A Melbourne, London & Hong Kong dessert blog
In a private botanical sanctuary and with a nature theme, this is unquestionably, one of the finest examples of the afternoon tea tradition.
Courtesy of our connected paternal entity, MoMo & Coco have had the privilege and pleasure to stay in some very opulent establishments when visiting Europe. Boutique hotels we have generally missed though, the Athenaeum being one of them. A former private home built in the 1840s, it was a magnet for the artistic and literary elite, and today, still attracts a high-falutin crowd. Although its frontage is somewhat less majestic than other London hotels in the neighbouring area of Mayfair and Belgravia, the Athenaeum is in no way inconspicuous. The facade flaunts a honeycomb aesthetic, and to one side, a verdant hanging garden shrouds it like a shawl casually thrown over its shoulder. Designed by botanist P Blanc, it is terraced with 260 exotic plant types. It won an award as one of the TIME Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of 2009. Evocative of both the mystique and trailblazing of ancient Babylon, this eco-installment allows the Athenaeum to reflect its prime location opposite the lushness of Green Park, and to bridge old British style and contemporary London flair in its room furnishings and culinary offerings.
Afternoon tea at the Athenaeum is taken in the Garden Lounge. Awashed in a warm palette of caramel, tan and coral, the tranquil parlour is sectioned off by drapes for such privacy and intimacy that is most rare (and highly appreciated by MoMo & Coco) in this era of informal, communal dining. If you are even more fortunate, your little alcove will afford you a view of the luxuriant hanging gardens. The crowd is a polished one — on our visit, a small group of businessmen were discussing Russian stocks vis-a-vis Chinese investments (while eating scones and drinking whisky), two pearl-set seniors were taking tea with a fellow gentleman clad in country tweed and a gaggle of thirty-somethings were very discreetly throwing a celebration.
The table setting was art deco, with white porcelain plates edged by a thick rim of forget-me-not baby blue. This accompanied a vast array of dining bits and pieces — a spinning trio of little honey jars; a dish of sliced golden butters; pots of sugar cubes, pepper and cold milk. It was an anticipatory arrangement. Service was equally well-prepared, exceedingly gracious and polite, and really rather faultless.
From a choice of tea or coffee, MoMo & Coco, of course, chose the former, and from a menu that was shorter but nevertheless rivalled the exoticism of the tea range that we encountered at the Langham London, we had the pleasure of sampling two teas. With the help of the tea sommelier who was capable of personalising your tea experiences with incredible precision, the Soom Darjeeling was malty and robustly flavoured as described and suited the rousing of the palate during the intake of the savouries, while the more genteel Chinese white tea of the Pai Mu Tan Silver balanced, rather than overpowered, the sweet tones of the sweet irresistibles. The tea itself arrived in somewhat inelegant, large metal pots, its handles enveloped with thick white napkin paper.
There are two versions of afternoon tea available at the Athenaeum: the Evergreen Afternoon Tea (£28.50) as inspired by the hanging gardens, and the Regent Parks Honey Afternoon Tea (£39), a celebration of both the gardens and a partnership with local urban beekeepers. Enthralled by the idea of how this seemingly increasing trend of urban bee-keeping can be adopted into culinary forms other than mere honey production, MoMo & Coco selected the latter. Dear readers, you are forewarned to arrive with a thoroughly detoxed empty stomach — the Athenaeum serves one of the most generous (and scrumptious) afternoon teas we have experienced.
The Regent Parks Honey Afternoon Tea began with a glass of honey fizz — think a cocktail of prosecco with a sweep of honey, ending with a soft, fragrant finish.
The traditional three-tiered stand was not used at the Athenaeum, with each stage of the afternoon tea arriving by itself, well-coordinated between the service staff. The first plate of savoury irresistibles arrived, and lo behold, this was a plate for a single individual (!!)…and the wonderful service staff came around inviting you to take seconds (!!). The savoury selection included ribbon sandwiches of cucumber; egg mayonnaise and watercress; poached chicken; and smoked salmon; and in line with the honey theme, very very lovely honey roasted ham (a generous serve of three of these). A mini burger pressed a lip-smackingly exquisite medallion of caramelised goat’s cheese soaked in honey.
After a short wait, a plate of two scones and a small crumpet arrived, swaddled like new-born babes in napkins to keep their cosy fresh-from-the-oven warmth. They were flanked by mountains of clotted cream, strawberry jam and honey, the latter of which left one gasping for expletives. Its consistency, texture, flavour was indescribable. Lathered onto the crumpet, and for a frivolous moment, on half a scone, it was celestial.
Some afternon teas start great and end dismally; others start generically and finish unbelievably. The Athenaeum’s Regents Park Honey Afternoon Tea exceeded all expectations and all experiences — transcending each stage of the afternoon tea, ascending vertiginously to the sweet finale. A constellation of seven sweet irresstibles stole the show. (Again, dear readers, please note that this entire platter was served to just one person!!). Set on individual gold foil doilies under each irresistible, lurid nasturtiums from the hanging garden were strewn over, flirting dramatically with the black wooden backdrop. Honey was the subtext, the highlight of each irresistible and it made a stunning meteorite path across our palate and memory.
First, the honey cheesecake. More a light creamy tart than a cheesecake per se, it held the essence of honey in its white interior, offset by a sprinkling of caramelised toffee granules.
Second, the honey mille feuille was anchored more by the light chocolate mousse sandwiched between layers of thin flaky pastry, rather than the flickering accents of honey. Still irresistible regardless.
The honey cake was spongy, yet sticky. It embodied more emphatic honey tones that imparted a spicier, malty aroma.
The lavender and honey macarons were radiant purple gems. A flavour combination that translated most beautifully from paper into reality, the taste of both lavender and honey pierced through a slightly crystalline ganache filling. It was elegantly heady, evocative of the lavender fields blanketing the hillsides of Provence.
The honeycomb marquis was an obelisk of pure chocolate decadence. A rich ganache top embellished a pillow-soft, dreamy chocolate cake that alternately interwove a murmur of honey.
As a finale to the platter of sweet irresistibles, the cyclinder of elderflower jelly was the perfect palate cleanser, as gracefully light as its opal translucency suggesed. A most fitting pinnacle to this afternoon tea.
If you had elected for the Evergreen Afternoon Tea, you would have had the utmost pleasure of selecting your sweet irresistibles from this irresistible cake trolley. The wait staff serving MoMo & Coco also invited us to select a slice of some very decadent cakes, but we were far too full from the generous Regents Park honey Afternoon Tea, and we were struggling to think how we were going to meet up for a scheduled dinner date just two hours later. Ah, the pity. Isn’t it beautiful, though?
Partaking in the Regents Park Honey Afternoon Tea means that you are farewelled with an adorably cute jar of the very honey that featured in your afternoon tea. Just small enough to hide away from evil Australian quarantine officers.
Overall, the Regents Park Honey Afternoon Tea at the Athenaeum deserves all the accolades that it has won from the UK Tea Guild Council and others. Indulged in your own very private sanctuary, it’s a marathon of sweet lyricism and delicious exquisiteness, sustained from start to finish. MoMo & Coco refers to not only the incredible culinary spread of pure honey sumptousness, but also the equally generous, affable service rendered. HRM should surely take a walk from Buckingham Palace, across St James Park and Green Park to visit the Athenaeum.
- Dessert adventure checklist
- Dessert destination: The Garden Room, The Atheneaum, 116 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London, W1J 7BJ, UK.
- Budget: (£ 39pp + 15% service charge) .
- Sweet irresistibles: High Tea
- Must-eat: Available daily.
- The short and sweet story: In a private botanical sanctuary and with a nature theme, this is unquestionably, one of the finest examples of the afternoon tea tradition.