Every time I either read, write about or experience an English afternoon tea my mind wanders into the Jane Austen novels. Perhaps it stems from my childhood when I would be utterly besotted by a fairytale-like home with a beautifully crafted tea set and savouries perfectly laid on the table. Even today I am unabashedly an Afternoon Tea fanatic and truly believe that the experience should be nothing less to the one narrated in novels or fairytale. Being a design and architecture aficionado, if a design element is added to the experience my day is made. Since I was writing on townhouse hotels, I had an opportunity to visit Number Sixteen – one of the many Firmdale Hotels in London, for a lovely afternoon tea in South Kensington.
If you have read our previous post on Crosby Street Hotel – the only Firmdale Hotel in New York City, you’ll notice a signature design style by Kit Kemp that runs across these hotels. When I walked into Number Sixteen the little details made more impact on my eyes than the obvious ones. But I will leave the design story for another post and believe me, there is so much to write on the design aspect that it inspires you to decorate your home. Before I delve into the experience at the Orangery let me share some of my favourite designs in the hotel. The minion yellow chairs and shoes on display particularly took my fancy.
The townhouse is quite intimate and is designed perfectly like a home than a hotel but of course with friendly faces greeting you in the corridors or dining rooms. Afternoon tea is served at the Orangery which opens into a private outdoor garden. The garden is a secret oasis covered with trees on its fringes and well-manicured plants and bushes decorate its interior. A water channel runs along the garden’s length leading up to a pavilion. While there is outdoor seating, I chose the corner table inside the dining room that offers the perfect view of the garden as much as the art displayed on the walls. On a sunny day, the dining room bathe in sunlight thanks to the garden and the skylight in the Orangery.
The tea selection comprises a wide range from Halmari Assam, Osmanthe Oolong, Silver Needle to Jasmine Pearls. As admitted earlier tea sets are one of my quirks bordering obsession and then Orangery serves me the chosen Halmari Assam in one of the prettiest tea sets I have laid my hands on. Suddenly I was in the tight clasp of my obsession finding it rather difficult to focus on the tea. The tea set is custom designed for all Firmdale Hotels with a mythical creature theme. Gilded on the rim each piece of the set has a blend of tradition and modernity to its design. A pink three-tier stand with the afternoon menu arrived and added a contrasting neon accent to the entire tea experience. The menu had the very traditional finger sandwiches egg watercress, cucumber and cream cheese and then some contemporary twists in the tale like mushroom arancini, mini cheese burgers, salmon and dill sandwich among savouries. The desserts too had a mix of both worlds from chocolate brownie to a fruit tartlet, Bakewell tart and chocolate dipped strawberries. The one constant was the selection of scones served traditionally with clotted cream and preserves. I always judge a menu y the way it balances flavours and enhances the experience. The sandwiches were the balancing act while the mushroom arancini added an elevation to my expectations from this traditional tea experience. My vote for the best dessert on the menu goes to fruit tartlet and Bakewell tart for adding the needed delicacy to conclude the afternoon.
Do take a moment to learn more about the English afternoon tea tradition from the Victorian era. For more details about the afternoon tea at the hotel, please visit Number Sixteen. If you are keen on gifting an experience to a close friend or family in London, there is a gift selection for each of Firmdale Hotels.