November 21, 2010 by bethanjthomas
Of all the bizarre characters in the history of the English royal family, Queen Anne is by far my favourite. There are three reasons for this:
1. She was so fat that she reputedly crushed a horse to death when trying to ride it
2. She had a lesbian side, and had a thing for the Duke of Marlborough’s wife (Winston Churchill’s great, great, great, great, great… grandmother)
3. She apparently invented afternoon tea.
Linked to her obese weight, poor Ann couldn’t make it through the afternoon without additional sustenance and her servants would make up sandwiches, scones and cakes for her to eat with her ladies along with a pot of tea. Soon the trend caught on in fashionable upper class circles, and this trend persists today.
How on earth women who would have worn corsets managed to devour a tea stand’s worth of food boggles my mind, as I always wear strategically baggy clothes when partaking in the tradition and this weekend was no exception.
In honour of the wonderfully fat, potentially bi-sexual queen of England, I took my parents to the recently re-opened Savoy for afternoon tea. I’ve been lucky enough to work with the Savoy on their tea service, training all of their staff on the teas and advising on the service style, and I’ve been keen to go back ever since to experience the finished product.
From 4.30 to 8pm we enjoyed one of the most relaxed and delicious afternoons. It began with a glass of Louis Roederer champagne, poured with precision into hand engraved flutes which depicted the decorations on the Thames Foyer walls.
The bubbles hit the spot as we sank back into our chairs to take in the beauty of the room around us. Pre-opening, I’d had a guided tour with the manager but I certainly hadn’t appreciated the room completely -it is truly beautiful. White corinthian columns framing dark wooden framed pictures, a dark metallic ‘winter garden gazebo’ houses a grand piano in its centre and a pianist tickles the ivories.
From a completely biased perspective, the selection of teas is fantastic from bespoke blends of Assam and Darjeeling, to light silver needle and rich bohea lapsang. There’s something for everyone. The staff are also extremely kind with their time and can explain about all of the teas, offering you the chance to order two different teas for no extra cost if you have the time to spare. Apparently virtually everyone orders a standard black breakfast or afternoon tea, but we bucked the trend and chose the light white peony and rose, and toasted gen mai cha. And then the food arrived…
Plain and raisin scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and lemon curd.
Sandwiches of many varieties – smoked salmon and mild horse radish, egg and shiso cress salad, cucumber and cream cheese, honey roasted ham and mustard, poached chicken and mango chutney. All with their crusts removed from the fresh, soft bread. The fillings were incredibly generous and whilst the traditional choices didn’t look too exciting on the menu, the chicken, salmon and cucumber options were incredible and we couldn’t stop ourselves asking for more. Well, repeatedly asking for more. Our beautiful waitress would arrive with a huge silver tray of replacements after each request, and we worked our way through four full plates of finger food.
But this was only the beginning. Once we were fully satiated, pastries arrived.
Again, personal service and choice was the name of the game. Choosing was difficult, but we could have had them all if we wanted – chocolate and pistachio “Operas”, mini chocolate éclairs, strawberry financiers with mint cream, raspberry and wasabi macaroons, white chocolate and apricot domes and plumb crumbles.
My sweet tooth is not particularly prominent, but the pastries that I did try were delicious – balanced flavours each comprised around three mouthfuls…just right after all the sandwiches that had been consumed! The only criticism that could be thrown at them, is that they were a little heavy if you wanted to eat all of them. You may feel a little like Queen Anne after all six.
And, of course, you need to leave some room for the final course…cake! Sliced at your table to order from a cake trolley, three options were offered – English fruit cake, lemon drizzle with mint or dark chocolate and orange cake. At this point, the strategic baggy shirt is coming in useful and a small slice could be squeezed in. The rich sponge was perfect with our final cup of hot tea, but it still took me a good twenty minutes to finish my slice!
We had suddenly lost three and a half hours of our life into indulgent, calorific bliss. The service was outstanding and the presentation perfect, perhaps it was the effect of the champagne but the ambience of the room was unrivalled too. I would recommend anyone in search of a taste of Queen Anne, to head to the Savoy immediately.