At last! Just when we were begining to question how long we could stretch this feature out, the final day is nearly upon us. I get out the address book only to find that I don’t have anyone’s current addresses. Several texts and a ball of string later and here we go:

Herman the german friendship cake ready to dispatch by mail to friends around the country

All wrapped up and ready to go…

I take the packages up on the train with me to London, intending to post them as soon as I can find a box. 4 hours later I’m still carrying them around like a lemon. The security guard at the Tate Modern gives me a token and a very funny look when I go to check them in. I notice a funny smell but put it down to the drains on the South Bank. We’ve still got the blasted things in the bag come the afternoon and we’re in Selfridges when I look down at my coat and notice something sticky. I go to wipe it off but it has the opposite effect. I look down at my shoes and the same sticky residue is evident there too.

Glancing behind me I see a thin trail of slime, stretching out like that of a monsterous snail. People are giving me funny looks and I realise what the smell is. All three mini-Hermans have exploded in their envelopes and are gaily leaking their contents all over the 5th floor.

Cake mixture leaks all over the floor

The 1st attempt did not go well

We managed to talk the management into giving us one of their smart yellow bags, shortly before we are thrown out. We do try to explain that it’s cake mixture but we don’t sound convincing, even to ourselves. We return to THQ with our tails between our now rather sticky legs and rethink our options.

Why you shouldn't send german friendship cakes by post

We repatriate the German friendship cake back into its container and prepare to resend it, this time in rather smudgy, sticky envelopes.

 

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The Hampshire Hotel

Leicester Square,

London,

WC2H 7LH,

0207 839 9399

reshamp@radisson.com

A view of the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel, occupying the south-eastern corner of London's Leicester square

The Hampshire Hotel: Looks nice on the outside

Going up to London for a bout of Christmas shopping recently, we were stuck for somewhere for tea at very short notice. Many of our usual haunts were all booked up, and – looking for somewhere central – we stumbled upon the Hampshire Hotel, which occupies the South Eastern corner of Leicester square.

The building itself, with its redbrick facade and Oriel windows is very inviting, and we were ushered in with delightful obsequiousness by a footman in full livery. Alas by contrast, the interior is rather drab and impersonal – perhaps more suited to a middle-management business reception than an impromptu tea with friends. As part of the Radisson hotel group, the Hampshire prides itself on “contemporary elegance”. Purposeful flowers in striking vases, generic modern artwork and uncomfortable high-energy furniture are all par for the course.

Considering how empty it was, the service was leisurely to the point of being tedious. The tea arrived (bags, of course, not leaf) in chunky white china and the cakes, scones and petit fours on an ostentatious three tier stand. The quality was overall acceptable but we were disappointed by the freshness (or otherwise) of the sandwiches and the dry, chalky meringues.

Only the bill managed to surprise us. At £17 for two this represents fairly good value against some of London’s more celebrated establishments but the fact remains, we’d rather have tea at the Savoy once than twice here.

Verdict: 2.5 pots/5

For more London tearooms visit www.noveltea.co.uk/2London.html

Danesfield House
Henley Rd
Marlow, Buckinghamshire
SL7 2EY
01628 891 010
http://www.danesfieldhouse.co.uk/afternoon_tea

 

I feel sorry for anywhere that isn’t Danesfield House. Set in Buckinghamshire, amid the beautiful Chiltern Hills, and overlooking the river Thames – this once prehistoric hill fort, now luxury hotel and spa has it all. We had spent a chilly Autumnal day perusing the quaint riverside towns of Henley and Marlow. Lily flitted from shop to show, amassing an impressive collection of bags until by five o’clock she could no longer fit through doorways sidewards. With one last wistful look back at the shoes that might have been, even she was forced to admit defeat and together we set off to find tea.

During this time Amos had not been idle, and – in between paying for things – had solicited the advice of some friendly locals. Our options were twofold: retrace our steps to Henley or stop off outside Marlow at “the posh hotel on the hill”. Pulling up on the gravel drive of this stately home-cum-hotel, our excitement was twinged with a note of foreboding. We’ve had mixed experiences of country house conversions; the price is unanimously high, but the quality of the tea very variable, and many is the time Amos has got into furious rows with the management concerning the mark-up on a Twinings teabag. This white-faced mock Tudor castle doesn’t look beautiful, and it doesn’t look cheap either…

…And it wasn’t. But we’re pleased to report that the service and quality are up there with the very best. The orangery (funky old-fashioned flagstones meet modern metal and glass) houses a dozen or so tables, resplendent in white linen and silverware, creating a fresh, minimal setting whilst maintaining a convivial atmosphere. There is not a harpist in sight – instead faultless oven-fresh scones are accompanied by fine loose-leaf tea, the chinks of glasses and the crackle of an open fire.

The service is oily-slick and whisper quiet and the bill when it came was like receiving a massage. We lingered slightly longer than we deemed polite, and made a point of strolling leisurely though the formal gardens before retracing our way back to the car (which was easy to spot amongst the fleet of German executive saloon outside).

Reflecting back perhaps four and a half pots is mean, as it’s hard to know what could be improved upon. Maybe we’ll have to go back for a second opinion…

Read more tearoom reviews in and around London

Hot Gossip, Henley

October 24, 2011

Hot Gossip
7 Friday Street
Henley
Oxfordshire

Tearooms in Henley: Hot Gossip

 

Henley is lovely, although it’s not – I must say – particularly lovable. Famed for being one of the most expensive, most snooty, most disingenuous of all the Thames villages, Henley is a place to for the weekend but we wouldn’t necessarily move there.

Although spoilt for good shops (and of course the ubiquitous farmer’s market on Saturdays…), tea-wise it’s a bit disappointing. You could opt for one of the riverside hotels, or there’s a perfectly nice-looking Maison Blanc near the bridge but we’d back the local’s choice: Hot Gossip on Friday Street.

We felt immediately at home amid the kitch clutter of this cosy ground-floor tearoom. The half-dozen or so tables are staffed (I would hesitate to say perhaps slightly over-staffed?) by 4 wonderfully ditsy, pinny-wearing waitresses who, after much to-ing and fro-ing and whoopsie-daisying, managed to take our order. The home-made cakes looked delicious but since we couldn’t decide which to go for, we opted for one slice of each and (for the sake of balance) a scone-a-piece.
The scones came with a generous scoop of clotted cream and blob of Wilkinson’s Jam. In their prime they must have been superb but I’d take some persuading that they were fresh today. The cakes, though, were faultless. Even we began to struggle a bit after our 4th slice, but we soldiered on regardless. The tea was ok, but the star of the show was undoubtedly the hot chocolate, which – although they seemed to have been prepared such that most of the liquid was on the outside – did much to lift our spirits on the cold journey home.

We would usually direct readers towards a website or some other source of information, but so far as we can see none exists… and to be honest perhaps this is the true source of Hot Gossip’s charm. For all the topsy-turvy service and the spilt hot chocolate, the homely lack of commercialism makes for a thoroughly enjoyable, wholly British afternoon out.

Yauatcha, London

May 18, 2011

Yauatcha,

15 Broadwick Street,

London,

W1F 0DL

0870 780 8265

mail@yauatcha.com

Mon-Sun 12 noon-11.45pm (Sun -10.30pm)

Works of Art: Beautiful latticed, bejewled, gold leaf cakes for you perusal

Every so often even the most seasoned tea-goer finds themselves out of their comfort zone. For us this has seldom been more pronounced than the day we were graciously proffered a table in the (allegedly) 4.2 million pound basement space-station that is Yauatcha on Broadwick Street W1. We walked right past the business-like glass-fronted facade several times; unless you know where you’re going, or what you’re in for when you get there Yauatcha can take you by surprise. Skipping distance from Regent Street and lightyears away from preconception alley, we found ourselves enjoying it vociferously.

The decor is undeniably bold. Fish tanks are set into the walls, through which rippling armies of white-hatted chefs can be seen preparing dumplings for the acclaimed dim sum restaurant downstairs. Blocks of pale yellow light, illuminating soaring pillars and squat little tables, lend it the slightly kitsch appearance of somewhere that has tried very hard to make an impression. Which isn’t far from the truth, by the way; apparently it took three very expensive attempts to ‘perfect’. The china was extravagantly imported from Taipei and even the elaborate kung-foo get-up in which the waiters and waitresses swagger around has been overtly commissioned.

The tea, of course, is excellent. We plumped for Silver needles – presented with textbook correctness –followed, out of a sense of unprecedented propriety, with an entirely undissapointing tea smoothie. The miniature works of art that are the cakes (no scones alas!) were the clincher. Incorporating lattices, flower petals and gold leaf, they represent mouth-watering taste, if not (sadly) jaw dropping value.

Somewhere this loud will never remain a secret but we are always delighted to recommend it as a somewhat unusual (dare we say exotic?) gem in our Capital’s fine afternoon crown.

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Number 14, London

April 6, 2011

Number 14,

Holland St,

Kensington,

London W8 4LT

Delicious afternoon tea at number 14 holland street london, including an array of gluten free cakes

An instant hit: Number 14 is to afternoon tea what waffles are to Belgium

Why oh why oh why oh why aren’t there more tea rooms like this one?

Nestled away in the tranquil mews of lesser trod Kensington, Holland Street is a wisteria-festooned oasis of cobble-streeted calm in the very heart of London. Just by pressing your face against up the glass and staring in wonder at the beautiful array of cakes and patisseries you can’t help but fall in love. As soon as we crossed the threshold of No. 14 we were besotted.

A single table – surrounded by plush antique thrones – occupies the middle of a tiny and very artistically arranged drawing room. There’s a small counter and an enormous silver samovar and that’s about it, save for a large communal sugar bowl which occupies the centre of the table.

We were joined by a Chinese-American mother and nanny, 3 Parisian socialites and what we took to be two gay Dutch golf pros. As one might expect from such an illustrious clientele, the whole shop has been lavished with exquisite taste and extraordinary attention to detail. Even the weird metal spatulas and quirky spherical cups are beautiful to behold (and no less of an art form to drink from).

We opted for gluten-free mud pie and (for the sake of balance) an invigorating green tea from which we were able to foretell from the leaves that we would visit very soon and very often. If the people of Britain weren’t being constantly and systematically insulted by inferior establishments what happy times these would be. See you there!

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Sinensis Camellia

January 26, 2011

12 Kingly Court, London W1B 5PW

http://www.camelliaworldteas.com

020 7734 9939

Soho's best stocked tearoom

A wide selection of teas, tisanes and infusions in Sinensis Camellia, London

Being fairly well versed in most tea-related gossip, puns and trivia, the name of our next destination ‘Sinensis Camellia’ (the botanical name for the tea plant – NB it should really be ‘Sinensis camellia’, of course…) was not lost on us.

Even by our standards our trip up to London was fairly fraught as Lily lost her ticked on the train. When Amos politely expounded the situation to the inspector he was rather less than sympathetic and threatened him with an ASBO should we not sit down and cough up the exorbitant fine.

The rain – which had been threatened all week – chose the exact moment we left the Naughty Office at Victoria Station to descend in one enormous mass, and we arrived at the charming top floor courtyard tearoom (just off Carnaby Street) soaked to the skin and muttering menacing curses to the Heavens and Southern Trains.

Slave to research, Amos had selected this particular destination (on the advice of a good friend and fellow tea lover) to celebrate a ‘Special Occasion’ and despite our inauspicious arrival we were not to be disappointed.

A lot of thought has gone into making the interior of this well-thought-out little tearoom as pleasing on the eye as to the palate. They have strived to create a welcome oasis or tranquillity for body and soul that we appreciated greatly, as we dripped our way through the clientele to our table in the corner.

One wall is lined with huge tea caddies, featuring many usual suspects and many more we’d never seen before, ranging from Cupid’s Delight (“a tonic for the reproductive system”), to Gout Remedy, (“flushes away excess uric acid deposits”), to Toxin Tea (“loved by your liver!”). Opposite there is a rather shamanistic array of similar ‘health’ products like soaps, scents and teapots.

If anything, the slightly commercial aspect of all this detracted a little from a very credible afternoon tea experience. We paid London’s ubiquitous (it seems) thirty-odd quid for gorgeous home-made scones, sandwiches and cakes, two cups of “White Eternity” and even received a “free” sample of tea to take home, in a little bag.

Had we not arrived so late, and had we had more time and deeper pockets, it would have been a very convivial place to while away an hour or several with their extensive catalogue of tisanes and infusions as many of our fellow guests seemed to be doing. Alas, and although in the end we had enjoyed our meal and found solace from our morning’s misdemeanours, we were forced to break for home before Amos’ curfew ran out.

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