When hunting for Christmas themed Afternoon Teas came up, we couldn’t resist the choux swans at the Intercontinental Hotel winking merrily at us for a blogger date (‘blate’ for the lingo lovers) to catch up and gossip over.
By the time we had Christmas shopped ourselves out around Old Spitalfields market (my new discovery, what a place!) and tripped back through London to Marble Arch, I can tell you we were two hungry bloggers. Once we had taken our seating and were tempted with the Botanicals Afternoon Tea menu, all thoughts of the themed Christmas tea flew out the window.
“Celebrating the hotel’s location overlooking the iconic Royal Parks, this delicate and whimsical tea mixes citrus, berries, spices, and herbaceous botanicals for a taste of spring.”
Tea for me is a luxurious treat to be savoured with good friends and should be an experience. This tea is pitched as a sensory experience, and it really was. Playful, exploratory and left us eager to try each new delight.
We started with cocktails – a cardamom and vanilla infused champagne for me, and a fruity mocktail for my blate (I’m not sure which kind, bad blogger I know), and can confirm that mine was lovely.
We began the meal with a palate cleanser – a ‘botanical pear pearl drop’, served daintily on a bed of moss. It was a sign of great things to come.
These sandwiches caused some rather heated tea-side debate in our mission to decide which we loved the most. We loved the more interesting flavours – there was no fawning cucumber and cream cheese, or egg and cress to be seen here. Our overall favourite? The flaked smoked eel – smoky, beautifully textured, and perfectly matched with it’s accompanying horseradish, cucumber and apple relish. Mmmmm.
The guinea fowl ran a close second (there was quite a bit of hmmm, the guinea fowl, no, the eel, no, the guinea fowl. It was quite taxing I can assure you), with the gamey poultry providing a superb counterpoint to the creamed sauce and crisp celeriac. We enjoyed the Trout & Salmon, with wasabi caviar, but felt that the asparagus and beef needed a little something to live up to the plate counterparts. Possibly even just a little-herbed salt to give it a pop.
The open sandwich format worked really well – it meant not only a feast for the eyes, but we weren’t overwhelmed with bread. Also, see that selection below? It was mine, all mine. The helpings were really generous which made our hungry bellies very happy. It also meant narrowing down the best flavour was made much easier. You can’t always tell with just one taste.
Free range guinea fowl with crisp celeriac
Smoked eel, horseradish, cucumber and apple relish
Nettle marinated asparagus rolled in Sirloin of beef
Smoked trout and artichoke pesto wrapped with Speyside smoked salmon, wasabi caviar
You may be able to tell by the next few photos that we were a little late for our table (it was the last sitting that day) as I hadn’t quite factored in the distance between Marble Arch tube and the hotel, because after a while to enhance the mood – or subtly get rid of us, I’m not sure- – they turned the lights down. Low. But despite making photographing (subtly) somewhat hard, the tea & delicious food kept coming and we soldiered on.
The scones were nice, the citrus peel leaving a piquancy in the mouth not normally associated with buttery soft scones, and the quince preserve was great.
Citrus peel and buttermilk scones, with strawberry jam, quince preserve and Devon clotted cream
You know that we went to the Intercontinental Westminster shortly afterwards, and whilst we enjoyed ourselves were disappointed by the sharing of the best elements of the teat tier and slightly disappointing nature of the cakes on offer. This in part was due to the below. Four high-quality patisserie, each with something interesting or delicious.
Each patisserie was an exploration for the tastebuds, a surprise for your fork and subject to much spirited discussion as we nibbled through each item. The Macaron was fabulous. It appears at first glance to be a normal macaron with a bit of topping and a baby macaron balanced on the crown. In reality the Blueberry dessert is half macaron, half spongey top, filled with a scrumptious creme brulee and topped with a small macaron. We delighted in every surprising bite.
I’m not going to bang on about every dessert, but they we all lovely (the celeriac didn’t really bring anything to the table but we still loved testing and trying each layer) and the exploration of flavours and textures made the afternoon tea not only delicious, but a great deal of fun.
Hazelnut bakewell topped with salted caramel cream, apple and rosemary mousse
Victoria plum and celeriac torte
Blueberry crème brûlée macaron
For the array of delicious tastes, good service and luxiourious surroundings, at £38.00+ service this is one tea that I’d highly recommend and seriously want to go back to. What I never understand is (usually skinny) people that go our for afternoon tea, but leave most of the plates untouched. Whether it’s because they don’t ever eat, because they are fussy or because they are just weird I will never know. If you don’t like gamey, fishy, smoky or umami flavours don’t order this tea (they have a few others) but mark my words, you will be missing out.
It’s a lovely hotel, all beige with highlights of tan and black and subtle prints dotted throughout, and it’s quite therapeutic to watch harried shoppers dash past the window as you relax into the insanely comfortable chairs. Half chair, half chaise longue they are quite fascinating pieces of furniture to get into, but slightly difficult to want to leave. But then again, why would you want to?
So; are you a gamey, fish, smokey or umami flavour fan?