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Tea For Two

Invited by Fiona Maclean from London Unattached , to join her to preview the Sir John Soane’s Afternoon Tea menu at the Gilbert Scott, I was expecting an elegant few hours at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel.  I have wanted to visit the hotel since its revamp some years ago turned it from a derelict building into one of London’s finest venues.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel

We began our afternoon at the John Soane’s Museum in Holborn which added a great deal to our appreciation of the tea menu. John Soane’s was one of Britain’s foremost architects in the late 19th century, designing the Bank of England amongst some 300 projects. Sir Gilbert Scott was too an architect and designed the iconic red telephone box which he based on the tomb John Soane designed for his wife.

Red telephone box

He also designed Liverpool cathedral, the Foreign Office and Battersea Power Station. Sir Gilbert Scott’s grandfather designed the magnificent building that now houses the St Pancras Hotel.

The Gilbert Scott bar had a striking red colour on the walls, the same that adorned some of the rooms in the John Soane’s Museum, based on a piece of plaster he brought home from Pompeii. Grey banquets hugged the walls and we gladly sank into these to peruse the tea menu. Huge bells hang from the ornately painted ceiling and behind us the bar was lit up with lights and mirrors.

Bells at The Gilbert Scott bar

Our very attentive waiter presented us with a Rake’s Gin Gargle cocktail – a mix of Colonel Fox Gin and champagne with an orange peel twist. Having viewed John Soane’s collection of Hogarth’s at the museum, the reference to the Rake’s Progress was appreciated but even more so was the cocktail itself. This was a superb cocktail for an afternoon tea – delicious and gorgeous to look at.

Rake's Gin Gargle Cocktail

We had a choice of teas – English Breakfast, Assam, Darjeeling, White Tea, Green Tea, Mint, Jasmine and Camomile amongst others. This is not a specialist teahouse so no special brews from leaves picked by fairies in moonlight, but I was perfectly happy with my pot of Assam which was refilled on request.

The plates of food were plentiful. As all the nibbles appeared at once we could choose to start with savoury or sweet. We began with The‘architecture club’ sandwich, named, as the menu explained, after The Architect’s Club to which John Soane belonged.

Savoury eats John Soane's Tea

This club sandwich was dinky and delicious, light on the mayo which allowed the smoky flavour of the bacon to shine through. Alongside sat a small cheese and pickle sandwich. A tiny vegetarian quiche had a delicate pastry with a cheese and onion filling. Lastly, a small wrap filled with hummus, red pepper and olives was described as a ‘scroll’. Having marvelled at the remarkable collection of Greek and Roman artefacts in the John Soane’s Museum an hour earlier, we made haste to sample the savoury reference. In fact, so enthusiastically did we devour the savoury treats that our waiter brought us a second helping.

Then it was on to the plates of sweet goodies.   Lady Soane’s had a beloved dog named Fanny whose depiction we viewed at the museum. For tea we were treated to a memory of her pet, a lemon sable entitled ‘Alas, poor Fanny’s lemon sable’ which words are engraved on the headstone on Fanny’s grave. The sable was shaped like a dog biscuit which we thought was a lovely visual joke.

Sweet treats at John Soane's Tea

Lady Soane was referenced again in ‘Lady Soane’s chocolate delice’, a very pretty layered chocolate and raspberry delight.

Marshmallow tea light was a tiny biscuit disc topped with a chocolate coated marshmallow. Shaped like a miniscule breast it was inspired by the lights and mirrors in the John Soane Museum which inspired artists and architects.

The theme of tiny treats changed gear with the scones which were large and light. They were accompanied by glass jars of strawberry jam and clotted cream.

Scones Sir John Soane's Tea

The final dish was a glass jar filled with ‘Grand Tour Rhubarb and Ginger Trifle’. Not having a sweet tooth, this was my favourite of the sweet offerings, especially as I adore the combination of rhubarb and ginger. It referenced Soane’s Grand Tour of Europe where he collected many of the contents of his museum and drew inspiration for his work.

Champagne at The Gilbert Scott

While afternoon tea is always available at the Gilbert Scott, the Sir John Soane’s Tea Menu is only served until March 29. Dress up a little and treat yourself. A visit to the John Soane Museum will enhance your experience.  My only regret was not having a ticket to Paris on the Eurostar which waits temptingly on the platform as one exits the hotel.

The Gilbert Scott, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London NW1 2