Afternoon Tea in London!

As those of you who regularly follow my blog will already know, I love a classic afternoon tea….the more formal, grand, and elegant, the better.

On previous trips to London, England, I always seemed to miss out on classic afternoon teas for one reason or another.  I certainly had had cream teas (scones, clotted cream, strawberry jam, and a pot of tea) at some hotels but never was able to make it to a formal tea.  I always said that the next time I was heading to Europe, I was going to visit London for no other reason than to have proper afternoon tea.

That opportunity arose earlier this month when we were heading out on a Greek Islands cruise from Venice, Italy.  I had my travel agent book us a stop-over in London for a couple of days so that we could experience the quintessential British tradition of formal afternoon tea.  I spent countless hours over the spring and summer researching which afternoon teas I wanted to experience.  As those of you from London and area (or who have visited there) will know, afternoon teas in the city can be pricey.  Many restaurants and hotels in London offer a classic afternoon tea of some sort and the higher-end venues range in price from around ₤40.00 pp. upwards (VAT inc.) + 12.5% service gratuity.  At the time of writing, the current rate of exchange is $1.68 against the Canadian dollar so that can edge a Canadian visitor around $100.00 or more per person for afternoon tea.  Many venues also offer champagne afternoon teas and adding a glass of bubbly to the afternoon tea experience can translate into an extravagant price – some as high as ₤85.00 pp plus service gratuity of 12.5% which converts to about $160.00 pp, CDN$.  So, due to the cost, deciding on which afternoon tea to experience is not a decision to be taken lightly.  This is not to say that all afternoon teas in London are this pricey – I was able to find afternoon teas less than ₤30.00 pp but even that translated into an expensive repast when converted into Canadian currency.

We were staying in the Kensington area of London and I wanted to do more than one afternoon tea on this trip (and not break the bank!) but did not want to have to spend valuable and limited time traveling far so I opted for tea at “The Orangery” at Kensington Palace which was within walking distance to our hotel and the other in the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods department store where we spent a complete day.  We had planned to spend time again in the food halls at Harrods (a foodie’s mecca) anyway so, because our time was so limited in London and didn’t allow for much travel time around the city, we combined a visit to Harrods with afternoon tea in their Georgian Restaurant and it did not disappoint.

Hotels and restaurants offering afternoon tea will usually have a number of sittings throughout the afternoon and some in to the early evening as well with most ending by 7:30pm, or earlier, local time.  Dress codes vary with smart casual being the norm and with some of the higher-end venues requiring more dressy attire.  Reservations are generally recommended, particularly for the more popular venues, and I recommend inquiring of the dress code when making reservations (note that some venues require reservations several weeks or even months in advance).  Many have their afternoon tea menus and dress codes posted online as well.   We were able to get a table when we arrived at “The Orangery”  mid-afternoon on our first day in London.  On the day we visited Harrods, we made reservations mid-morning for our afternoon tea in their Georgian Restaurant.  However, I expect that during the busy summer months as well as around Christmas and other holiday periods, reservations farther in advance of same day would be advisable (Claridge’s website at time of writing is indicating that they are not accepting any more afternoon tea reservations until January 2014 due to high demand).  Part of the experience of a formal afternoon tea is the decor and ambiance of the venue which often includes a pianist at the grand piano.  One of the things that fascinates me most about afternoon tea in London is its enduring popularity across all age groups.

For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with what comprises a classic afternoon tea, there are four components:  1) the tea beverage blend; 2) savories; 3) scones; and 4) patisseries and cakes.  It is common to present the food on three-tier servers.

Most venues (particularly the high-end ones) will have a tea sommelier on staff to help guests decide which blend of tea to enjoy with the repast.  The array of tea offerings can be daunting unless you are a tea connoisseur.  The savory course will consist of delicate sandwiches and sometimes petite tarts, and souffles.  Fillings for the sandwiches vary but you can generally expect to find cucumber, egg, smoked salmon, ham, roast beef, and/or chicken presented on various breads.  The sandwiches will always have the crusts removed and may be cut in either finger or triangular shapes.  These offerings will be found on the bottom plate of a three-tier server.  The middle plate of the server will contain the scones, clotted cream, and usually the preserves (although the latter may be presented on a separate flat plate on the table).  Often two kinds of scones will be presented – raisin or fruit and plain.  The top tier of the three-tier server is reserved for the patisseries and cakes.  The offerings for this course certainly vary between restaurants but you will often find, as a minimum, sponge cake, lemon tarts, and frequently French macarons and other sweet pastries.

So, today, I thought I would share with you some photos from the two afternoon teas I enjoyed in London in early October, 2013.  Apologies in advance for the lighting in some of the photos – these are travel photos and the natural lighting wasn’t the best on some of the interior shots.

“The Orangery” at Kensington Palace

 

"The Orangery" at Kensington Palace
“The Orangery” at Kensington Palace

On the day we visited “The Orangery”, in early October, 2013, it was still warm enough to enjoy afternoon tea al fresco style outside.

However, the interior of “The Orangery” is so striking that we opted to enjoy tea inside.

I was fascinated by the table setting with the plates set to the left of each place setting.

Afternoon Tea Place Setting at "The Orangery"
Afternoon Tea Place Setting at “The Orangery”

You can check out the menu for afternoon tea at “The Orangery” here.

The tables were simplistically set with this decorative china on white linen.

Are you anxious to see what was on the tiered server?

Each guest has his/her own tea pot and individual tiered server of tea fare.  Traditionally presented, the bottom tier contains the sandwiches, the middle plate bears the scones, clotted cream, and jam, and the top tier the sweet offerings.  Our choice of tea was “Afternoon at the Palace”.

Let’s look a little closer at the food.

The sandwiches were so tasty!

The buttery scones (one each – plain and with raisins) were served with clotted cream and strawberry jam!

And, to finish off, a selection of sweet cakes and patisseries.

One thing about afternoon tea is that it amounts to a full meal!

And, it is a leisurely way to spend a couple of hours.

Be sure to pace yourself so you can save some room for the sweets!

Afternoon tea at “The Orangery” is (at time of writing) ₤22.65 pp + 12.5% service charge (or about $44.00 CDN$)

The Georgian Restaurant at Harrods

Harrods Department Store
Harrods Department Store

Harrods is arguably the world’s most famous department store. It’s a fun place to spend time browsing, particularly in the food halls which are elaborate, to say the least.  This visit marked the first time I had eaten at Harrods.

Afternoon Tea at the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods
Afternoon Tea at the Georgian Restaurant at Harrods

The color theme of the Georgian Restaurant is in calming pinks and whites.  Each table has a pink undercloth topped with a white tablecloth.  The two photos below were taken early in the day when we made our reservations onsite.

Music from the grand piano adds a lovely ambiance to the afternoon tea experience.

These beautiful huge floral designs in ivory and soft green shades were found throughout the dining room.

This was a delightful afternoon and experience.

Tableware is white which really makes the colors of the food pop and stand out.

Each table is set with a single short-stemmed pink tea rose.

As soon as we were seated, this plate of preserves and clotted cream was delivered to our table.

Then, our server poured our first cups of tea from a small elegant silver teapot.  Our tea selection was the “Georgian Blend”.

The tea was, of course, served in Harrods signature cups and saucers.

A three-tier server of delectable finger sandwiches, scones, and a selection of sweets was soon presented at our table.

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How delightful and inviting does this look!  You can check out the Harrods afternoon tea menu here.

Let’s have a closer look, beginning with the finger sandwiches and petite lobster rolls.

This was followed by an offering of both plain and raisin scones.

And, for the sweet tooth, there were lots of tempting options!

There was more on this tray than the two of us could finish!

Afternoon tea at Harrods at the time of writing is  ₤29.00 pp + 12.5% service charge (or about $55.00 CDN$).

If you are heading to London and planning to include a classic afternoon tea as one of your activities, I recommend researching in advance of your trip and checking with your choice of venue as to whether or not they require reservations and how far in advance.  You may also wish to inquire of their dress code so you can pack accordingly and not be disappointed on arrival to find that the venue imposes a specific dress code.  No matter your budget, you will find wonderful options for afternoon tea in London that will give you that experience without breaking the bank.  Have you already experienced afternoon tea at a London location?  Did you enjoy it and would you recommend it?

We thoroughly enjoyed our two afternoon teas in London (and, yes, I am already thinking about which tea venue I will choose on my next trip to London).  In the meantime, I will be sharing this posting on Rose Chintz Cottage’s blog in time for this week’s Tea Time Tuesday.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

October 2013 Cookie of the Month: Plum Puff Cookies

Plum Puff Cookies

 

Plum Puff Cookies are my October 2013 Cookie of the Month.  These are hearty cookies because each one is actually two cookies sandwiched together with a tasty raisin filling.  These cookies can also be filled with your favorite jam, date , or even lemon, filling.

Cookie Ingredients:

¼ cup butter

½ tbsp lard

½ cup sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tbsp milk

½ tsp vanilla

1¼ cups flour

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp soda

1/8 tsp cardamon

 

Method:

Assemble ingredients.

 

Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat butter and lard together.  Add sugar.  Beat until light and fluffy.  Add egg, milk, and vanilla.

Sift flour, salt, soda, and cardamom together.  Stir into wet ingredients and mix just until incorporated.

Knead dough into ball.  If dough is soft, place in refrigerator for 30-40 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to about 1/8” thickness.  Divide dough in half.  Using a 2 – 2½” linzer round crinkle cookie cutter, cut out one half of the dough into solid circles.  Cut remaining dough into the same size circles but fit the linzer cookie cutter with desired cut-out for cookie centers. (Note:  If you don’t have a linzer cookie cutter, simply use any cookie cutter shape you have and then use a smaller cookie cutter to cut out the centers of half of the cookies.)

Place cookies, about 1½” – 2” apart, on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake on center rack in oven for 10-12 minutes. Let cool on rack for 2-3 minutes then transfer to cooling rack.

When cookies have cooled completely, spread raisin filling (recipe follows) on flat side of each solid cookie, then top with the flat side of a cookie that has center cut out.

Yield:  2-dozen sandwich cookies

Filling Ingredients:

1 cup raisins

1 tbsp flour

½ cup sugar

½ cup water

½ tsp vanilla

Pinch of cinnamon

Smidgeon of salt

 

Combine all ingredients in saucepan.  Over medium-low heat, cook raisin mixture until thickened.

An old-fashioned wholesome cookie.

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.  

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro Kitchen.  You may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.

My Favorite Lobster Roll on Prince Edward Island – 2013

Each of the past three summers, I have set myself a challenge.  In 2011, it was to find the best fish and chips on PEI.  In 2012, I was hunting down the best seafood chowder on the Island.  And, for my summer 2013 challenge, I set out to find my favourite lobster roll/burger on PEI.  I am happy to report that I found it!  To find out the process/rating criteria I used to declare my favourite, and find out which one I chose, read on.

What I Was Looking For

Lobster!  I wanted to see identifiable good-sized chunks of lobster, not some meat that was shredded or minced beyond recognition.

For a traditional lobster roll, that means pieces large enough that you can detect , as soon as the roll is placed in front of you, that it is lobster meat (like that shown in the photograph above, for example).  You’d think this would be a given but….you’d be surprised.  In my view, the only time lobster meat should be cut very small is if you are using it in small dainty afternoon tea sandwiches or hors d’oeuvres.  The other factor for ultimate taste and texture is that the lobster must be fresh out of the shell, not canned or previously frozen.

Tasty Mayonnaise

This is what holds the lobster filling together and enhances the taste.  For a traditional lobster roll, I was not looking for anything spicy or that would dominate or overpower the lobster taste.  I also wanted to see enough mayo that it held the filling together.

I also had an expectation that the mayo would have been mixed with the lobster meat, not lightly spread on the roll itself and hidden under a large lettuce leaf.  While, for presentation purposes, it may look attractive for the roll to be presented with clean, clear chunks of lobster (with no mayo on them) sitting on top of a bright green lettuce leaf, I expect a lobster roll to arrive at the table, ready to eat, not for me to have to play hide and seek to locate the mayo and then attempt to mix it in with the lobster meat.  In sum, I did not expect to have to make and assemble the roll filling myself.  At one restaurant, I had to ask for extra mayo as, otherwise, the lobster filling once I mixed it up (as best I could on the plate with no bowl), would have been too dry.

Other Ingredients

A good lobster roll is just that – lobster.  In my view, any other ingredients added to it needed to complement, not mask or overpower, the lobster.  I wasn’t looking for creativity with odd, non-traditional ingredients paired with the lobster.  I was looking for a traditional Atlantic Canada lobster roll with that pure, fresh lobster taste.  Generally speaking, celery is often used in PEI lobster rolls and sometimes (but not always) a splash of lemon juice is added but very little else.

Bread/Roll

Just as good pie pastry will determine a good pie, the choice of a quality roll will make or break a lobster roll.  The filling can be really good but, if the roll is soggy, flat, and/or tasteless, the lobster roll is doomed.  I looked for a good, soft bread texture in the roll and one that would hold together as I picked it up to eat.  I had no strong preference as to whether or not the roll was toasted/grilled.  As hard as it might be to imagine, I had one lobster roll presented to me without the roll having even been buttered – it was pretty dry going with about 1 tablespoon of minced/shredded lobster sitting in the middle of a flat, soggy commercial bakery hamburger bun.

Presentation

We eat with our eyes first.  I wanted to see a roll set in front of me that I just couldn’t wait to chow down on it.  Some passed the mark on this; others did not.  As far as lettuce is concerned, the greenery can provide a nice visual backdrop for the red and white lobster meat but it is not an absolute necessity – in fact, it could be argued that a lobster roll is often better without the lettuce.  However, if used, the lettuce must be super fresh, high quality, and sized appropriately (and it should not be used to take up space in the roll leaving little room for the lobster, meaning there is little lobster in the  roll).  One lobster roll I sampled had about a 7″-8” leaf from romaine lettuce that was beyond tough and I had to remove the “palm leaf-sized” lettuce from the roll.  Diners should not have to reconfigure the roll.  Mixing and presentation are the responsibility of the chef or cook.  The roll needs to be attractively accented and placed on the plate or in a basket, ready to eat.

Lobster conjures up the notion of a delicacy because, notwithstanding that fishers may not be getting high prices for their catches, lobster when served at restaurants, is pricey even in areas of the country near the sea like we are on PEI.  Therefore, extra effort should be taken to present the lobster in a way commensurate with its reputation as a luxury food and in keeping with the style of the restaurant.  That doesn’t mean it has to be white linen and fine china but the roll itself needs to be presented in a way that it clearly features the lobster and is befitting the restaurant environment in which it is served – i.e., at a take-out, it is perfectly acceptable and quaint to have the lobster rolls served in baskets lined with red and white checked liner paper.

Sides

Most commonly on PEI, a lobster roll is served with French fries although many restaurants will usually offer a choice of sides that may include green salads, potato salad, or coleslaw, for example.  While I wasn’t rating a lobster roll on what side came with it or its quality, I did take note of those that were presented with appropriate sides that were fresh and added to the lobster roll experience (i.e., no French fries that came out of the freezer or that were soggy or no wilted salads).

Price Point

I tried to select a variety of restaurants from which to sample the lobster rolls – i.e., from take-outs to diners to high-end restaurants.  Prices ranged from $7.95 to $16.00. for a lobster roll.  A couple of other restaurants I considered had lobster rolls priced at $17.00+.  I chose not to try them because, in my opinion, a lobster roll should not exceed the $15.00 – $16.00 price point.

My Choice

Just as happened two years ago when I was on the hunt for the best fish and chips on PEI and last year when I was searching for the best seafood chowder on the Island, there was one that hit the mark with me and quickly then became the benchmark against which all others were measured – i.e., the question became “is this one as good as, or better than, X’s?”  Sometimes there will be two or three that will be neck and neck, making it hard to choose just one favourite.  In this case, the one I chose was clearly out ahead.

I am not a professionally-trained chef or food critic but, as a true foodie, my palette knows what it likes.  The other thing I have to point out is that I didn’t sample lobster rolls from every restaurant on PEI that has them on their menu – that would have been impossible and the waistline just could not have handled it!  I also have to point out that I rated each based on one visit in summer 2013 per restaurant only.  Therefore, there is no guarantee that if someone visited an establishment on another day with a different cook/chef on duty, they might come to the same conclusion as I did.  Likewise, individual palettes differ in terms of what tastes good to each individual person.  What one person likes, another may not and vice versa.

So, how did I choose which restaurants from which to sample lobster rolls?  Some were referred to me by other foodies; some, based on my own past experience, I suspected would serve good lobster rolls because other menu items they have are good; and others were purely happenstance – i.e., it was meal time and I happened to be in the proximity of a restaurant serving lobster rolls.  Nothing any more scientific or orchestrated than that.

Therefore, my selection of my favourite lobster roll in PEI for 2013 is based on the nine (9) I sampled over the summer.  It doesn’t mean that there might not have been excellent lobster rolls at other restaurants I did not make it to.  What it does mean is that I found my personal favourite lobster roll at Richard’s Seafood Eatery right on the wharf at Covehead Harbour.  This is probably one of the most non-descript eating establishments on the Island yet I have found their food to be consistently good, time-over-time (they were also my choice in 2011 for my favourite fish and chips on the Island) and I have had their lobster rolls in previous years.

Lobster Roll at Richard’s Seafood Eatery at Covehead Harbour, PEI

Richard’s (as the locals refer to it) is not, by any stretch of the imagination, fine dining.  It is essentially a take-out right alongside the fishing sheds on a wharf.  It is well-known with local Islanders and, you know the old saying that, when traveling, try to find restaurants that the locals patronize as you know it’s likely to be good fare.

Richard's Seafood Eatery Menu - 2013
Richard’s Seafood Eatery Menu – 2013

The amount of food that Richard’s produces out of what has to be one of the tiniest kitchens around is amazing.  Don’t look for white linen and fine china here.  There is a small inside ‘picnic shelter’ area with just a few tables or, on a beautiful summer day, venture upstairs to the outside deck where you can watch the fishing boats coming and going.  Richard’s is a seasonal establishment, open basically during the summer tourist season and it is always busy.  I have never been there when there hasn’t been a line-up and people will wait without complaining.  I have waited up to an hour before the buzzer would summon me to the take-out window to pick up my food.  Where else would people wait this long for a lunch without complaining?  That tells me that people know it’s great food and well worth the wait.  On the day I visited Richard’s this summer, I went shortly before noon to get ahead of the lunch crowd line-up but, as you can see in the photo below, other people had the same idea, too 🙂  It wasn’t long before the line-up got much, much longer.

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So, what makes Richard’s lobster roll my favourite?  Take a look for yourself – see the large chunks of fresh PEI lobster, easily identifiable with tasty mayo holding it together.  I swear there had to have been meat from a 1-pound lobster in that lobster roll!

With some celery and chives added to it, that’s just about it for the filling which is served on a basic hotdog roll that has been lightly grilled.  I liked how there was an abundance of lobster in the roll and nothing in the filling that would compete with or detract from the star lobster.  It was served with Richard’s homemade fries and coleslaw.  For $14.00+ tax (CDN$), this tasty roll delivered on flavour and content and is great value for the buck!

So, there you have it, folks, my favourite lobster roll on PEI in 2013 comes from Richard’s Seafood Eatery at Covehead Harbour.  Now, how many months is it before they open next summer……

Thank you for visiting “the Bistro” today.

Be sure to visit my new Facebook page at My Island Bistro KitchenYou may also wish to follow me on twitter @PEIBistro and on Pinterest at “Island Bistro Kitchen”.