An afternoon tea used to be a simple affair, with some sandwiches, scones and pastries. Now it seems there is a theme to cater to any taste – Alice in Wonderland, North African, Scandinavian and, our choice on this occasion, a fashion-themed tea at The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge.
The friend I went with has an obsessive love for all things high fashion, so we made a booking. Part of the booking includes providing a credit card over the phone as a security deposit against no-shows, as each of the cakes is carefully made freshly on the day.
The Berkeley hotel itself is of course lovely, as is the restaurant where the tea is being served. The restaurant was a mix of afternoon tea-going groups and people there for the regular food menu. We were met with a lovely personalised place card on the table, and an extensive menu listing teas and several pages dedicated to the food and its various couture inspirations. Bring your reading glasses for this one!
First things first, the tea. There was a vast array to choose from, many of which carried price supplements ranging from a modest £2 to an eyebrow raising £38. There were tea pairings recommended for the savoury course and the sweet course, and I settled on a very nice White Peony tea with hints of melon while my friend had what was also a lovely Ceylon and Rose tea.
The sandwiches were unanimously deemed delicious with just the right amount of filling. These included pastrami, salmon, cucumber, cheese, chicken and egg – each on a different bread and each with added flavours that complemented the main ingredients wonderfully.
In a slight deviation from a regular afternoon tea, there was a savouries course. These were rather less of a hit – tomato macaroon with goats cheese, a rather odd fennel veloute with jelly and edible flowers, and a seared mackerel and vegetable taster, none of which tasted like it went together at all.
The main event, however, were the dessert cakes and mousses. Each was inspired by a particular item of clothing from a well-known designer like Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana and Gucci. My fashion obsessed friend was thrilled by them, and I, substantially less informed, thought they tasted fine in their own right. There was plenty of chocolate, as well as some compotes with varieties of fruit and lavender. Each one was very nicely presented and you could tell a lot of time went into them. They were good, but they were not spectacular. The flavours were subtle and the chocolate items tended to taste much the same.
The staff were not overly attentive – we had to wait ten minutes for our bill – but when seating us and bringing each course they were extremely friendly and eager to talk us through every facet of the tea, and there were several bits of material one had to read through and keep referring back to in order to work out what you were eating and what it contained. All part of the fun!
There were some cons to the experience, however –
While we enjoyed the top-ups on the tea, we were not offered any seconds of sandwiches or cakes.
Four of the sweet items were only one between two, meaning we had to share if we wanted to taste everything. They were too small to share properly and this was a real shame. It did seem a bit of a cheat. We checked the other tables, and it was the same everywhere – tables of four only had two between them, six had three between them, etc.
The price – at £52 this was not a cheap experience. Particularly when considering the lack of seconds and cakes.
Overall, while the presentation and – certainly the sandwiches – were a touch above what you might normally expect for an afternoon tea, you are really paying for the location and novelty. I’m giving it four stars because if you are looking for something unique then it definitely delivers, but otherwise you can find better tasting afternoon teas elsewhere for half the price.