BY PALOMA LACY
Afternoon tea, that most British of institutions is set to become grander still, with HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee just days away.
Unsurprisingly, London is at the epicentre of this wonderful tradition, and many of the big hotels are celebrating with some very fancy high teas.
Kona, at 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, has launched The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Afternoon Tea, which is simply fit for a queen.
The royal experience began upon arrival at reception, as I was directed to the back of the hotel, outside across the courtyard, beautiful on this particularly bright spring day, and into Kona.
Something of a magical mystery tour but an exciting start that leaves you wondering what awaits you.
The answer to this question was quickly answered – a pristine dining room, with fresh décor, starchy linens and decorative nods to our monarch.
In case you forget the reason for the visit, royal-related literature, millinery and jewellery befitting royalty is placed on available surfaces. All that was missing were a pack of corgis trundling around.
The 2pm booking was a wise choice on the part of my friend and I, as it was quiet and service prompt.
Our first job was to select a tea. I heard Assam mentioned and popped a finger into the air.
I know nothing of tea and food pairing but I like Assam so went that way.
As luck would have it, my choice is also one of the Queen’s favourites, Earl Grey being the other. Once a teapot delivered and a few sips enjoyed, along came the main event.
The quintessentially English spread takes the diner back in time to such historic events as the wedding of the Queen and Prince Philip, with the entry dish, the perfect palate cleanser.
A twist on the strawberry and chocolate ice cream served on their big day, bringing it into the present day, served in a golden carriage, the upper part of which was made from chocolate and therefore edible.
This was the first of many dishes that looked too good to eat but we managed after a few admiring glances and gasps were had.
The sandwich course took pride of place in the middle of a three-tier cake stand.
The choices were traditionally simple for the most part but elevated by their names, affording another chance to impart more historical information.
The Sandringham (smoked salmon and cucumber on rye, with cream cheese and caviar); The Windsor (egg and cress, and egg mayo and marinated quails egg); The Buckingham (ham and cheese) and The Balmoral (tomato, venison, baked spinach tart).
Scones lie at the heart of every afternoon tea and these were exceptionally good.
We wondered whether the lightness of the dough was perhaps down to the inclusion of buttermilk but it was everything a scone should be. There’s nothing worse than heavy, dense scones that crumble.
This of course lead to the inevitable conversation about whether to layer clotted cream and then jam, which my Somerset-born companion assured me was the only way to do it.
As she pointed out: “You wouldn’t place butter on top of jam, would you?” I thought this was a fair argument.
We saved the most beautiful for last – an easy feat for me, with my preference for the savoury.
Entitled Her Majesty’s Delicacies or fancy cakes to the rest of us, it was time for a window into the flavour combinations preferred by the royals.
The pastry chefs must have had a field day when designing the menu and The Gardens of Britain was a dish inspired by the regions – the national flower from each decorating each of the four sides of dainty rose and chocolate cake.
Rumour has it that chocolate biscuit cake is the Queen’s favourite, and this one is gold dusted chocolate and rich tea biscuit in the shape of orb and sceptre used at the coronation in 1953.
The attention to detail is jaw-dropping. Apparently part of royal banquets and garden parties is frangipane, made from fruits grown in the Queen’s orchards.
The peach and apple tart reflected this tradition, with the addition of an edible replica of the feather broach worn by the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee.
It comes as little surprise that the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Afternoon Tea is priced at £70.
A real treat but many of the regular afternoon teas offered at London hotels are around this mark.
KONA Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites & Residences London, SW1E 6AF www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk/Fine-dining/Afternoon-tea