Is there a finer way to while away a rainy London day than seated at the fireside in The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair? Comfy in a beautifully upholstered wing back chair, I settled back to listen to the pianist tinkling away on a baby grand a few feet away. All felt well in our troubled world.
The hotel had been decorated for Christmas in association with Fortnum and Mason. A large tree was decked out with tea caddies, miniature wicker baskets, silver spoon rests and other lovely trinkets. Large golden balls and F&M hamper baskets lined the hall.
This was old style elegance and luxury with a contemporary feel enhanced by fabrics in shades of orange, ochre and khaki green. I dearly wished that I was checking into the hotel upstairs.
Over flutes of Ruinart champagne, Fiona, from London Unattached, and I discussed the two tea menus on offer. I decided to give the Tea-Tox Healthy Afternoon Tea a whirl. I was intrigued to discover what could possibly compete with the classic combination of sandwiches, scones, cake and pastries. As I am always trying to lower my cholesterol, I thought I would sacrifice the Christmas cake on the trolley and try out the healthy offerings.
We were informed that the Tea Tox now makes up some 30 % of afternoon tea orders. Perhaps I am not sufficiently committed to my own cause, because one look at the goodies on Fiona’s 3 tiered cake stand had me tucking into her sandwiches. Nor could I resist tasting the scones, served warm, although I did manage to avoid the clotted cream. The pièce de la resistance of the Festive Afternoon Tea was a pastry filled with a lemon curd cream and topped with piped chestnut puree. Oh my.
The blood orange jelly was also fab and I could have eaten a bowl full never mind a dainty shot glass sized portion.
Silver teapots were gorgeously attractive and were regularly refilled by our knowledgeable and charming server.
Finally it was time to try out the healthy afternoon tea. The appearance of a lettuce leaf – rather than a scone – suggested that this might be quite a different experience. Smoked chicken and guacamole on spelt bread was delicious. Fiona enjoyed the chicory leaf with smoked mackerel and a soft-boiled quail’s egg. The gem lettuce with tabbouleh was fine too but, to my mind, is really a lunchtime canapé rather than a teatime treat.
The cranberry jelly on the Tea Tox (made with vegetarian gelatine and sugar free xylitol) was enjoyed by Fiona who preferred it to her blood orange jelly – we made a happy exchange. A mango and coconut rice conde was good too.
The list of ingredients included alongside each item on the Tea Tox menu was helpful if you have a food intolerance. While the healthier options looked gorgeous they did not always taste as satisfying as the full fat/dairy/gluten filled variety. But perhaps my gluttony got the better of me and it is not fair to compare the two tea offerings. The hotel does well to provide a lovely tea for guests who have food intolerances or are watching their weight. Personally, I do believe that it is better for the soul to eat a really fabulous spread every now and again rather than tabbouleh for tea. Brown’s provides guests with the option, which is what every top hotel should do.
The opening page of the English Tea Room menu quotes William Gladstone’s thoughts on tea.
‘If you are cold, tea will warm you; if you are too heated, it will cool you; if you are depressed it will cheer you; if you are exhausted it will calm you.’
Luxuriating at the fireside at Brown’s I could not agree more with these reflections.