It would be a bit of an understatement to say that I’ve been very on board with the Christmas cheer recently.
From mini Dutch pancakes at Winter Wonderland to a spot après-skate at Somerset House, I’ve been speeding through my merry list of things to do in London before I soon head off to Bombay for the holidays.
But there’s been one glaring absence from my festive bucket list of sorts – the age-old tradition of afternoon tea with a christmassy twist!
Luckily I realised this just in time to make sure that I didn’t miss out on this festive fun… So despite having had an incredibly filling brunch at Chiltern Firehouse earlier in the day, my friends and I worked up a suitable appetite before arriving at the Connaught, ready for a bit of seasonal indulgence…
The Connaught is without a doubt one of my favourite hotels in London, not least for the formidable French martinis at the Coburg bar, not to mention its flawless service. The hotel is especially in its element this time of year, when you can find it decked out in all manners of Christmas gaiety…
Designed by none other than Damien Hirst, this year’s Christmas tree is adorned with ornaments fashioned as medical instruments and snowmen shaped as mammoth pills.
It might seem an odd choice at first glance, but it’s meant to be a testament to the power of science and medicine to offer a feeling of hope and optimism. The garlands of pink sausages are also unmissable, symbolising the sense of abundance that this season is renowned for.
Afternoon tea is served in Espelette, the warm and relaxed brasserie-style restaurant, featuring an airy conservatory overlooking Mount Street.
Against the gentle lull of a harpist’s melodies, the ambience manages to be both sedate yet vibrant, owing in no small part to the eclectic jumble of guests, from couples enjoying an intimate moment and a pair of old chums having a chinwag, to larger groups of families and in our case, a slightly raucous party of seven. We even spotted Pierce Brosnan somewhere in the mix!
As you would expect, tea is served in a remarkably elegant fashion. A refined selection is on offer from bold black teas (including Connaught’s signature blends) to herbal and fruity tisanes – the “relaxing” infusion (peppermint, chamomile, passion flowers, catnip, skullcap and wood betony) did exactly as promised.
We commenced with delicate finger sandwiches.
More than half our table were vegetarian and were pleased to find that that classic offerings such as cream cheese and cucumber were complemented by more flavoursome varieties such as artichoke and hummus. Smeared with mayo truffle mustard between a brioche bread, even quintessential egg & mustard cress was elevated.
While the non-vegetarian Christmas specials included combinations such as turkey breast with cranberry chutney and baby spinach; and Maldon cured smoked salmon with crème fraîche and chives.
We couldn’t resist calling for a portion of the Connaught’s epic thin-cut fries as well, for another side of savoury!
Next arrived the scones. Warm, freshly baked and straight out of the oven, they were served with delicate scoops of clotted cream (cleverly modelled as snowmen!) and handmade preserves – raspberry; strawberries and Tahitian vanilla; and a tart Christmas special featuring five types of berries.
If I’m being honest though, I found that the scones were a bit too firm – call me a scone snob, but for me the perfect scone imbues a resilient yet slightly soft texture with just the right touch of crumble with the first swipe of cream.
Finally, we were presented with a delicate selection of tea-time fancies, my favourite of which was the chocolate, mandarin & Earl Grey yule log. The tea infusion and hint of orange complemented the bittersweet creaminess of the chocolate well, making for a beautiful marriage of flavours.
We were also treated to snow macaroons with cranberry and rosehip; and coffee, cardamom and orange snowmen!
I should mention that the attentiveness and impeccable service of the staff really shone through here, as once they were aware of our vegetarian dispositions, they instantly made sure to avoid bringing us any cakes which might contain gelatine, swapping them for more veggie-friendly alternatives… the chocolate slices may have been a tad too dry, but I suppose that you can’t win them all.
The icing on our wonderful evening was literally on the gingerbread cookies that we each received to take home, shaped as festive hounds in a nod to the hotel’s iconic mascot… It definitely made for the perfect Monday night pick-me-up, while I wrote out this post!
This feature is part of the monthly travel link-up. To share your festive experiences all you have to do is head over to Kelly‘s, Rebecca’s, Emma’s, or guest host Ayla’s blog at Mrs Ayla’s Adventures, to link up your post on a festive season theme before the 7th December.
Connaught Hotel, Carlos Pl, London W1K 2AL