It has been rumoured for years now that, on occasion, I may be wrestled into the idea of dining out for lunch – and possibly a cocktail or two. It is time, I think, to be honest with myself, my friends, and my colleagues, and finally come out of the kitchen cabinet. I accept these rumours to be the absolute truth.
Lunch is what I do, and I do it damn well – whether it be a backstreet ramen bar, a swift Gregg’s (no, not really), or a six hour, seven thousand course tasting menu AND belt-busting, wafer-thin petit fours at a restaurant with a galaxy of Michelin stars above the door. When it comes to afternoon dining, I’d like to think I’m up there with the best.
I chose the words “afternoon dining” carefully. Lunch being my yard, there ain’t much room for the milkshake afterwards, if you catch my drift. Afternoon tea has always been that most British of gastronomic institutions that, well, gets in the way of lunch and dinner.
The new afternoon tea at Dry Martini at the Melia White House Hotel has entered this indulgent dining balancing act. A cocktail-based infusion of savouries, sweets, scones, and, of course, teas to match, it all combines to brew a menu experience to titillate the tastebuds. Most importantly, it needs to bring something new to the mid-afternoon menu market, which is already saturated in gooey oceans of clotted cream. It does.
The front of house team alone is composed of the cream of the crop. Greeted by Mehdi, possibly the most formidably experienced bar manager you’ll find anywhere in London (serving over fifteen years of Mayfair time at Claridge’s and a few at No. 5 Hertford Street to boot), the diner is instantly reassured that their service experience alone will be nothing short of world-class.
The menu incorporates matching a carefully crafted Martini. I opted for a take on a Long Island Iced Tea which, when glancing at the menu, gave me flashbacks of all-inclusive holidays in far-flung, often dodgy destinations, made with ingredients that yet remain unknown to science. Luckily, the gimmick worked: a perfect acidity and sweetness balance, ideal for the range of tastes on offer on a tea stand. My matched chai tea was also a winner, and complemented my gluttonous scone swallowing delightfully.
A point to mention when regarding all matters tea is not only the pastries and sandwiches themselves, but where they come from. I’ve always believed that reputable institutions should, without fail, make things in-house, for a multitude of reasons. Reassuringly, that’s exactly what you’ll find here – and the work shows. Decadently filled pastries and beautifully garnished, seasonal slices are made fresh every morning, ready to be rolled out. On the subject of rolls, the obvious curveball of a California-style savoury roll in the sandwich section was my standalone favourite, but very much still primus inter pares, flanked by success. You’d be shocked to know how many respected institutions in this market do not follow this example of in-house sourcing and preparation.
On the whole, after I’d more than successfully filled a hungry hole, I can honestly say that the Mar-Tea-Ni Afternoon Tea at Dry Martini is onto something special; its unique blend of cocktails, matching teas, and sweet and savoury delights, in an environment that you would normally associate with evening libation activities, is a gamble that has paid off. It is painstakingly obvious that some serious hard work, both in the front of house and back, has gone into making this concept a success. The bonus? After a couple of hours of civilised afternoon tea, you’re already in the perfect spot to get down and dirty with an evening Martini. It’s always five o’ clock somewhere.