In theory, I love an afternoon tea. Being presented with meticulously-created treats, on the finest of crockery, in a gorgeously-decorated room boasting plush furniture to lounge across, is a welcome escape from my usual day of sitting in a hard chair at a desk, staring at a computer screen.
However, given their rather expensive and indulgent nature, they are a rare occurrence for me. So when a friend offered to treat me at the InterContinental Park Lane to sample their new Scents of the Summer menu after I had endured a particularly stressful week, I welcomed the opportunity.
Scents of the Summer is a limited-edition afternoon tea collaboration between the hotel’s Executive Chef Ashley Wells, and Edward Bodenham, ninth generation of British family perfumers Floris London. It claims to be a marriage of perfumery expertise and culinary talent “to create a sensory journey that celebrates the beauty of British summertime”. It did not disappoint.
I won’t detail everything and ruin it for you, should you go, but it was all delightful
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a friendly member of staff, and soon brought our drinks: one glass of champagne, and one cocktail – rum based, infused with fennel seeds, rosemary, and the scent of Peychaud’s. It was so good I would go back for that drink alone.
I won’t detail everything and ruin it for you, should you go, but it was all delightful. The savoury first course began with a shot of wheat grass, gooseberry, and strawberry molecular pearls that burst in your mouth, adding tanginess to the refreshing taste and smell of freshly cut grass. The sandwiches were all pleasant fragrant twists on classics; the delicately flavoured thyme chicken with pink peppercorn served on tomato bread was the standout.
Following this, an edible citrus spray was spritzed around us before we began to devour the sultana and wholemeal scones. As a big fan of clotted cream, I was somewhat sceptical when we were encouraged to choose the lemon and pink peppercorn curd and earl grey butter instead. But the heat of the pink peppercorn balanced the sharpness of the curd, whilst the very subtle earl grey butter beautifully complimented the wild strawberry jam. By the end, the clotted cream was barely touched.
Finally, we were served a stunning array of desserts, the air was sprayed this time with jasmine. As someone who lacks a sweet tooth, I often find some desserts in this course too sickly. Not on this occasion. I don’t even like macaroons, but their bergamot variety filled with blackberry ganache melted in the mouth. Meanwhile, the Flower Pot was packed with tastes of rose water and pink peppercorn jelly, layered under a strawberry mouse, and all encased in a dark chocolate terracotta pot; the bitterness cut through the sweetness of the jelly and mousse. But my favourite was the light sticky teacake infused with hints of jasmine.
Charming staff guided us through the courses, suggesting the best tea accompaniments
So far I haven’t discussed the tea itself, and that’s because it deserves its own special mention. Rather than the norm of one tea for the whole meal, we were recommended different ones to go with each course and, when we couldn’t decide between two, we were given both! They were all lovely; during the savoury course we sipped on a Japanese sensha and an oolong, and during the dessert we had a jasmine and a peony. The real star, though, was the smoky Earl Grey and lapsang souchong blend we enjoyed with the scones, a surprisingly perfect match. It was this option of trying so many different teas that really cemented the sensory concept of the meal, propelling the whole experience to stand out head and shoulders above other afternoon teas I’ve had.
An acknowledgement should also be given to the charming staff, who guided us through the courses, suggesting the best tea accompaniments and attentively checking we were having an enjoyable time. While one might have found this slightly overbearing on another occasion, it was appropriate to create the experience and, after all, such attentive service is, disappointingly, a rare pleasure these days. Even when we said we were a bit full at the end, our waiter suggested a lemon and ginger hot drink to help with digestion at no extra cost, and it did just the job.
Overall, it was a wonderful occasion. At £45 per person (excluding the champagne and cocktail) it wasn’t cheap, and occasionally the odd flavour was undetectable, but we felt it was worth it. The only major downside, as my friend put it, is that it might have ruined any future afternoon teas we have elsewhere. Fortunately, the InterContinental Park Lane also offers a more traditional Royal Tea and, even better, a little birdie informs me they are already designing their limited edition Christmas afternoon tea. I know I’ll be going.