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Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair – Good Afternoon Senses

Delectable scones, champagne, clotted cream and tantalising tea. Where do they all connect? At Brown’s Hotel, London

Delectable scones, champagne, clotted cream and tantalizing tea. Where do they all connect? At Brown’s Hotel, London.

If you are cold,
Tea will warm you;
If you are too heated,
It will cool you;
If you are depressed,
It will cheer you;
If you are exhausted,
It will calm you.

William Gladstone, 1809 – 1898, British Statesman

An assortment of various teas, a trolley of goodies so sweet that even the strongest would not be able to resist and a glass of champagne. This could only mean one thing: afternoon tea. Afternoon tea, introduced in Britain in the early 1840s, evolved as a mini meal to stem the hunger and anticipation of an evening meal at 8pm. One of the most quintessential of English customs, this concept grew from simple hunger pangs that Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, used to have around late afternoon. What makes it so stylishly awesome are the sweet delicacies that entice your buds, eyes and, of course appetite. From one to many, from simple to elaborately grand, the concept has grown leaps and bounds. Known as the ‘most fashionable pause for tea’, this social event holds true even today. The exquisite gowns, gloves and hats have disappeared over time, but the core concept remains and serves the purpose – it makes for great conversation, and fills the stomach.

A sip and then one more
There is a wide selection of hotels in London offering the quintessential afternoon tea experience. On my recent visit to London, I had the pleasure of experiencing the afternoon tea at Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair. Brown’s Hotel has a fascinating history and has hosted many distinguished guests since it opened as London’s first ever hotel in 1837, and to this day, this glamorous, five-star establishment welcomes guests ‘in-the-know’.  It is from here that Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call; President Roosevelt stayed on his honeymoon; and both Agatha Christie and Rudyard Kipling were so inspired that they penned many of their novels while staying here. Thus, it comes as no surprise that it is an esteemed part of The Leading Hotels of the World.

Brown’s Hotel personifies the refined sophistication of modern British luxury and this is visible as you take a walk around the property. Each room and suite is individually decorated and many feature antiques and contemporary artworks, creating an elegant and fashionable air. The Donovan Bar and HIX Mayfair celebrate British art and cuisine, and The English Tea Room offers an award-winning, quintessential English experience. A luxurious spa and state-of-the-art gymnasium offers a discreet sanctuary within this vibrant city.

Heading to the English Tea Room, I realised two very important things. One, at Brown’s, you have it all: three tiers with sandwiches at the bottom, scones in the middle, and sweets on top. The sandwiches are classic, no surprise, but well executed. Two, people can really eat. Imagine sandwiches and sandwiches. And after you finish all that, though I’ve yet to see someone who actually finishes everything, out comes a cake trolley. The tea menu is extensive with a total of 17 teas covering all five categories (black, oolong, green, white and herbal).
Pouring elegance
The English Tea Room serves the most famous afternoon tea in London and has been awarded the 2013 Award of Excellence by The Tea Guild. Consisting of a choice of 17 Jing teas, including Brown’s own blend, it now presents the first ever Prestige Seasonal Tea Library, curated by tea traders Lalani and Co. Afternoon Tea is served with delicious finger sandwiches, an assortment of delicate pastries, fruit and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve, as well as freshly baked cakes from the trolley. There is also a low calorie ‘Tea-Tox’ version of afternoon tea available. Seating around 70 people, this room serves tea between 12:00 noon and 6:30 pm Monday to Sunday. A perfect ambience to enjoy with your family or some friends, warm smiles, hot tea and a pianist – that’s what sets the scene here.

Knowing well that the Tea-Tox has quite caught your attention as it did mine, the concept needs to find its way across the world. A healthier version of their award-winning traditional afternoon tea, you can indulge without beating yourself up. Options on the menu range from Smoked chicken and guacamole on spelt bread, Gem heart leaf with tabbouleh, Chicory leaf with smoked mackerel and a soft boiled quail’s egg, Blueberries and lemon cream served in a chocolate cup (blueberries, lemon, low-fat crème fraîche and sugar-free xoxoline chocolate), Flourless chocolate cake, Orange cake with yogurt topping and fruit options to satiate any cravings with fruit sorbets or fruit skewers with yoghurt and honey.

Alongside this, of course, there are a selection of different teas and herbal infusions including whole peppermint leaf, fresh ginger, chamomile, along with a blend of silver needle and rose. Nutritionist Amelia Freer says, “This Tea-Tox is ideal for those who are keen to indulge in afternoon tea, without piling on the pounds. The ingredients are perfect for blood sugar balancing allowing guests to feel fuller for longer.  With no salt or sugar, high in omega 3 and antioxidants and bursting with fibre it ticks all the healthy boxes. It is a must-try for all.”

I, however, wasn’t feeling very healthy on that very cold London day, and decided to indulge a little – or maybe a lot. While I opted for the blackcurrant and hibiscus fruit infusion herbal tea, my companions ordered the strong earl grey tea. After we ordered, my eyes had to wait no longer than two minutes before the much talked about food trolley appeared in front of my eyes. After a long day of shopping, I couldn’t help but reach out for the cucumber and cheese sandwiches that literally melted in my mouth because of the freshness of the ingredients and perfected way of sandwich making (it’s an art seriously). I also tried the egg salad sandwich with watercress that was delectable.

Few minutes later, our server returned with our teas. Mine smelt so delicious, if I may, that I would want it on a rainy day such as this to drive away my blues. A strong tea that was vivid, intense and lively, it had a rich spectrum of berry fruits, supporting acidity and a sweet, perfumed finish. Warm and fresh scones followed our tea and the smell simply played with my olfactory senses. My hands automatically reached out for them as my companion sliced them and topped it up with clotted cream and strawberry preserve. My companion claimed it was better than what he had at Cornwall itself (which is supposed to have the best scones on this planet!). As I was listening to the history of the Victorian sponge cake, our server offered me a slice of it, as I couldn’t find my stomach refusing the offer. Unfortunately, my hands worked quicker and the cake and its remnants melted away.

The sophisticated and stylish interior of The English Tea Room is a clever mix of tradition, thanks to original wood paneling, fire places and Jacobean detailed plaster ceiling, and contemporary style with Paul Smith lighting, fashionable fabrics and original artworks. No matter what a guest’s dietary requirements may be, from gluten free to nut allergies, the team of chefs at Brown’s Hotel will ensure that everyone has the chance to enjoy their award-winning afternoon tea. However, 48 hours advanced notice is required to prepare these special teas.

Learn, some more
Following the outstanding success of their Tea-Torials, Brown’s Hotel has added a series of new dates for 2014. Each class will have a maximum of eight people, offering participants the perfect environment in which to soak up knowledge of one of London’s most talented pastry chefs. A unique experience with a professional but informal afternoon of culinary learning, topped off with the traditional afternoon tea in The English Tea Room, one can learn how to make scones and strawberry jam, along with an afternoon tea cake and a plated dessert.

If you want to know more about what goes inside that tea pot, The English Tea Room has three Tea Sommeliers who are on hand to answer any queries. With so much happening for such a simple tea, can you possibly afford to miss it? I think not.
Coordinates: Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, London, W1S 4BP
For further information/reservation, please call Brown’s Hotel at +44 20 7493 6020