A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog
An afternoon tea for all ages and budgets in an elegant conservatory setting amidst splendid palatial gardens.
Along with watching the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, meandering across Hyde Park to reach Kensington Palace features on most “to-do” lists on that very first visit to London. On subsequent journeys however (indeed especially for persons such as MoMo & Coco who visit annually), such tourist magnets hold extremely limited appeal. Neither the largest nor fairest of them all, Kensington Palace is an austere terracotta-coloured building, conceived in 1605 as a mansion and converted into a more palatial establishment after being purchased by King William III in 1689. In the three hundred or so years since, it has been the periodic residence of the royal family, with the most recent and perhaps most famous inhabitant being the late Princess Diana.
Often bypassed by first-time tourists, to one side of Kensington Palace lie the Sunken Gardens — a small but lovely enclosure of terraced flowerbeds arrayed geometrically around an ornmanetal pool. Surrounded on three sides by an arched arbour of leafy vines, it’s a very classical sort of English garden.
Directly across from these Gardens is the Orangery, a 18th century addition designed partly by Mssr N. Hawskmoor and G. Gibbons. Available for use as a wedding reception venue (hence the cream marquees in the photo), it is an elegant cafe and tea room, serving daily breakfasts, light lunches and afternoon tea. It was the latter option for which MoMo & Coco visited on our last afternoon in London, after a spot of last-minute shopping for confectionary, chocolate and gourmet bits and pieces at Harrods Foodhall.
Inside, the Orangery is a grecian marble-white conservatory. It glows in the natural light flooding through the long grated french windows. There’s a very luscious cake counter at the entrance, framed by a screen of orange trees pruned into lollypop shapes. By contrast to the predominantly rarefied atmosphere of afternoon teas taken in various London hotels (see a few of our past experiences here), the Orangery’s ambience is bustling, akin to a cafe. Suprisingly, most patrons appear to be (or at least, sound) local, with a scattering of tourists (easily spotted because of their cameras).
Table setting was de rigeur restaurant white. Service was prompt and friendly, but being a more informal setting, one does not expect the constant patrolling of the staff. That said however, the staff were mostly easy to catch hold off, due to the frequent table turnover.
Two versions of afteroon tea are essentially available, give or take a glass of champagne – a “Signature Orange Tea” (£15.15) and an “Enchanted Palaced Tea” (£18.75), the only distinction between the two options being a chocolate ganache slice presented in the latter. MoMo & Coco selected the former.
From a choice of tea or coffee, MoMo & Coco chose the recommended signature Rooibos orange tea. If Australia did not have such subjectively unpredictable quarantine prohibitions, we would have considered bringing a box of this back home — it was an utterly refreshing, robustly-scented orange black tea. Individual teapots were used, accompanied with tea strainers and bowls of sugar cubes.
The lower tier consisted of four classical ribbon sandwiches — cool cucumber; piquant salmon; bare ham and plain cheese. Generic ribbon sandwiches yes, but the fillings were flavoursome and the bread soft and not dry.
The second tier held a singularly fat specimen of a plain scone. It was as close to scone perfection as one will find, possessing a light fluffy texture, with just a slight crumble. Served with dishes of Cornish clotted cream and almost crystallised, chunky strawberry jam preserve.
The top tier held the sweet irresistibles – two only, much to MoMo & Coco’s ire as we believe that the best part of an afternoon tea is arguably the sweet finale. It was especially more frustrating when the irresistibles presented in the afternoon tea did not seem to match the more delectable offerings at the entrance cake counter.
The first sweet irresistible was a miniature Victoria sponge, appropriately airy but somewhat dry. Its equator was slashed through with a smear of jam and cream. A ballet twirl of thick cream made a pirouette on top.
The second sweet rresistible was an orange passionfruit tartlet — simultaneously sweet enough to mostly satisfy MoMo & Coco’s insatiable sweet tooth, and adequately zesty to alleviate any sugar-induced feeling of nausea. We spooned out the somewhat superfluous cream plume.
Overall, taking afternoon tea at the Orangery is an ideal summer and spring siesta substitute. It’s relaxingly informal, intergenerational-welcoming, and budget-friendly. The food is quintessentially British, rather simple with some charm, but not really much to boast about. Instead, it’s the venue that makes afternoon tea at the Orangery worthwhile. After all, how many people can say they have had tea in a palace? *joy* Definitely do it once, but for the next visit, come for the Rooibos orange-scented tea and the front counter’s vast spread of scrumptious cakes that beckon with a siren call of sweet sweet seduction. For the same price as the set afternoon tea, you could instead indulge in 4 or 5 cake slices of such sumptous Caravaggio-esque proportions that you may very well transform into and join the royal entourage of other curvaceous marble statues in the surrounding palace gardens.
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: The Orangery, Kensington Palace, Kensington, London, W8 4PX, UK.
- Budget: (£15.15pp + 15% service charge).
- Sweet irresistibles: High Tea.
- Must-eat: Available daily.
- The short and sweet story: An afternoon tea for all ages and budgets in an elegant conservatory setting amidst splendid palatial gardens.