- Food & Drink
Sister Number 2’s birthday falls just before Hallowe’en, which means that every year it’s marked by a deluge of zombies, witches’ hats, cobweb cakes and games that involve half-drowning your party guests. I’m sure she’s delighted by this – who wouldn’t enjoy their birthday being continually linked with a festival of death? – and this year the spookiness was provided by the Park Lane Hilton’s Hallowe’en Afternoon Tea.
The Hilton, having cottoned on to the fact that afternoon tea is the sort of thing women go wild about, normally offers a chocolate afternoon tea. This follows the simple economic rule that if you want to coax a woman into paying over the odds for anything, coat it in chocolate or shape it like a shoe. It’s a very effective policy.
At regular intervals they offer themed teas and the Hallowe’en tea had caught our eye.
Our charming waitress settled us down at our table and brought over the Tea Butler, a caddy with jars of some of the more popular loose-leaf teas that you could sit and sniff while you perused the menu. It’s a nifty idea that nearly persuaded me to order a pot of flowery, perfumed jasmine pearl tea but I stayed committed to Earl Grey in the end.
First up was the savoury course: a plate each of 5 open sandwiches on bread that had a touch of the supermarket slice about it. The toppings were all excellent. I was particularly impressed by the prawn mayonnaise because I normally hate it, but the sweet prawns and light coating of eggy mayo astonished me by being enjoyable. The Forman smoked salmon and horseradish was also very moreish.
The stand out sandwich, however, was the honey roast ham and Pommery mustard, mostly for this mustard. It’s not often you can say: “That’s really good mustard,” but it was noticeably good mustard and further proof that the best sandwich in the world is ham.
2 cake stands laden with scones, cupcakes and fancies arrived at the table for the 3 of us to share, the sight of which caused me to wring my hands with joy and Sister Number 1 to applaud.
At the bottom were the scones. We’d ordered a mix of plain, fruit and chocolate chip and they came with thick clotted cream, strawberry jam and dark, addictive praline chocolate spread. If you’ve ever wondered what a scone sandwich filled with cream, jam and praline spread is like, I can tell you: it’s brilliant.
On the next tier were the cupcakes: dark chocolate and orange and gooey toffee. We didn’t manage to eat these. Their size and quantity of lurid icing gave them a forbidding appearance and when you’ve already demolished a plate of sandwiches and several creamy jammy chocolaty scones, full size cupcakes are intimidating.
They were packed up for us to take home. The reports I’ve had back are that “you only need 1 of them.” I take that to mean they’re a sugar hit so extreme your eyes roll back in your head and you lose all concept of space and time.
The miniature fancies, on the other hand, were very manageable after the scone session. The chocolate and orange macaroons were crisp little shells that gave way to a gooey chocolate centre, while the witch’s hat was a solid cone of dark Valrhona chocolate that I gnawed on happily.
Miniature toffee apples were actually sugary glacé cherries, ghost shortbreads were crumbly and buttery and the curious white chocolate and raspberry dome (“I think it’s like a brain with blood sauce,” explained a waiter) was disturbingly solid yet soft and jellyish. It also tasted very nice.
All of the above were served on a solid dark chocolate plate dusted with gold. We nibbled around the edges of it but couldn’t come close to eating the whole lot. The 2 chocolate plates were packed into pretty lilac boxes with the cupcakes and taken home, where they’re still going strong.
The price was £25 per person, not including service although a service charge was automatically generated and the staff deserved every penny of it. Everyone smiled and looked us in the eye. They checked we liked the sandwiches and offered to swap any we didn’t want. A discrete eye was kept on our table and our teapots were refreshed and exchanged as soon as they ran dry.
When we asked for the bill, the waiter was aghast: “But you’ve only been here 2 hours!” I’m not often encouraged to stay for longer or to go out for a walk and then come back for more, but that was the level of hospitality on offer. Other afternoon tea establishments, take note.