Alas all things end, from a goodbye kiss to a dissolute dinner. In culinary matters, I feel loss most vividly amid the last claws of a well-equipped platter of fruits de mer. What sadness to slip the ultimate oyster, extract a parting prawn’s pink, sweet fleshy tail and needle out the final salty winkle. I feel similar pathos buttering the terminal, cool triangle of breakfast toast, and, invigorated by sugar shakes, segueing onto the concluding tier of afternoon tea. Not that I savour the pomp and ceremony of that entirely indulgent occurrence often. Fortunately, finality felt a far-off destination for two dapper gents attending the brewed ritual at The Mandeville Hotel’s ‘Men’s Afternoon Tea’, a bountiful fusion of shrimps, butter, scones and cakes.
Built as villas for the elite, converted to a hospital, wartime, then re-opened as a budget hotel, The Mandeville only recently became boutique. Designer Stephen Ryan tweaked public areas into a “smooth environment” somewhere between high-end showhome and designer boutique. From swirly walls, backlit Venetian carnival masks glow. Mirrors reflect cake-laden passenger cargo aboard pink piped sofas. A sideboard is lizardette. On it, a statue’s legs are splayed, capturing the imagination of an Essex secretarial troupe who clicked his modesty on mobiles.
To help foster the illusion of the tea’s testosterone tone, our waiter replaced feminine cups with stockier versions. Oddly poured to the rim from an unashamedly jaunty teapot, the house blend is first (balanced, fresh and never too femininely fragrant) then white needle, free from milk and faintly evocative of flour (but not flowers).
Bringing savoury treats, the waiter announces that legionettes of ladies actually prefer the gents’ carte for its intrigue and quantity. Roasted sirloin sandwiches of charred focaccia provide a protein hit, followed by enthusiastically spiced chicken lollies. Considering these masculine snacks, we joke we are almost ready to chant football cantations. Meanwhile, Morecombe Bay shrimps are pert and citrusy under their less than shy buttery cap. Only grey herring purée proves something of a red herring owing to its unglamorous, graphite hue (imagine jackfruit spread on London pavement).
When bitten, sweet weeping chocolate fig beignet shows the pâtissier’s enormous endeavour and skill at rendering an unnerving approximation of a pudendum mulieris. What sensuous spectacle. Meanwhile, fruit cake laced with Buffalo Trace is sufficiently soaked with the bourbon to be mind-alteringly effective. As we tuck into fresh, crumbly, sparsely raisined scones with Devonshire cream, the bellows of the chef next door, opining about his “fucking range”, bring a final reassuring tinge of brute manliness into the ladylike rooms. Genuinely concerned for the recipient’s safety, my enquiry is met with a half smile – perhaps the Diva is indulged daily for his dinner prowess.
For £23.50 apiece, this well-equipped tea costs only a few pounds more than a brace of brimming martinis. The presence of the editor of this site, acting as second palate and inadvertently wearing similar colours to your correspondent, leads no doubt to aspersions of sexuality from predominantly lady diners. But if stigma must be attached to two chaps daintily partaking of the tea ritual together, then that is small fry compared to the enormous pleasure the tea transfers to us…
Men’s Afternoon Tea at The Mandeville Hotel, Mandeville Place, London W1U 2BE. Tel. +44 (0)207 935 5599. Website.