If Marie Antoinette had not rebuffed the masses calling for bread but had laid on a tea like the one that Fiona MacLean and I enjoyed at Pont St, Belgravia, she might have kept her head.
The ‘let them eat cake’ afternoon tea is served in conjunction with Ruinart, a champagne house that was established well before the French Revolution. The tea is newly on offer in the restaurant at Belgraves Hotel. We arrived to find our table laid with gorgeous Wedgewood crockery and small, pretty boxes containing gourmet flavour pearls.
The maitre d’ explained that these were to accompany the flutes of Ruinart champagne she poured for us and then left us to ‘play with your champagne’. In no time we were scooping raspberry and rose flavoured pearls into our drinks.
We ordered our tea from a selection – I chose Jing English Breakfast (described as statuesque with plenty of structure and malty richness) while Fiona was more adventurous with Jing jasmine Silver Needle. Our beautiful pots were regularly refilled.
I let out a gasp when the nibbles arrived on a three tiered serving tower. I say nibbles, but in fact this was a vast tea and I doubted I would be able to do justice to it all despite having skipped lunch.
We ate the bottom tier first which contained the savoury items. Foie Gras on Brioche Toast had a lovely red onion relish, rich and tangy.
Smoked salmon on Pumpernickel is always a welcome sight on a tea tray.
More unusual was the Hollandaise Quail Egg Tartlet. I adore quail eggs and these were soft boiled and the delicious yolk mixed in the mouth with the hollandaise sauce, contrasting well with the crunchy, sweet pastry. A scattering of chives added an extra note of flavour. A lovely canapé.
Another favourite was the Cheese Ball with Quince which was elegantly served in a small angular dish. The cheese – goat I thought – was lightly fried and served on a sweet quince sauce. Really good.
A sizable platter of finger sandwiches followed. These were traditional and well executed on fresh bread – cucumber, cheese and pickle and, lastly, ham and mustard. I am not sure that these are the fillings with which Marie Antoinette would have been familiar, but they certainly would be part of any self-respecting afternoon tea in England.
By now I was comfortably full but we still had another two tiers to eat our way through plus a platter of scones.
The scones were perhaps the least successful of the offerings, being small and rather crisp on the outside. For scone lovers, like me, this is an adaptation too far. Large and fluffy and just baked please.
Onward we went. Not having much of a sweet tooth, a bit of a liability on an afternoon tea outing, I found myself happily eating my way through the sugary offerings.
First up was a Fondant Fancy. This was a pretty in pink, square of light sponge encased inside a pastel icing. Topped with a rice paper rose, it was lovely to look like and to eat.
Continuing the pink theme we tried the Rose Macaroon which is certainly a treat that Marie Antoinette would have enjoyed and which I can never get enough of when in Paris.
Having completed the pinks, we moved on to the chocolate offerings. The Absinthe Choux, called a Religieuse in France, looked most impressive with delicately piped cream around the choux, along with chocolate decorations and topped with a pistachio. Biting into the light pastry released the absinthe crème pâtissière. A very pleasing few mouthfuls.
On to the Chocolate Opera Cake which reminded me of a tiramisu. Usually a slice of this cake would be enough for tea and I felt that by this stage I was not doing justice to each item.
We still had the top tier to try. First we ate the Champagne Lychee jelly with Rosewater Cream which looked very lovely in shot glasses.
We kept Marie Antoinette for last. A biscuit was transformed into a playing card with an edible transfer of the queen herself. A fitting end to a tea in her name.
This afternoon tea was very generous. It was pretty and feminine with nice touches like white linen napkins and good quality china. It is only a few minutes away from the major fashion hub of Sloane Street although I wonder how many of the patrons of those boutiques would allow any of these sweet treats past their lips.
My only complaint about the afternoon was having to go home as, having eaten enough to feed a family, I felt seriously in need of a lie down.
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