There was more to my Saturday than Philosophy. I belong to a book club with benefits. Sure, we select, read and dissect a novel like most book clubbers but we do other nice things too. In March we attended the Oxford Literary festival and listened to the amazing and lyrical Edna O Brien talk about her recently published memoir. A year ago we fitted in a visit to Highclere castle (film location for Downton Abbey) between school drop -off and pick-up. And on Saturday we put on our best frocks for afternoon tea at The Lanesborough in Hyde Park, recipient of the award of Excellence from the Tea Guild these past nine years.
Before our sitting – we chose 4pm , the ‘correct’ time for high tea – we popped in to Fortnum and Masons in Piccadilly, setting the right tone for our outing. I love any good store’s stationery department. The smell and texture of quality paper and card coupled with a celebration of the quirky. Spotted emblazed on a paperweight: Accept the fact that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue. In the tea department, a bust of Marie Antoinette hoovered overhead, her wig a nest for a china teaset. Clever.
We left the emporium without making a purchase. We were in town for tea afterall. F&M serve a jubilee tea but we were looking for something a little more regal and after researching locations I proposed the Lanesborough. The hotel is reputedly the most expensive hotel in London, with the highest rate being up to £18,000 per night for “The Lanesborough Suite”. The obligatory doorman doffed his hat as we filed past him and into the Belgravia room. Our table was set with white fine-boned gold rimmed china and lead crystal glasses on starched linen cloth.
We began with a glass of Taittinger’s champagne served with strawberries and cream. Swiftly followed by a shot glass filled with some sort of passion fruit and chocolate moose. Delicious. Our waiter presented us with a tea menu featuring a selection of leaves chosen by their Tea Sommelier. I chose Earl Grey Red Baron. Teas were poured from bulbous china tea pots with big sprouts. An audible sigh as the tiered plates arrived. Cute triangle shaped sandwiches with crusts cut off sat on the base layer: egg mayonnaise; smoked salmon; cucumber; cornation chicken, and ham and mustard. With cakes in their righful exalted place. Flavours and shapes merge for me now. I identified lemon, chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, vanilla and strawberry in mini loaf, diamond, sandwich and disc shapes. It was almost a shame to disturb the arrangement. Almost.
All of this tea and pleasantries with the plucking of a harp behind us. Just when we thought we were done platters with scones, tea cakes, jams, clotted cream and butter arrive. We took our leave some time after six and maximising our ‘pass’ from family responsibilities prolonged the outing with a stroll back to Piccadilly and lots of reminiscing. We wandered into a lively Irish pub – an old haunt of one of our party. And quickly out again. So noisy and so young. We settled on a cocktail bar – a better fit all round before getting the train home to reality and a warm reception from sugared up children and husbands run ragged.