There’s nothing I love more than having an afternoon tea when I return to England for a holiday. It’s always an extremely classy and civilised affair (or almost always…), and it’s just such a lovely occasion. I don’t think I ever savour a meal as much as I do an afternoon tea, when I linger over every little morsel. On Saturday morning, Dr HH and I flew home for Christmas at the crack of dawn and hung around in London for the festive afternoon tea at La Suite West. We’d had a very elegant afternoon tea there a few summers ago, and were very excited about seeing how they put a Christmas twist on it.
First of all, it came with a glass of non-alcoholic fizz, which was quite a pleasant addition. And last time we were served the food on slates, whereas now we finally had the coveted cake stand. Presentation-wise, this definitely had the wow factor!
Of course, we started with the sandwiches. The small, white triangle just contained hummus and cucumber; if that weren’t disappointing enough, there were two of them! I expect better from a festive menu.
The other three sandwiches did go some way to making up for it, at least. We had chipotle cheese with caramelised onion chutney and rocket on rye bread, which was very good indeed, chiefly due to the deliciousness of the chutney. Then there was the BLT: the bacon was some really delicious aubgerine, which was a big hit. And the star of the show, unsurprisingly, was the brioche bun filled with cream cheese and smoked carrot ‘salmon’. I have never eaten anything quite so smoky – and now I can’t stop thinking about it! Perhaps my New Year’s Resolution will be to eat more smoked food…
And then on to the scone plate. It’s never the most exciting part of an afternoon tea, but La Suite West tried to make it a bit fancier by serving some vegan honey alongside the coconut cream and jam. I did not actually try the honey because I’m extremely traditional and am not sure about honey with scones. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that Dr HH was all over it though, and he reported that it was very close to honey in both taste and texture. The cream was nice, but there was nowhere near enough of it for the four scones. The jam was really good – thick and fruity. We got two fruit and two plain scones, but only ate the fruity ones because it seems foolish to fill up on scones when there are more exciting dessert options awaiting (and I was already starting to feel full). The scones were solid, then, but were never going to be the highlight.
Speaking of which…here’s the dessert plate. My mouth was watering as soon as I saw it!
Usually I save the best till last, but I feared that philosophy would not serve me well here, given how much there was to eat. So we started with the peanut butter and chocolate cake. It was excellent! The sponge was a little dry, but it was encased in chocolate and peanuts and topped with cream and caramel, and that really elevated it. Essentially, it was a fancy Snickers bar, and I would happily eat one of these every day.
Doesn’t this Christmas bauble look amazing?! It was a great idea: sponge, a chocolatey centre, mandarin jelly, all coated in white chocolate. It was slightly let down in the execution, though – the chocolate was so hard it was impossible to cut through it, meaning that it wasn’t possible to eat all the different elements together. The jelly was a little too sharp without the sweetness of the chocolate to balance it out, so it didn’t quite fit together as it should, but it was still a very ambitious and exciting dessert.
At this point, I gave up: I just didn’t have room for another bite. Dr HH pressed on though, and tried the last two desserts. The Christmas tree cake looked lovely, but he was quite underwhelmed by it – it tasted quite strongly of marzipan, and the sponge was once again a little dry. He also tried the apple and pear pie, which looked like a little pasty – alas, the pastry lacked any degree of crispness, and there was barely any filling in it.
The restaurant actually prides itself on being a vegan patisserie (possibly the only one in London), so we had quite high expectations for the dessert plate and were a little disappointed. Even the spectacular Snickers cake featured a dry sponge. Truthfully, I thought the desserts at Manchester’s Midland Hotel were higher quality, and equally attractive – these ones were a wee bit style over substance.
At £35 per person this was not cheap, and the quality could have been better. But it was a beautiful occasion, and the service couldn’t have been better. And how lucky are we to live in the days of festive vegan afternoon teas?!