The few days prior to taking a holiday are the worst hours of the year at work. There is always far too much to tie up before leaving the desk for two weeks; it is a stressful time. When Fiona Maclean of London Unattached invited me to join her for afternoon tea at Dukes Hotel on my penultimate work day, it could not have been worse timing. Or so I thought.
I arrived at Dukes hot and bothered by life. Escorted to the sunny Drawing Room overlooking an internal courtyard, I was soothed by the enthusiastic welcome offered by the young woman who was to look after us for the next few hours. I flopped into a very comfortable sofa and paged through a glossy magazine.
By the time Fiona arrived I had begun to feel rather more relaxed. There is something in the air at Dukes – the warm service, tasteful décor and elegant wing back chairs – that encourage a frazzled guest to leave their stresses at the front door.
A chilled flute of Perrier Jouet champagne was just the ticket on this particular afternoon – perhaps on any afternoon.
Not having eaten lunch in anticipation of tea, I was rather peckish and the tea offerings at Dukes were certainly plentiful.
From the list of ten teas I chose Dukes Blend 1908 which, our delightful waitress informed us, is a blend of Assam, Camomile and an undisclosed secret ingredient. Tea was served in generously sized silver teapots, the mismatched china adding a playful edge.
We began, as is customary, with a plate of finger sandwiches. The smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich had thickly sliced salmon with wafer thin cucumber, just the way I like it. Rare roast beef and egg mayonnaise with cress were two further options.
The most delicious of the sandwiches was the chicken with truffle mayonnaise which was so good that I would go back to Dukes any day for a sandwich lunch.
Next were the scones with jam and cream.
The scones were slightly tired whereas they should ideally be fresh and perky. The cream was served attractively in a white china cube but two mini jars of jam were a bit lean for four scones. An afternoon tea requires an abundance of jam, preferably homemade and presented in a generously sized bowl with a jam spoon.
The plate of sweet treats looked enticing. My favourite was the Pimms cheesecake which had a lovely summer twist being topped with strawberry, cucumber and mint.
The passion fruit dome with white chocolate was pretty but too sweet for my taste. As I do not have much of a sweet tooth those that do might find this just the right side of sugary. A raspberry panacotta was attractive on the eye but a bit bland. Finally, a dainty lemon meringue was let down by its pastry case which was on the heavy side.
Despite the few improvements that the pastry chef might tweek, the afternoon was very relaxing. As the time came to bid adieu, I rather wished that I could spend the evening on that lovely sofa and wait until my appetite returned so that I could order a plate of chicken and truffle mayonnaise sandwiches and another pot of tea. Sadly I had a holiday to pack for.
Dukes Hotel was once used as the London chambers for the sons of British nobles. Since 1908 it has been a hotel where one now needs no aristocratic credentials to enjoy afternoon tea in its tranquil environs. It is a space in which to revive, relax and emerge refreshed.
St James’ Place
London SW1A 1NY
44 (0)207 4914840