Some Tuesdays are the sort of Tuesdays where you decide with a colleague that by the weekend you will definitely been in need of afternoon tea. With school being busy and turned up to eleven, my lovely Maths Department buddy Wendy and I booked the last available slot to have Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson hotel at 1:30pm on Saturday afternoon. And then I spent the rest of the week looking forward to it and reminding myself that if I could defeat the pile of marking then my reward would be in piles of fancy cakes and endless pots of tea.
Additionally, Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea has been on my wish list for ever such a long time, so it was lovely to be so spontaneous!
5 days’ notice is incredibly spontaneous for me as I'm a planner and I can't help myself.
Saturday did as Saturdays do and it rolled around right after Friday (which had itself followed Thursday, and so on, but I'm sure you can see where this is going) and we met in the lobby of the hotel. It's unassuming from the outside but design-tastic on the inside with furniture that invites the adjective arty, rather than cosy.
We were offered a table inside or out and opted for outside: the garden area looked far prettier with lovely natural light, and a water feature. The area was covered and outdoor heaters and blankets were plentiful so that the chilly November weather had no bite and we were nice and warm.
Wendy and I are perfect afternoon tea partners in that we both have an avid need to photograph everything: the decor, each course, each other and any tiny detail that amuses us, taking the time to rearrange anything where necessary to get a nice background. And we both got a huge amount of enjoyment from the enormous attention to detail that the Sanderson had put into their signature tea.
We had a lovely table and it was set beautifully. The crockery is apparently specially designed, the menu is encased in a novel and even the sugar is presented in a music box which you can open and play, giggling while the little ballerina inside twirls to her song.
The waitress brought us a selection of teas to choose from, each sample presented in a little drink-me bottle with a description on a playing card. I opted for a pot of Cheshire Cat, an orange and chocolate oolong blend, and Wendy went for Mad Hatter, a green tea with more fruity and floral notes. As part of the afternoon tea, you can choose from unlimited tea, or if you really haven't got the hang of the whole tea thing (how strange of you) you can opt for coffee or hot chocolate. Upon hearing this, we both ordered a hot chocolate as well. Because why not?
The hot chocolate was nice and disappeared rapidly, but the tea was something special: leaf tea presented in a pot featuring the Queen and King of Hearts and wearing a little crown. Naturally.
The savouries duly arrived and we both demolished our plates. There was a savoury eclair filled with crab, a ham and cheese toasted croque monsieur, cream cheese and cucumber on startlingly green lime bread, and a miniature take on a Scotch egg with an outside of smoked salmon surrounding a quails egg cooked to perfection so that the yolk was still molten. We both claimed this as a favourite, and actually for me, my other preferred option was the cream cheese and cucumber: a nice twist on a classic.
We decided to split another round of savouries, and I particularly enjoy afternoon tea when guests are permitted to have refills. It's part of the experience and often I like to go for additional sandwiches to balance the inevitable sweets.
The desserts are really where this afternoon tea wins, and the presentation is nothing short of marvellous. The tall stand was topped with a black and white teacup out of which grew tall grass, and there were delectable treats on each layer. I also ordered a cocktail called Down the Rabbit hole to accompany the treats, my pot of tea having long since been vanished. We indulged ourselves in the taking of numerous photos, enjoying each little detail that has gone into the creation of a storybook confection. There were a huge range of shapes and colours and each was a delight!
Starting at the top, we had carrot meringue hearts nestling in the tea cup grass, marshmallow mushrooms and blue chocolate caterpillars. On the middle tier was a little quartet of petit fours: coffee pocket-watch macarons, Queen of Hearts Oreo cookies, red velvet ladybird cakes and banana bread-and-butterfly cupcakes. Finally on the lowest tier were the scones with pots of cream and jam, and a little drink-me pot each with creamy layers of mango and citrus and every good thing.
My favourites? The meringue was a winner for me as it had a lovely melt-in-your-mouth centre. The banana cupcake was a delight and a nice touch, and the scones were pleasingly warm, although I personally prefer a lurking raisin or two. There were no failures in my opinion, but I was disappointed that the macaron was coffee flavoured as I love macarons but really don’t like coffee. A shame as it was one of the prettiest treats on the stand, and matched the theme beautifully.
Obviously I ate it anyway.
However, my favourite of all was a little surprise that didn’t even make it onto the menu. We were each presented with a little flower pot which turned out to be full of cold, tangy, citrus ice cream and raspberries, covered over with a delicate smattering of golden honeycomb and chocolate soil and crowned with little flowers. It was such a delicious concoction, and perhaps made more so by the element of surprise.
Overall, falling down the rabbit hole was a marvellous experience and exceeded even my admittedly high expectations. At £48 it didn’t come cheap, especially when you add on the cost of a cocktail and a service charge, but I can’t help feeling that the effort made in producing such a delicate, colourful and imaginative afternoon tea, and my excitement and anticipation made each delectable bite, and each beautifully arranged morsel absolutely worth it.
It was virtually impossible to resist the drink-me allure of the experience, and we gleefully followed Alice every step of the way into Wonderland. And the staff let us sit for almost three and a half hours, long after our two hour slot had run out. But time passes differently down the rabbit hole.
P.S. There are several other afternoon teas in London that I’d love to sample. Or indeed scoff with gusto. So afternoon-tea-inclined types make yourselves known as I’m always happy to indulge.
P.P.S Also if you have any recommendations, my list is nothing if not encouraged to grow.