THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Carpe diem has always been my motto. When I received an invitation to review afternoon tea on the 28th floor of the Hilton Park Lane, boy did I carpe! After these past months of quiet and solitude, it was just the shot in the arm I’ve been waiting for! The dizzying height, stunning view, plush interior and the food of Marc Hardiman wiped these past months of unseizable days from my mind in an instant!
The staff are just about the friendliest ever. From the moment you walk in, you get a welcome filled with hospitality and warmth. This clearly comes from the top. Both Chef Hardiman and General Manager Peter Avis are down to earth, charming and enjoy a bit of a natter with the patrons. It takes the stodginess out of fine dining without compromising service at all. Our waiter was 10 out of 10!
Tea is served in the lounge, a remarkable setting designed for cocktails, not food service. The tables are too small and the chairs are meant for reclining, not sitting at a dining table. Somehow, we managed to eat every crumb and drink every drop.
At £49, the classic afternoon tea is a bargain. I was having none of it. I am a bubble, I was with my bubble and we needed bubbles! A lovely flute of Ayala (one of the original 26 Champagne Grandes Marques) brought the bill to £63 pp. A well-deserved treat rather than a bargain. Beautifully balanced with stone fruit and a hint of sweetness.
Hardiman keeps the savoury dishes in the realm of tradition while adding his own finesse. The quality is exceptional but there is little in the way of invention. Egg mayo comes in a gorgeous mini brioche bun like a slider. The finger sandwiches are made with the freshest, softest bread. Roast ham on white bread, cream cheese and pickles on granary bread and best of all, oak smoked salmon and horseradish cream on beetroot bread. I would like my bread in different colours from now on! A very well-balanced coronation chicken came in a wrap. The waiter offered more. We did not say no!
The sweets arrive in a gilded cage which is hung on a stand all tarted up for Christmas. Here Hardiman is much more inventive and the result is stunning. The scones are the lightest I have ever eaten but still have a beautiful crust. Heaps of clotted cream, strawberry jam and an apple and cinnamon compote that added a touch of holiday spirit.
A miniature green apple was a near perfect replica. The chocolate stem and white chocolate leaf with delicate green veins were just exquisite. Inside, an apple mousse and compote. Finally, a Valrhona chocolate gateaux opera that gilded the gilded cage. Genoise, milk chocolate cream and dark chocolate glaze and shards. Sumptuous. All washed down with a smooth Darjeeling.
Now back to quiet and solitude. I will seize the memory!