Afternoon tea in London is loved by locals and tourists alike as the perfect way to catch up and unwind with friends, however, if you find yourself erring away from the traditional English experience and searching for something altogether more exotic and combining the rituals and flavours of another cuisine, then Chai Wu’s newly launched afternoon tea at their Harrod’s 5th floor restaurant might be just the tonic after a hard day shopping.
The minimalist and sultry dining room has an open plan kitchen (presided over by Head Chef Tong Fatt Kok) as its centrepiece, and the ambiance certainly makes a refreshing change from the stuffy hotel drawing rooms you usually expect to be regaled with a luxury afternoon tea. Although I was prepared for a new experience, the custom of commencing with a glass of champagne was thankfully observed, (in this case Moutard Brut), shortly followed by a first course of baby spinach soup with croutons which proved as bright and invigorating on the palate as it was to the eye, not to mention a welcome cleanser ahead of the decadent morsels that were to follow.
As Chai Wu prides itself on being a contemporary Pan-Asian restaurant that nonetheless still celebrates traditional flavours and techniques, it’s great to see them offering a modern take on China’s historic love affair with tea and the customs surrounding it. For example, you wouldn’t normally expect to see a two-tier cake stand in a Chinese restaurant, but somehow it works with this playful concept; the top tier featuring fresh and colourful chopped salads presented on inviting spoons; from raw tuna and avocado with spicy mayonnaise to an intensely meaty grilled Shitake mushroom version with kampyo, asparagus and yuzu dressing.
More mouth-watering delights continued in the form of expertly made dim sum – a house speciality, yet with some of the most luxurious ingredients in the world, (well, this is Harrods after all); melt in the mouth Wagyu beef puffs topped with gold leaf, crispy wontons revealing a succulent lobster filling, prawn dumplings finished with caviar, and steamed and fried chicken gyoza containing foie gras. They were all divine, and coupled with having a good natter with an old friend, they felt more like party food.
Although it was nice to feel spoiled with the choicest ingredients, in fact one of the most memorable bites happened to be one of the most humble; a Kaya toast which made a humorous nod to the quintessential English finger sandwich, whilst being filled with a popular South-east Asian jam comprising of coconut, sugar and egg – a novel new way to enjoy ‘tea and toast’ that was strangely reminiscent of the strawberry jam and sliced white bread sandwiches I once enjoyed on coming home from school.
When it comes to the tea element, you don’t have to opt for the standard Earl Grey here, Chai Wu have sourced six fine Chinese teas including some of the most highly prized varieties in the world such as Chrysanthemum Flower Tea, and the one I was excited to taste for the first time, Ali Shan High Mountain Tea; an Oolong tea slow grown at altitudes of up to 1400m which produces a sweet lightly perfumed flavour. There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “It is better to be deprived of food for three days than tea for one,” and you can see why when you experience these teas.
Desserts are presented on a further plate but don’t expect any quirky twists on scones or cake here, this course is surprisingly authentic in both look and feel, and in true Asian fashion we were invited to try Chendol; a hugely popular liquid dessert made up of layers of plum sugar, red bean paste and coconut milk with suspended cubes of jelly and vibrant green rice flour jelly noodles. Whilst I have to admit that it challenged my boundaries, my friend, who has travelled the world and was already familiar with desserts like this, lapped the heady mixture up.
Meanwhile, I had a head start on the exquisite platter of sweet treats, from a vibrant green tea cheesecake and a refreshing mango mousse to my favourite dish of the day; a coconut and brown sugar filled pandan pancake roll topped with dessicated coconut. Not only did each dessert compliment one another, they were a positive relief from the ultra rich patisserie you typically brace yourself for with traditional afternoon teas. There always seems to be someone offering a new take on the traditional afternoon tea, but this one actually works. I’m over scones, bring on the pandan rolls.
Afternoon tea at Chai Wu, located on the 5th floor of Harrod’s, 87–135 Brompton Rd, London SW1X 7XL London, is priced at £59 or £69 with a glass of champagne and is served daily. Pre-booking is essential. For more information and to make a reservation call 020 3819 8888 or visit the website.