What a wonderful afternoon I had with Hilary Newstead at the Intercontinental Westminster Hotel. I had been invited to review their Edible Garden afternoon tea, which was created to coincide with the Chelsea Flower Show.
Despite the fact that I spend innumerable hours teaching classes around English tea time (including cake or scone baking; tasting fine teas or looking at the history English tea time), it is quite rare for me to go “out to tea”. It was a real treat to review the Edible Garden Afternoon Tea at the Intercontinental , enjoy free flowing Laurent Perrier champagne and indulge in a glorious feast of exquisite garden-themed patisserie creations.
I took so many pictures – the food was just a feast for the eyes with the glass cloche centrepiece, under which our cakes nestled in a bed of dark (and edible) soil.
How did the food taste?
Fresh, delicious and as it should be! When I got down to tasting each little treat as it was presented, they were divine. The biggest winners for me were the miniature Chelsea Bun and the Garden Pea and Basil Tart. I normally avoid currents and dried fruits but this Chelsea Bun had been created by someone who understood what they were doing. There was almost more fruit than bun dough; the spicey, citrusy, moist fruit enveloped my tongue. Likewise the pea and basil tart; the burst of fresh baby peas exploding in my mouth.
The quality of the tea:
We drank some exceptionally good teas that were supplied by Jing Teas. I had a Second flush Darjeeling that had nectar-like qualities and Hilary had a superlative Japanese Green Sencha, about which she was very excited as she had not tried before.
The Hotel, the service and the presentation:
The hotel excelled in all the areas that mattered: superbly attentive waiters and bar staff who were knowledgeable and not at all officious; spotless and beautifully presented silverware and porcelain, comfortable chairs into which we could just sink whilst indulging ourselves.
The only negative I have, and this is more one of a personal dismay, is to question why it is necessary to go to such lengths to design cakes to no longer look like food. This is not to doubt the skills of the pastry chefs – their technical virtuosity was par excellence – but why is it is necessary? Nowadays afternoon tea seem to be a competition about who can ‘design’ the most ‘clever’ feast for the eyes.
I am with Sir Henry Cole on his theory of good design. He states that good design takes into account the intrinsic quality of the material being used. For example a woven piece of fabric into which a flower motif has been woven displays the virtuosity of the woven fabric whereas a flower design that is printed onto a fabric will not display the quality of the weave – the printed pattern is what is seen and nothing more.
Perhaps this is what I found difficult with this meal – I was being asked to admire the cleverness of the pastry chef in creating clever little concoctions such as a chocolate flower pot, a garden wall or edible earth. However the delights we feasted on were neither particular to the season during which we were eating it, nor could we see the qualities of the cake or pastry shining through the designed piece.
But this is one of my little bees that buzz around in my bonnet and a minor quibble. I shall definitely return. Thank you Intercontinental Westminster, for a truly exceptional and wonderful afternoon.