Who doesn’t love high tea? And as December rolls in, most of London’s hotels seem to be switching it up with a festive spin.
Even if you don’t celebrate Xmas, it’s hard not to get excited at the prospect of cute, themed cakes and glittery decorations. Who doesn’t love a bit of shimmer and shine? My daughter and the equally gorgeous friend Imi were first in the queue for a trip to sample some seasonal sparkle at the Royal Lancaster Hotel festive afternoon tea.
Although most of London’s residents also seemed intent on flocking to already packed London streets (that permitted only a slow shuffle behind pigeon-stepping shoppers) nothing was going to deter us from an experience we’ve missed over the last couple of years.
The hotel’s exterior was newly clad in masses of lights and lit up reindeers. Through revolving doors stood a huge tree dressed in red, white silver baubles and bows. In the Hyde Lobby Bar — where tea was served — tiny, red-flowered plants in silver pots kept each table on brand.
The delighted girls skipped in like excited lambs before spending five minutes deciding who was to sit where in the modest lounge area where bauble wreaths continued the festive vibe.
On the menu were a decent range of posh teas, sandwiches, scones and patisserie with a regular and vegan menu to cater for all tastes. (It’s worth also knowing that the gelatine used in the regular bakes is derived from fish and not meat.)
My brew — the Spiced Winter Tea — was full of comfortingly warm cinnamon, ginger, orange and vanilla. No need for milk and nor did it stew to overly-tannic, teeth furring grime so I could comfortably drain the perfect pot. As designated driver of children, I turned down the glass of fizz offered by smiling staff — all charming and super helpful.
The food was as colourful as the tree — differently coloured flavoured breads (beetroot and basil) interspersed with regular wholemeal and white — all full of freshly baked softness and spring. A rainbow of fillings included (for the vegan tea) smoked beetroot salad; radish and herb butter; mixed grilled vegetables; asparagus and chimichurri and palest green cucumber with mint flavoured vegan cream cheese.
The equally aesthetic regular sandwich menu included pink Scottish salmon rillettes with horseradish; egg and truffle and the cucumber sandwich with regular cream cheese. Meat fillings could be swapped out with advance notice.
The girls dived into the warm-from-the-oven scones, slathering them with clotted cream and jam before leaping on the cute cakes, which had arrived at the same time, and been left to tantalise us on the afternoon tea hanger frame. A device (thankfully) more attractive than the clunky description.
Both vegan and regular teas offer eye candy in the form of a bauble cake; Christmas tree; Santa’s hat and Christmas present. We ate the regular version which were all as good as they looked.
For me, the winner was the bauble — filled with the most meltingly light vanilla bavarois (mousse) surrounding tiny pieces of caramelised apple on a dulcey biscuit. (In case you’re interested, dulcey is not, as I’d declared when the girls asked me, a typo, but the name of a caramelised white (or blonde) chocolate.)
The Royal Lancaster is far enough away from the madding crowds to give you some peace but within easy reach of the shops so you can get your retail fix then escape for calm and cake. Perfect for a grown up get together. (If you’re taking little people, call ahead for child-friendly sandwiches.