** Warning: this blog post contains an afternoon tea metaphor so tightly stretched that it might explode. It even flavours this warning.**
When I first moved to the UK, I wanted to avoid the antipodean cliches. I didn’t want to live in a share house with half a dozen Kiwis and Aussies, I didn’t want to drink away my weekends and approach Mondays with an empty wallet and a dozen regrets, I didn’t want my life to be contained between the three areas of Shepherds Bush, Fulham and Clapham.
I wanted to find the mystical Europe that haunted my dreams, I wanted to escape everything that I thought I knew and make connections with real British people whose culture was so different to mine. I only had two years (or so I thought) and I simply didn’t want to waste them.
Somehow I discovered something else entirely. It was a society strangely like mine and yet eerily dissimilar. The language was the same – we all spoke English, but with dappled patinas that reflected our upbringings, the food was familiar and yet the recipes were so different (weighing ingredients? really?) and there was (still is) a baffling lack of street signs that flummoxes me – though before I had a smartphone it did encourage me to develop a love for wandering.
At different times over the years though, I’ve found myself connecting with other Kiwis.
Even though I swore that I wouldn’t be that cliche, there is a certain kinship to be found in the soil of our homeland. We’ve all been through the – at times – uncertain settling into expat life, can mutter together about the lack of Lolly Cake, we can all sing Pokarekare Ana (or at least the chorus when we forget the verses) and generally shake heads at the lack of Tomato Sauce availability – ketchup just doesn’t cut the mustard.
The afternoon tea at the Park Lane Hilton is itself like a kiwi[fruit]. (I told you it was coming. From the outside it doesn’t look like much – it’s a typical Hilton hotel which is well appointed, but not really having a great deal of character. It’s functional and understated. However, once you sit down and the afternoon tea stand is unveiled, you begin to plumb the deliciously hidden depths of this Park Lane edifice.
I visited recently with a lovely Kiwi lady that I know, and we spent an afternoon simply sipping bubbly and nibbling away at our afternoon tea stand between thoughts of home. Strangely we had lived in the same area, at around the same time so our paths in New Zealand have undoubtedly crossed before – and yet together here we sat so far from home
Our open sandwiches were traditionally flavoured; smoked salmon & horseradish cream, cucumber with chives & cream cheese, prawn cocktail with the crunch of crisp lettuce on malted bread, plus Coronation chicken with a hint of curry and the sweetness of pineapple, alongside ham daubed with tomato chutney, mustard & cress on ciabatta bloomer. A tasty start presented by this Tea Guild member.
We enjoyed slathering both our chocolate chip, and our sultana scones with smears of Praline chocolate spread, clotted cream and strawberry jam – a little too much because as we came to the top tier, we ran entirely out of steam. Which was an utterly classic afternoon tea mistake. The pips in the sweet centre, one could say if one was labouring under the guise of a metaphor.
Usually having to split sweet tidbits is something I hate at the very centre of my foodie being, but these were all delicious enough that it simply didn’t matter which ones we had (both there, and we took treats home as well.) From the raspberry and dark chocolate parfait to the lemon meringue cup, the chocolate and coffee puck, mint and white chocolate tart, a rich sliver of mandarin cake, and orange and chocolate macaroon complete with mini-me, we were in chocolate heaven.
So, the moral of the story? Peel off the layers of the Park Lane Hilton Hotel and you’ll find yourself spoon-in-hand. digging deep into a sweet centre.
Oh, and there’s a prize [not really] if you can guess how many sly references to Kiwifruit I managed to slice into this fruity post…
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