In over a decade of living in London, I realise that I have not really given the Great British institution of the afternoon tea a good enough hearing. The problem is that I don’t drink tea and have a well known aversion to all things cucumber thereby eliminating cucumber sandwiches with crusts or otherwise. Should that matter though? The ritual of Afternoon tea is really very little to do with the tea isn’t it?
A few years ago I had a rather lovely champagne fuelled outing to the Ritz where none of the other guests were filling in the song request cards for the pianist so endless, magically self-refilling platters of sandwiches and cakes were consumed to a soundtrack of our own personal piano karaoke. Can afternoon tea get any better?
So, to The Berkeley. H had very kindly given me an afternoon tea voucher for my birthday last year which, of course, I had left until the very last moment to book before it expired. One thing that is for sure about afternoon teas, they get more booked up than dinner at almost all of the most popular London restaurants. The Goring has recently been voted top afternoon tea in London and there is no chance of a weekend seat before the autumn, Claridges are quoting October. Having spent the weekend spring cleaning my flat destroying my manicure whilst knee deep in mops, cloths and a lifetime supply of Flash All-purpose cleaning liquid, I needed a bit of glamour so off to the Berkeley for a Sunday evening tea.
The “Pret a Portea” was introduced back in 2004 as quite a clever spin on the traditional British afternoon tea. Biscuits and cakes are inspired by haute couture designers and their collections and, as such, the treats on offer change from season to season.
Located sensibly close to Harvey Nichols and all sorts of other lovely shops, it makes an excellent place for a pit stop to refuel. The event (and it really does feel like an ‘event’) began with a plate of sandwiches; tomato bread (albeit with the dreaded cucumber), curry bread with prawn and olive (slightly odd as the prawns seemed to have been pureed), poppy seed bread with pastrami and the same with smoked salmon and a little wholewheat roll with egg mayonnaise. All the breads are made in house and were worthwhile additions to the cakes.
Sandwiches are accompanied by a plate of canapes (in this case a tuna tartare with quails egg, goats cheese on a cheesy buscuit, smoked duck vol au vent, turkey layered with chestnut puree and some of sort of beetroot spicy curried lamb confection which was probably the tastiest).
Whilst the savouries are all very delicate and nice, the real draw here is the cakes. You are talked through a little brochure showing the designer garments on which the cakes have been modelled. I understand that the pastry chefs even go so far as attending some of the fashion shows to see their inspiration on the catwalk and various glossy magazines advise on seasonal trends (no doubt leading to this year’s neon placeholders, menus and doggy handbags). Confectionery reinterpretations are imaginative and not always the obvious. Whilst some pieces are direct iced biscuit versions of original designs (such as the maple and ginger Fendi yellow shoe and the chocolate Marc Jacobs red blazer), others are more avant garde.
|Original Yves St Laurent Cabas bag|
A green handbag was made of coloured moulding chocolate and was a dainty little replica of the Yves Saint Laurent “Cabas Chyc” bag.
The cakes that I found most interesting were the ones that didn’t try to be exact replicas of their inspiration but were a riff on the original theme. The rose macaroon had been styled in homage to a Giambattista Valli dress and had a very subtle rose flavour (nothing worse than eating a cake that tastes like soap).
A nougatine and ‘berriolette’ mousse (no me neither….think it might be an invented word for mixed berries as found no references on Google other than the Berkeley- happy to be corrected though!) was topped with a chocolate printed with a geometric pattern taken from a Prada garment thereby drawing inspiration from the fabric rather than the item of clothing.
Gianduja cream sponge has an excellent flavour and the sponge is decorated in the bright pink polka dot design of a Manolo Blahnik stiletto.
|Real Fendi boot thing.|
|Biscuit Fendi boot|
If you aren’t particularly girly or into fashion then I think there are maybe better places to take your afternoon tea as some of the cakes do fall into the ‘style over substance’ category, when you are using that much fondant or moulding chocolate to replicate real garments and accessories it is always bound to happen.
Despite having been stuffed to the gills with as many mini handbags or shoes as you manage, each diner is given a doggy bag which is in the shape of a handbag (of course it is, why am I even surprised?!) There were plenty of slightly red faced men leaving the dining room unsure of the most macho way to carry a small neon cardboard handbag filled with little cakes- bet they ate them all when they got home though!
Pret a Portea at The Berkeley Hotel
Wilton Place, London, SW1X 7RL