Afternoon tea: how do you take yours? In a fancy hotel, on a sightseeing boat, on the top deck of a bus, in a cutesy cafe, in a museum with all the family? Maybe you just want LOADS of cakes, perhaps you prefer a vegan version, or with sausage rolls and pork pie for a manly spin on the classic, or how about with jelly and ice-cream for a whimsical take?
It is one of those quintessentially British affairs, and thanks to a love of afternoon tea, from young to old, men and women, Londoners to tourists, there have never been so many ways to take it.
But wait. What if you had it in the evening? Evening tea, if you will. And add a few new dishes to it, perhaps even a Middle Eastern twist. Don’t worry: the sandwiches and desserts are safe (yes, plural of course). But as this is actually your dinner, you can afford to add some heavyweights into the mix. That good old British stalwart, the quiche, and how about falafel, hummous, lamb kibbeh and lemon preserved chicken?
If you like, you can wash it down with traditional tea to drink. But as the temperature is picking up this summer, shall we put iced tea on the menu too?
Step forward, the High Palms High Tea at the Landmark Hotel in Marylebone. Running from July 9 to September 2, diners can enjoy sandwiches, then proper dinner stuff, followed by three puddings.
It all sounds very intriguing, so my husband and I – both big afternoon tea aficionados – try it out one Sunday evening. The High Tea is served in the Winter Garden Restaurant, essentially an eight-storey atrium with palm trees, lots of smiling waiters and a pianist setting the mood on the mezzanine level. It’s beautiful. The sandwiches arrive: lobster and prawn cocktail, pimento humus and courgette, and cajan spiced chicken. They are tasty and perfectly cut, and presented on a pretty china plate with “you can see your reflection” silver cutlery. As you would expect from a five-star hotel. We are offered more sandwiches – as every afternoon tea, I mean, high tea, diner should be – but no, we must save ourselves for the five main courses coming our way.
The mains are mezze really, and they all fit on one dinner plate – a quintet of Arabic salad, quiche, chicken, lamb with couscous and pomegranate, and falafel with hummus. The chicken is fantastically moist, the feta and spinach quiche creamy and crumbly. You cannot fault any of it.
The desserts arrive. The sticky toffee pudding with mini jug of extra toffee sauce is a winner. The passion fruit and mango cheesecake is sweet and packs a gingery punch too. And then, the strawberry and mint tartlet. This is the perfect way to finish our evening, as we return to our afternoon tea roots with strong British flavours and a perfect pastry just begging to be Instagrammed.
We sit back, rub our bellies, take a few selfies and look around the restaurant. Kinda quiet, maybe a third full, but it is a Sunday night. Great people-watching as the wealthy hotel clients come and go across the atrium. We order another iced tea. And then we realise: the food has been pleasant, the service very good, but what sets this meal apart, are the drinks.
The iced teas are a revelation. Pomegranate and lime. Iced lemonade. Peach verbena. Yes, yes, yes! I don’t normally like tea, or iced tea, but these are like refreshing mocktails. They complement the food, and the restaurant decor, wonderfully. Every afternoon tea should have them. Let’s add the evening eating time AND iced tea to our list of brilliant afternoon teas to choose from in the capital.
The Landmark London’s High Palms High Tea is available from 9th July to 2nd September, from £55 per person. For more information, visit www.landmarklondon.co.uk.