With the seamless shift in the seasons, comes the obligatory changing of the afternoon tea menus at our favourite hotels in London.
Having previously enjoyed the Scents of Summer and an autumn-appropriate all-chocolate affair at the InterContinental Park Lane, mother and I recently returned to its ever-so-inviting Wellington Lounge, this time to guiltlessly indulge in our favourite pastime…
After all (and to quote Oscar Wilde here), “pleasure without champagne is purely artificial”!
The new Guiltless Afternoon Tea promised us a more virtuous pleasure, free from refined sugar and loaded with superfoods and other nutrient-dense ingredients.
I know what you might be thinking. Why bother going halfway? As my dear granny would say, either have the real thing (with all the butter and cream) or leave it alone.
Well if you follow my #feedfeed, you won’t doubt me when I say that I live a supremely indulgent life in the normal course of day anyways. So the notion of a lighter, relatively guilt-free spread wasn’t one to scoff at, especially when uncompromising on flavour and presentation…
We started with a delicate selection of “market sandwiches,” which saw open-faced assemblies of fresh and seasonal vegetables on thin and crisp flatbreads, as well as a more hearty pumpernickel bread.
Here’s a fun fact by the way: the word pumpkernickel can literally be translated as meaning the devil’s fart (although quite thankfully, it tasted like nothing of the sort).
The different breads provided the perfect textural contrast to bring out the sharp flavours of the versatile veggies, from a tomato tartare embellished with puréed peas, to beetroot and avocado topped with crispy kale.
An intricately-layered quinoa and spinach salad formed the final tier, with its potent sweet-and-sour accents offset by a roasted black garlic dressing!
The unconventional start aside, we were gratified to see buttermilk scones very much in the picture for the second act.
However, it was the wholemeal variety which surprised us with its pleasantly-light quality, as such scones are usually on the stodgier side.
While crème fraîche and homemade winter-berry compote made for worthy substitutes to clotted cream and strawberry jam. The mellow natural sweetness of the compote was particularly pleasing (almost tongue-tickling) on our palate!
And finally, desserts.
We started with the yogurt trifle, which was densely layered with pistachios, green tea and fresh berries. It was definitely refreshing, if not the most moreish of tea-time fancies.
The beetroot and apple cake though… Subtly sweetened with apple blossom syrup, dried apricots and a touch of agave, it had a dewy moistness to it and was not unlike a red velvet cake (but without the synthetic sugariness!).
The tea mousse also appealed, its dainty appearance masking a complex depth of flavours (we loved the fresh notes of pear and pomegranate), while the dark flourless chocolate and peppermint cake was simply heaven-bound. It was really remarkable that no refined sugar was used at all, as the cake was as scrumptious as you’d find anywhere.
As always, two interrelated elements added much to our overall enjoyment.
First, the impassioned service with meticulous attention to detail. Not only did our server Stefan, remember us from the last time we visited, but he also remembered exactly which teas he had served us then!
Which brings me to my second point, the teas themselves. As before, Stefan knew just the right ones to recommend, so as to enhance the different food aspects. The soft notes of the Darjeeling First Flush were close to green tea in profile, pairing perfectly with the “sandwiches”; while a tea infused with red berries complemented the tartness of the compote, which we so liberally smothered across our scones.
The real highlight was an “after eight” tea, aptly labelled as such by Stefan given its strong hints of peppermint and cacao nibs!
A revelatory experience, The Guiltless Afternoon Tea is perfect if you’re looking to find a balance. I often feel like rolling (or being rolled) home after the heavy spreads typical of a traditional affair, and so it was a rather refreshing change to leave on such a light and buoyant note!
Wellington Lounge, The InterContinental, 1 Hamilton Pl, London W1J 7QY
I was a guest of the InterContinental Park Lane. As always, all opinions are mine and mine alone.