve your very own (delicious) grilled vegetable and pesto dainties to guard from the carnies’ clutches. Presented with five fresh, tasty and extremely generously sized finger sandwiches each (of which unlimited refills are available, but, again, if you value the ability to move out of your seat unaided by heavy duty crane after a meal, watch your step), we both particularly loved the cranberry bread/cream cheese and cucumber combo – pure genius!
Scones arrive on demand, to ensure they’re enjoyed warm (a clever move, taking the age it takes to polish off that mountain of sandwiches into account). Small, but perfectly formed (because who really wants a big, stodgy scone after five sandwiches?) and, piled high with strawberry jam, clotted cream and homemade lemon curd, genuinely scrumptious (I’ve never liked lemon curd, but gamely slather it all over my second scone anyway, and it is, truly, a little taste of heaven… Meanwhile, nana can’t stop waxing lyrical about the cream… And the jam? Oh, the jam… It’s strawberry, Jim, but not as we know it).
Finally, it’s time to tackle those two (two!) tiers of pastries. One of each, each, again (pet afternoon tea hate: attempting to cut a micro-macaroon in two because you’ve only been given one of each variety) – and, again, the option of unlimited refills (which, again, we are regrettably forced to decline due to increasingly urgent capacity issues). Aside from the (heavenly) giant chocolate and raspberry macaron and the (best) trifle (I have ever had), these sweet treats were a long way from the traditional fare I’d been expecting… as delicious as they are innovative, the pistachio and strawberry tartlet and Pimm’s choux – all at once creamy and fruity, soft and crunchy and bursting with complex co-minglings of flavours – defy all conventional description, whilst the rhubarb and custard “lolly” is a giant mousse-filled chocolate on a stick – and something you desperately need in your life. Now.
The Best Bit
I can’t put a pin between those heavenly desserts… or the crazily fabulous cranberry bread, for that matter… so I’ll go for the mini scones and classic condiments – for changing my mind about lemon curd.
You want to tempt your tastebuds with something a bit different… but you like your surprises all wrapped up in a lovely classic package.
The Amaranto Lounge is at Four Seasons Park Lane, Hamilton Place, London W1J 7DR. Afternoon tea is served from 3pm to 6pm daily. Reserve your table here.
Vegetarian Street Food Afternoon Tea at The Arch
I selected Indian Clouds, a martini made with jasmine tea-infused Bombay Sapphire, produced in-house, from a tempting cocktail menu designed to accompany a menu inspired by street food from around the globe, whilst my BFF went for Margaux, a margarita jzuzhed up with a splash of Cassis (also available: Cuban Lager – a mojito with rum swapped out for… you guessed it – and Passionfruit Mojito – the virgin offering). Verdicts? In a word – yum. And, having had a couple of sips of Margaux, just to make sure, I can confirm that she captures a definite flavour of the French Riviera, just as Clouds instantaneously conjures up a tantalising sense of the exotic.
Having eked out our cocktails until we’d polished off all those savouries and sweet treats, we opted to round our experience off with a pot of Jing Chai tea each (or one and a half pots, and half a pot, respectively, to be accurate – much as I like a good cocktail, I do also seem to have inherited an insatiable capacity for tea in all its forms) – which (followed by a five-mile trek up and down Oxford Street) proved to be the perfect digestif.
Having been mightily intrigued by The Arch’s (mightily meaty) Street Food Afternoon Tea menu when it launched at the beginning of the summer, I did a little (metaphorical) dance of joy when I heard about the launch of their companion vegetarian menu a couple of months later. And it definitely didn’t disappoint. From the first bite of my mini portobello burger, sandwiched between tiny slices of buttery brioche bun and oozing with hot melted cheese, to the last mouthful of my warm and sticky tomato, basil and mozzarella risotto ball, I was in heaven. In-between-times, we happily gorged ourselves on two mini “scotch” quail eggs each (also – rather wonderfully – warm, and served with a very generous dollop of curried mayonnaise for dunking purposes, which we liked so much we ended up dunking pretty much everything else in it, too!), warm roasted vegetable skewers doused in a divinely spicy honey and mustard glaze, and grilled vegetable tortilla wraps (the only items not served warm – a little perplexing, but nothing to unduly dampen our enjoyment). Not a finger sandwich in sight but, hands down, the best selection of afternoon tea savouries either of us had ever come across.
Given the exotic nature of the savouries, the Arch’s sweet selection struck us as surprisingly traditional! Not that this was a cause for complaint – much like the savouries, every morsel was the most delicious version of itself conceivable – from the melt-in-the-mouth (and they really, really did) homemade macaroons to the vanilla-seeded Victoria sponge and delicately-flavoured egg custard of the strawberry and pistachio tart. We had to share the Victoria sponge and busting-with-cream coffee eclair, but this was no hardship, since both were amply sized for two. We recommend guzzling the doughnuts first, whilst they’re still warm, but, even if they’ve cooled down a little, as they had when we finally got to them, don’t worry – you’ll still be in apple and cinnamon nirvana. Of course, the lemongrass, mango and coconut rice pudding walks away with the prize for most unusual menu addition – and its lemongrass content does much more than pay lip service to its moniker, adding a deliciously exotic edge.
The Best Bit
Practically everything is a contender… but I might just go for the homemade scotch quail eggs, for being so simple, yet so spectacularly tasty.
You can do without the scones and sarnies (all the more room for some of the choicest non-bread-and-scone-based veggie delights you’ll find in London).
The Arch is at 50 Great Cumberland Place, Marble Arch, London W1H 7FD. Afternoon tea is served between 3.30pm and 6.30pm daily. Reserve your table here.