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Review: Afternoon Tea at The Connaught Hotel

BY Boon Koh
Published 25 January 2012

I love a good afternoon tea, and when a friend of mine invited me to go try the afternoon tea at the Espelette Restaurant in the 5-star The Connaught Hotel in the middle of Mayfair, I had to say yes.

It wasn’t my first time at The Connaught Hotel, having visited last year to try out their famous signature infused martinis. So I wasn’t totally awed the second time by the interior design of the hotel this time round, although when I stepped through the doorway, held open by an impeccably dressed bellman, I wished I could be at The Connaught Hotel every day.

The Espelette is The Connaught Hotel’s ground floor restaurant, with a brasserie style atmosphere. Crucially, it has lots of light from its big windows facing out to Mount Street. It almost felt like a conservatory in the middle of the city, and even in the winter it felt so warm and pleasant that it was hard to believe it was freezing cold with the winds howling outside.

The afternoon tea menu at The Espelette is one of the more traditional and typical ones in London, although there were a few Japanese-influenced twists by The Connaught’s head chef, Hélène Darroze. The combination of French and Japanese influences really do make the desserts at The Connaught stand out – really delicate and light, but full of flavour that just melts in your mouth, without being too sugary or sticky. For some inexplicable reason, I didn’t take down the names of the desserts that we had, but two pictures are worth a million words:

On the savoury side of things, the finger sandwiches looked to be the standard English ones – cucumber finger sandwich, egg mayo sandwich, and prawn sandwich. The cucumber and egg sandwiches proved to be typical, but the salmon one had a hint of wasabi to give it a warm heat to complement the savoury and sweet smoked salmon, and the prawn mayo one packed quite a bit of flavour too, with generous amounts of finely chopped onion and some other herbs to give it that bit of zing.

Of course, with any afternoon tea, there had to be the typical English scones, with a dollop of clotted cream, and some jam. But even the jams had their own menu, created specially by Christine Ferber, who is known as the ‘Queen of Jam’ in France, quite an accolade for a country that takes its jam quite seriously. There were 7 different jams to choose from, and it did prove a bit of a challenge for our group! In the end, we went for the classic Connaught summer jam (cherry, rhubarb, and mint) as well as the Gelee de fruits de la passion (passion fruit jelly).

I was surprised by how full I was by the end of the afternoon tea – normally I’m still rather peckish, but the pastries, cakes, and sandwiches here are really filling, even if they don’t feel too rich. We couldn’t finish all our food, and I have to say for £35, its rather good value for money, and was substantial enough to even substitute a hearty lunch.

My friend, who had just been to The Ritz Hotel for afternoon tea just a few weeks back, commented that the quality at The Connaught Hotel was definitely one or two notches higher than The Ritz – surprising given the latter’s reputation, but perhaps in a few year’s time, The Connaught Hotel will be recognised as the afternoon tea place in London, especially with such a top class menu like this.