Ever since I was a little girl I have always loved the idea of afternoon tea. For me as a child it wasn’t seen as the posh high society affair that the conotations nowadays suggest, but instead a warm, friendly, unpretencious family get together that would happen irregularly on a Sunday if we were good. Growing up in Scotland I remember it as High Tea, which I guess was a little different given that it involved a meal as well as tea and cakes. It was essentially an early dinner, a pre theatre if you will, which Hotels would offer in the late afternoon, early evening slot before their a la carte menu would begin, and it was pretty much my favourite way to dine for the majority of my childhood.
I can remember it clear as day as every time I would order the same. There would always be gammon steak and pineapple with sides of fries and greens (which I most probably didn’t eat) before the tiered tray of cakes was brought out to two giddy kids and accompanied by a mug of milky tea. I’d usually start with a small scone and jam before moving to something sweet and Scottish such a millionaire shortbread or chocolate tiffin. Looking back on it now, it was probably just a cheaper option for the Hotel to get out of offering a dessert but to me at the time it was divine. Apart from the fact that I’ve always been a sweet tooth, I think it was the variety that appealed. The many choices that that tiered tray offered and the excitement over where to start and what to choose first.
Since then, the act of getting together with loved ones on a late afternoon for a cup of tea and a cake has remained one of my favourite things to do, always rekindling that memory and bringing about warm happy feelings. However, although tea and cake is called for often, it’s usually consumed at a local cosy cafe or in a friends living room after a heavy night, PJ’s on and chick flick playing. Surprisingly, I’ve never ventured to one of the Afternoon Tea offerings put on by many of London’s finest Hotels.
Why? For a few reasons really…
1. They are usually a rather expensive way to spend an afternoon and seem to call for a special occasion that I never get around to organising.
2. They usually warrant an equally expensive dress to go along with (no PJ’s allowed) and a dapper man in a dinner suit on your arm.
3. I guess I always feel a bit unworthy of the posh service and silverwear which would be accompanying my scone and jam and somehow it doesn’t seem to match up with the fun memories of my childhood.
However when I heard about the Mad Hatters Tea at the Sanderson Hotel, designed to be a quirky alternative to the usual dining experience, fueling your imagine as well as your tastebuds, I knew that this was the type of fuzzy memory inducing experience I had been waiting for, and I really really wanted to go! On my birthday weekend a few weeks ago, my wishes came true and myself and GB scrubbed ourselves up and got ready to tumble down the rabbit hole…
Inkeeping with the magical theme, the day we visited The Sanderson was a freaky March snow day in London which saw thick and soft clumps of snow falling down on us as we made our way there. Once inside of course it was beautiful and the heated indoor courtyard area offered the most wonderful clear view of the white piling up outside.
The Sanderson has a clever way of offering everything that a five star luxury Hotel should offer, while still remaining humble to appeal to the everyday Joe who just wants to pop in for a drink. It avoids that stiff pretencious aura that so many other luxury Hotels abide by, in favour of a welcoming hello, friendly service and smiling staff. Upon entering there is none of that awkward silence that usually has me panicking about whether my high street outfit will have me thrown out immediately and brandished as a fraud, instead there is a happy chatter of a busy bar and restaurant and plenty of people waiting to take your coat and give you a helping hand.
The Afternoon Tea…
Alice in Wonderland used to scare me a little as a child, but now that I’m older I think I can appreciate how wonderful a story it really is. There is something special about being able to escape from daily life for a few hours and delve into a magical land full of colour, excitement and temptations and this afternoon tea does just that. In collaboration with design collective Luna & Curious, this mixture of bespoke carnival crockery and eyecatching baked goods makes for a curious and curiouser day out!
As we sat down, we were met with a delightful table setting complete with plates which match up to tell a story, a menu inside a vintage book and sugar cubes offered from a singing box. First came a large dose of tea served in smiling teapots to warm us up from the snow outside. But this being of the mad hatters variety, the tea served is not just any tea, choose from rhubarb and custard, apple pie, strawberry tart and mint choc chipvarieties.
As it was my birthday (and that special occasion I had been waiting for) we also sampled some beverages of the alcoholic variety (which definitely wasn’t part of my childhood memory) as the afternoon tea comes with an optional glass of champagne add on and a variety of suitably mad cocktails, which as I found out through my daquiri were nothing short of strong!
When that all important tiered tray arrived in front of us it was certainly something to behold and offered much more variety than I can ever remember in my Scottish version. Starting at the bottom there was a plate of savoury goodies such as cucumber and chive cream cheese wrapped in a spinach bread, savoury scones and garlic butter and miniature quiches, all washed down with a small ‘drink me’ bottle of frothy mango panacotta.
Two tiers of sweet treats then awaited us, all of which had a hidden surprise or unexpected tale to tease the tastebuds. Dark chocolate cups filled with lime mousse seemed harmless enough until the dose of popping candy in the middle took it’s effect and an innocent cheesecake was made even more delectable when cut open to reveal an oozing mango sauce. Victoria sponges were transformed into ticking clocks and marshmallows into mushrooms, finished off with a garden of tasty carrots hidden at the top.
The Madhatters Tea party at The Sanderson isn’t like any other afternoon tea you may have tried, it’s fun and quirky and designed with everyone in mind from families, to tourists to those who want a posh day out for that special occasion. While they don’t allow fancy dress or PJ’s, it is considerably less formal than many other London Hotel offerings and there was no need to feel wary of talking too loud or using the wrong cutlery as the atmosphere was friendly and warm and the staff incredibly helpful.
At £35 (£45 for the Champagne version) it’s also considerably cheaper than a lot of afternoon tea packages in London, and while not exactly a dirt cheap way to spend an afternoon, not beyond consideration if you have cause for celebration or a friend to treat.
Even for a true sweet tooth like me, I did find myself craving a little more of the savoury dishes (perhaps because they were so tasty) so do prepare yourself to leave with a sugar rush should you indulge in the way I did, but hey since when is a sugar rush a bad thing?
The Sanderson London
50 Berners Street, London, W1T 3NJ
Tel: 0207 7300 1400
To find out more about the Mad Hatters Tea Party or to make a reservation visit the website here
*Please note, I was treated to Afternoon Tea by The Sanderson in order to write this review, however the opinions expressed are all my own.*