Romantic London: The Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea at the Athenaeum

IMG_5744I arrived in London two days ago and already I’ve done so much it feels like I’ve been here twice as long.

That’s not a bad thing. It just seems unlikely that in only 48 hours I’ve packed in a walk around Fitzrovia, a visit to Speedy’s Cafe (of Sherlock fame), the Cartoon Museum and the Petrie Museum, seen the first episode of the new Doctor Who (many cheers for Peter Capaldi!) and then today visited the Abbey Road community garden, met with one of the locals who work on the garden (discovering he’s an SF fan and has just been to LonCon, and his wife is writing a fantasy novel) and then explored the All Saints Church which has sections dating from the 12th Century, before reuniting with our new friends Mike and Penny for a beer in Stratford’s Tap East boutique beer bar, and then returning to our new digs at The Athenaeum on Park Lane…

Possibly I should have stopped for breath somewhere in that paragraph, but you get the picture. I have two weeks yet to go here in London, and then we’re off to New York. It’s going to be jam-packed and fabulous!

But let’s backtrack a little to The Athenaeum.

After spending our first two nights at the splendiforousness that is The Grafton, we have moved our little travel camp to the dashing and shiny Athenaeum Hotel overlooking Green Park. I feel very posh (and possibly also under-dressed). The bathroom is full of beautiful dark green marble and the bow window allows me to watch the passing traffic – including red buses and black cabs – as darkness falls over the Park.

IMG_5753The Athenaeum also offers a charming Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea. If your tooth isn’t all that sweet, it’s a wonderful alternative to the usual scones-and-cakes affairs normally offered by grand old hotels. (The Athenaeum offers those as well, of course.)

There’s a certain Gregory Peck-ness to the ambiance of this savoury afternoon tea, served in the elegance of the Garden Room. The view through the windows is of a lush garden wall, greenery draped down the outside bricks and lending the interior a lovely grotto feeling without all that inconvenience of actual leaves and insects in your tea. Inside, highlights of burnt orange in the furnishings add to that sense of richness and warmth. Tables are set up in little shallow alcoves, so you have a sense of intimacy without being shut off in dark corners.

IMG_5762As for the afternoon tea itself: you start with a dram of single malt scotch whisky (served with water that you can splash into the glass yourself to taste) and soon you and your beau will be enjoying chilli cheese sticks with welsh rarebit; wild boar sausage roll, a seasonal terrine (ours was ham hock) and a miniature beef and ale pie.

By the time the bacon scone topped with Wookey Hole Cave aged cheddar arrives, so has your large pot of piping hot tea. Selecting the tea is rather fun – you open up kind of wooden ‘book’, which is a box displaying loose leaf tea samples and descriptions so you can choose a tea for your mood. Half way through the afternoon tea, the lovely staff whip away the pots, in which the tea was brewing a bit too strongly, and bring back fresh pots – so each cup of tea is the perfect cup of tea.

The sweetness comes along, not in light and fluffy confections, but in rich and complex flavours – a sticky toffee pudding with walnuts (served with that thick English cream that has real gravitas), whisky fruit cake and whisky chocolate truffles.

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A cake trolley is also brought past in due course – to tempt you with cakes that you’re probably much too full to enjoy. (I am more to be pitied than censured that I was much too replete with deliciousness to be tempted by the caramel chocolate cake; a Victoria Sponge was also on offer, which led to my beloved doing impersonations of a Connery James Bond soliloquising about his nemesis, the femme fatale spy, Victoria Sponge…”So, Miss Sponge, we meet again. I must be dreaming!”)

IMG_5785If you’re in London with the one you love, whether or not either of you is a gentleman (or can do Connery 007 impersonations), this is a sophisticated and ever so slightly rugged alternative to the standard sugar-rush afternoon tea. It’s well worth the £34.50. In fact, it might make a really special and stylish buck’s party (or hen’s party) for a small group.

The Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea is at the Athenaeum until 31 December 2014 from noon to 7pm, and reservations are essential.

Disclosure: On this trip we were hosted by the Athenaeum Hotel.

Do you know of a romantic city experience? Let me know and I will selflessly explore it. SELFLESSLY.

In the meantime, read my erotic spy thrillers set in Melbourne and Brisbane: Double Edged and Expendable and learn about Philip and Martine before I send them to London to spy-wrangle and drink whisky in the Garden Room!