There’s a reason guests love The Halkin – it’s quite possibly the most discreet hotel in London. Walk down Halkin Street and you could mistake the hotel for just another swanky Belgravia residence. Except, that is, if you visit in the middle of RHS Chelsea Flower Show, when a bow of brightly-coloured blooms festoon the entrance to welcome guests. Glorious, but admittedly a bit of a giveaway.
While this summer season staple is considered quintessentially British, The Halkin (and its resident afternoon tea) most certainly is not. For anyone who knows COMO’s reputation, this might not come as a surprise. The luxurious hotel group which operates The Halkin has a flair for sleek sophistication in far-flung exotic locations. Think honeymoon haunts like Indonesia, Thailand and the Maldives and you’ll get our drift.
Instead, The Halkin’s Michelin-starred neo-Basque restaurant – Ametsa with Arzak Instruction – serves a tapas-inspired afternoon tea. Fans of scones and sandwiches, take note: this tea probably isn’t for you. But traditionalists might be pleasantly surprised – the bite-sized proportions of tapas do lend themselves incredibly well to afternoon tea.
Broken into two courses, this tapas takes us through a savoury then sweet interpretation of tea according to the Arzak family. The probably rings a bell – this Spanish culinary dynasty is best known for its San Sebastian out-posting with an impressive three Michelin stars.
We kick off with a sweet waffle topped with a fried quail’s egg, washed down with a shot of gazpacho-style tomato and raspberry soup. On the side, a couple of small Iberico ham croquettes are perfectly sized for a burst of authentic Spanish flavour. There’s even a granary sandwich on offer, made with Txistorra, a type of cured sausage from the Basque region. But our favourite was the ‘Txangurro in a Shell’ – fresh spider crab served on a melt-in-your mouth cracker.
Next, the sweet plate has serves some more familiar friends. The Catalan cream, for example, is a rich take on a classic crème brûlée, while churros con chocolate will instantly transport you to the streets of Spain. A passion fruit cheesecake is the obvious crowd pleaser here, but it’s the smoked pineapple which steals the show – served charred and smoking beneath its own personal bell jar.
While you could accompany all this with a brew – it is ‘afternoon tea’, after all – the specially curated cocktails for the summer season are the better choice. We loved the Couture Hat, an Ascot-inspired mixture of champagne, sloe gin and raspberry puree, and the Flavia, a pimped up version of a Pimms typically served at Wimbledon.
Of course, there’s still a floral nod to mark the occasion. With the RHS Chelsea Flower Show comes ‘Belgravia in Bloom’, an excuse to deck the surrounding streets with spectacular displays of petal prowess. The theme this year is Mexican artist Frida Khalo – a nod to the V&A’s exhibition opening later this month.
So while colourful flowers fill the streets outside, inside The Halkin bespoke headdresses capture the Hispanic theme. Made with fresh flowers, these have been created for the hotel by British milliner and royal family favourite, Jane Taylor London. These have a distinct Carmen Miranda vibe – think turbans made out of tropical leaves and fuchsia pink floral headbands. You’re even allowed to try them on for size.
If you like what you see, COMO The Halkin can help. The hotel is offering a bespoke service this summer where Jane Taylor will come to the hotel to conduct private appointments and fittings for guests as well as giving them 10% discount.
Afternoon tea and a Ascot hat sorted in one go? Sounds good to us.
The Ametsa Afternoon Tea at The Halkin costs £34 per person with a summer cocktail; available until 30 July 2018. To book, please visit www.comohotels.com.