Tea for two but make it theatre, darling!
The Londoner unveils its latest act – afternoon tea in the heart of Theatreland
There’s something incredibly comforting yet deliciously decadent about afternoon tea that can make everything seem right with the world.
And the custom that began more than 150 years ago when the 7th Duchess of Bedford introduced a new type of meal between lunch and dinner, has never been more in vogue – or lavish. Having turned to celebratory food and drink to mark special events at home during lockdown, many of us are now looking to elevate that experience when we step out.
While the traditional offering of scones with lashings of jam and cream, cucumber finger sandwiches, cupcakes and steaming pots of Darjeeling still has its place, heightened High Teas are all the rage.
In the interests of research, Tempus trotted along to The Londoner Hotel in Leicester Square to put its newly launched afternoon tea in the Champagne bar, The Stage, to the test. We decided to work up an appetite by foregoing lunch and whizzing around the neighbouring National Gallery’s Durer exhibition, and arrived with our taste buds tingling in anticipation.
The service is only available at weekends between 12 noon and 4pm, so a perfect pitstop if you’re planning a shopping spree or Saturday night show. There’s even in-house entertainment with pianists and vocalists performing on The Stage’s grand piano throughout the afternoon.
Sinking into plush, blush-pink chairs, we were treated to a two-hour ‘show’, expertly choreographed by The Londoner’s enthusiastic and attentive bar staff, elegant in midnight blue velvet coat dresses (the women). Given that the hotel is located in the heart of London’s theatreland, it’s hard to avoid theatrical nods, and the menu – or should that be programme? - at The Stage is devised accordingly.
The daily drama is set across three acts - all featuring Champagne, of course - starting with a Champagne breakfast, followed by Champagne afternoon tea and a grand finale of oysters, caviar and artisan cheeses. There are more than 35 bottles to choose from, ranging from Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut NV at £95 a bottle to Dom Perignon Plenitude 2 2002 at £600, as well as a selection of Champagne cocktails.
We happily sipped a glass of R de Ruinart Brut NV while waiting for the culinary procession of square-cut sandwiches, fluffy scones, handcrafted patisseries and fine loose-leaf tea from The East India Company, to begin – all presented on a bespoke Wedgwood tea service, aptly featuring a Champagne bubbles design.
After a refreshing amuse bouche of lime sorbet and caviar, we tucked into a mouth-watering selection of tiny sandwiches with a twist: smoked salmon and Devon crab with yuzu kosho crème fraiche on granary bread; tea-smoked cured beef with watercress and horseradish crème on brioche; Clarence Court duck egg with spiced Peppadew mayonnaise on sourdough; lemon-roasted Norfolk chicken with truffle mayonnaise on basil-and-spinach-infused bread, and baby cucumber with lemon tahini labneh on white bread. The star performer was the roast chicken – we positively swooned over the delicate flavour of truffle running through the mayonnaise.
Next up were bite-size scones, both plain and sultana, baked in the kitchen that morning and served with Cornish clotted cream, homemade strawberry preserve and light bergamot curd. Gluten-free scones are available on request with 48 hours’ notice required (there’s also a large range of vegan and vegetarian options).
And for the finale, an exquisite selection of artisanal delicacies created by executive pastry chef Dale De Simone. We were invited to make our choices from a fixed trolley, opting for the ornate English Rose, a patisserie of blackcurrant and pear, paying a whimsical tribute to the national flower of England; a re-imagined chocolate mille-feuille, made using 3D printing and featuring caramelised chocolate puff pastry, organic chocolate flakes and chocolate custard, and Caviar, basically an edible caviar tin made with Earl Grey custard, mandarin caviar and spiced biscuit complete with white chocolate spoon.
On the advice of our waitress, we switched specially curated teas half-way through, enjoying a rich and robust Royal Breakfast loose leaf black tea with our sandwiches before ordering the light and delicate Staunton Earl Grey to go with our scones and cakes.
The Stage’s Afternoon Tea offers four different packages:
- Traditional Afternoon Tea: £65pp
- Champagne Tea, served with a glass of R de Ruinart Brut NV, starts at £80pp
- Rosé Champagne Afternoon Tea, served with a glass of Pommery Apanage Rosé Brut N: £90pp
- The vintage Champagne afternoon tea served with a glass of Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage 2010: £105pp.