Afternoon tea. It once was the preserve (apologies for the pun) of high society ladies and has of the last few years been reinstated as a luxurious way to spend quality time with people that you adore. So, no surprise then that when I was recently invited to try the new Spring tea at an old favourite, the Conrad London St. James (then known as the Intercontinental Westminster)…
Disclaimer: I was honoured to be a guest of afternoontea.co.uk to review the beautiful Conrad St. James.
… and I heard that a good friend of mine was using up some annual leave that I enticed her out to sample it with me for an early evening tete a tete.
In the same week as International Women’s Day, we settled ourselves into Emmeline’s Lounge (named for Emmeline Pankhurst) as the champagne cork was popped, and the sun began to dip over London.
The Duchess of Bedford is best remembered as the creator of the British meal afternoon tea whilst visiting the 5th Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle in the mid-1840s. During the 18th century, dinner came to be served later and later in the day until, by the early 19th century, the normal time was between 7:00 and 8:30 p.m. An extra meal called luncheon had been created to fill the midday gap between breakfast and dinner, but as this new meal was very light, the long afternoon with no refreshment at all left people feeling hungry.
She found a light meal of tea (usually Darjeeling) and cakes or sandwiches was a perfect balance. The Duchess found taking an afternoon snack to be such a perfect refreshment that she soon began inviting her friends to join her. Afternoon tea quickly became an established and convivial repast in many middle and upper-class households.
Convivial is definitely the word.
We began by popping the cork of a bottle of champagne, and pairing it with a light and umami hot smoked trout pate with notes of Lemon & Chive, served with lightly toasted brioche, plus delicious rounds of garden pea, mint & goats cheese sprinkled Crostini.
Delectable sammiches (that’s Kiwi for sandwiches) also slid our way;
- Free range egg with avocado and mayonnaise on walnut sultana bread
- Scottish oak smoked salmon, chives onion cream cheese on pain de mie
- Coronation chicken with sultanas, almonds on caraway bread
- Rare roast English beef caramelised with red onion and watercress
- Elderflower, pickled cucumber, radish, and a slather of cream cheese
They were all delicious, but if pushed for a favourite, it would be the English beef by a slim margin. My friend also had a few dietary requirements which the staff were at pains to assist with.
We quickly dealt to the fluffy scones, lathering them with clotted cream, strawberry compote and a delectable lemon curd…
…and my friend hilariously put the kybosh on the jam then cream or cream then jam argument with her intriguing burger methodology of afternoon tea.
As the shadows deepened, so did our conversation, flitting from travel to family to women’s suffrage over the last century, all in plush comfort.
Last, but definitely not least we sampled the crowning sweet tier; an apple and pistachio opera cake, matcha tea macarons and the sweet that stole our hearts – the key lime tartlet.
One of the most intriguing things about the hotel is the political links – being so close to the Houses of Parliament, there is even a dinner bell to summon politicians from their lunch tables in the Blue Boar back to business.
Emmeline’s Lounge is a beautiful, serene space. Classic, with beautiful clean lines and an array of spring blooms that evoke Green Park a few steps away from the hotel. Find more information about booking afternoon tea at the Conrad St James hotel here.
Who have you spent your most memorable afternoon tea with? Was it someone who inspires you?