When London’s St James’ Court hotel announced its new ‘Sherlock Holmes’ afternoon tea, there was but one person the Arb could send to take the case. Step forward celebrated crime writer Thomas Mogford to investigate…
There’s a lot to be said for celebrating your favourite fictional sleuth through the medium of food and drink. My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon on the Orient Express, sipping dainty little glasses of crème de menthe in homage to Hercule Poirot, gazing about the dining car and wondering which of our fellow passengers was likeliest to bump us off. In the heady days before children arrived, we used to meet for a post-work Martini at Duke’s Bar in Mayfair, where Ian Fleming decided that Bond would take his ‘shaken not stirred’. So when I saw that an afternoon tea inspired by the most famous fictional detective of them all had been launched at the St James’s Hotel by Taj hotels in London, I lost no time in booking a table.
I’d been lucky enough to stay a few years back at the legendary Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, and had assumed that grand old Indian hotels – and international holiday resorts – were the Taj Group’s stock-in-trade. And yet, situated in Victoria between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, lies the Taj St James’ Court, a 338-room city hotel complete with spa, five restaurants and secluded inner courtyard.
The Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea is hosted at Kona, a Mediterranean restaurant on the ground floor of one of the eight redbrick Victorian townhouses that comprise the hotel. Though the contemporary décor and selection of chart music might not immediately scream 221b Baker Street, in between our place settings we found a runner of Harris tweed, with a number of Holmesian items placed upon it – a pipe, a magnifying glass, a Baker Street sign, a miniature violin and globe, and a pair of heavy steel handcuffs, for which our Sicilian waiter, Luca, reassured us the management retained the key.
We started by selecting our teas. As one might expect from an Indian-owned hotel, the range was broad and imaginative, and my wife’s pot of Assam Mangalam was deemed perfectly brewed. My Earl Grey came infused with tiny blue cornflowers, and had a delicious citrus zing that readied the palate for the main event.
The first platter to arrive was ‘The Sign of the Four’, named after Conan Doyle’s second Holmes story, which takes its plot from events surrounding the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Highlights included the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ brioche bun, with a slice of rare roast beef and a tangy mustard mayonnaise in the middle, and the ‘Study in Scarlet’, a pink, beetroot-bread sandwich filled with minted cream cheese and a layer of cucumber which gave a satisfying, toothsome crunch.
Once these had been demolished, we were presented with a stack of six soft, warm scones, a generous pot of homemade strawberry jam and a ramekin of smooth clotted cream. I think these may have been the finest scones I have ever eaten. No sign of the stiff exterior and dry, crumbly centre that can afflict this famous bun: these were as giving as a sponge cake, and I was thrilled when our waiter presented us with a Tupperware box of extra ones to take home.
At this point, my wife was approaching culinary defeat, so when the platter of cakes and pastries arrived, it was up to me to lead the way. There were some unusual confections aboard – ‘Watson’s Moustache’ comprised a Stout cupcake with a chocolate moustache embedded in the buttercream; ‘Sherlock’s Holmes’s Smoky Cigar’ a chocolate tube stuffed with a caramel mousse so heavily infused with woodsmoke that it might not be to everyone’s taste. But the ‘221b Macaroon’ – flavoured with 25-year-old Scotch – was sensational, and ‘Mrs Hudson’s Pudding’ proved to be a slice of sumptuous date cake that would have done the famous landlady proud.
By now, even Moriarty would have been running scared from further consumption, but the lure of a Sherlock-inspired cocktail was too much to resist. The Taj has given a teatime twist to the traditional ‘Old Fashioned’ – adding chocolate bitters to the regulation Angostura. And the name of this new cocktail? The ‘Elementary’.
All in all, a delightful mash-up of two of the Victorians’ most beloved creations – Holmes and high tea.
The Sherlock Holmes Afternoon Tea costs £35 per person exclusively at Taj Hotels’ St James’ Hotel. For more information, and to make a reservation, please visit www.stjamescourthotel.co.uk.