“Scents of Summer” Afternoon Tea in London

Scent of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo courtesy of the Intercontental Park Lane Hotel)
Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo courtesy of the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel)

I was recently in London and, of course, a visit to London for me without having afternoon tea would not be complete! On each visit, I aim to have tea at a different venue.

My travels this visit took me to the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel which occupies a prominent and historic location near London’s Hyde Park, in the heart of Mayfair. Afternoon tea at the Park Lane is served in the Wellington Lounge which occupies the former site of 145 Piccadilly that was Her Majesty the Queen’s former childhood home. This location remained her home until 1937 when the family moved to Buckingham Palace. The home itself was destroyed during war. Between 1968-1975, the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel was constructed on the site.

The Wellington Lounge of the Park Lane, in its taupe and white hues, is elegant and sophisticated, yet casual. Comfy chairs invite a time of leisure lingering over tea. Three menu options are available for afternoon tea: The Market Garden Tea, the Royal Tea, and a seasonal tea which changes regularly throughout the year. We experienced the new “Scents of Summer” Afternoon Tea that boasts a menu inspired by the beauty of British summer time. The menu had only been introduced four days prior to our arrival and will be available throughout the summer season until September 27, 2015.

Scent of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo Courtesy of Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel)
Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea (Photo Courtesy of Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel)

Our afternoon tea was as much a treat for all the senses as it was for the palette. Unhurried, my Mom and I spent a most enjoyable three hours savoring the creativity of Executive Chef Ashley Wells and Edward Bodenham of British Family Perfumers, Floris London. We found the servers to be knowledgeable, attentive, and accommodating without being intrusive. Rather than simply delivering the customary three-tier server with all the food on it at once, the Scents of Summer was served in individual courses. For each course, Luigi, Senior Associate, Tea and Coffee Expert, explained the food, the best order in which to consume items, and suggested appropriate tea pairings to complement the food.

We first began with a palette cleanser of rose pearl wheatgrass, bushe berries, gooseberry, and citrus mist.  This grass-based starter, served on a small tuft of grass, was a tribute to the earth.

Palette Cleaser: Rose pearl wheatgrass, bushe berries, gooseberry, and citrus mist
Palette Cleanser: Rose pearl wheatgrass, bushe berries, gooseberry, and citrus mist

This was followed by a selection of four different, colourful, and tasty pinwheel/scroll sandwiches presented on the plate in a design that resembled the shape of a butterfly.

Pinwheel/Scroll Sandwiches
Pinwheel/Scroll Sandwiches

Luigi recommended the order in which to most effectively consume the pinwheels starting with a light rose-pickled cucumber and Mascarpone on Peruvian bread followed by the more hearty salmon and Bergamot served on lemon bread.

We then progressed on to a slightly spicy pink peppercorn and thyme chicken pinwheel on tomato bread and, finally, the honey roast pumpkin with crumbled feta on spinach bread.

The tea we enjoyed with this course was Second Flush Darjeeling which some claim to be the ‘champagne of tea’.

Second Flush Darjeeling Tea to Accompany Sandwich Course
Second Flush Darjeeling Tea to Accompany Sandwich Course

The server plates were deftly removed and were replaced with the elements of the course that featured scones. Dainty buttermilk scones, fresh and still warm from the oven, were brought to the table and placed on the server along with small dishes of Devon clotted cream, wild strawberry jam, lemon curd with pink peppercorn, and Bergamot-infused Earl Grey butter.

 

Scones Course
Scones Course

This was accompanied by a spritz of a citrus-based spray as a “sensory” introduction to the scones course.

The scones – two plain and two sultana — were the most tender scones I have ever tasted!

Luigi explained that the Devonshire way of serving scones is to first spread the jam on the scone half, then top it with the clotted cream. Literally, these scones melted in the mouth!

The recommendation of tea to pair with the scones was a full body Earl Grey Assam Tea. I must admit I have never been an Earl Grey tea fan and I usually put milk in my tea. However, Luigi recommended no milk and I found this tea was indeed a fine complement to the scones course.

Then came the pièce de résistance – the selection of sweet indulgences. Truly, these were nothing short of a work of art in the presentation that was only surpassed by the sublime melange of flavors, scents, and tastes.

Again, Luigi expertly explained each item on the tray, offering suggestions for the order in which to partake. He also recommended that the palette be cleansed and refreshed via the fresh summer berries or chocolate “pebbles” in between consuming each sweet so that the true flavors of each could be fully appreciated.

Everything you see on the tray in the photo above was edible, including the very realistic looking pebbles and the fresh pansies. A quick spritz of a floral spray with top notes leaning into Jasmine scents set the stage reminiscent of an English country garden in summer.

We first sampled the petite Jasmine Tea Cake which was delicately flavored and ever-so-tasty.

Jasmine Tea Cake
Jasmine Tea Cake

We next savoured the luscious Violet Cream and Grapefruit Tart.

Violet Cream and Grapefruit Tart
Violet Cream and Grapefruit Tart

Then, we moved on to the Bergamot and blackcurrant flower macarons which were ever so light, delicately chewy, and yet airy. For those who are connoisseurs of French macarons, they know that it is a skill to achieve the perfect macaron and these certainly fell within that category.

This was followed by the Peach Melba mousse encased in chocolate to create a realistic looking peach that could have just been picked from a tree.

The grand finale, the “Flower Pot”, was designed to be shared between two people. This consisted of rose water and pink peppercorn jelly with wild strawberry mousse served in a chocolate Terracotta pot and decorated with chocolate roses.

The tea recommended for this course was the #1 Park Lane Signature Tea which proved itself a wonderful accompaniment to the desserts.

A glass of Moët & Chandon berry floral Rosé was served with the dessert course.

Overall, I was highly impressed with the calibre of food and level of service and hospitality at the Intercontinental London Park Lane’s Wellington Lounge. I found the Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea included traditional tea items like the scones but also stepped it up a notch with the creativity of the choice of bread, and ingredients in, the sandwich pinwheels/scrolls and the selection of sweets that comprised the dessert course. We quite enjoyed having the food served in courses as opposed to simply having a standard three-tier server delivered to the table with sandwiches, scones, and sweets all on it. It lent an element of surprise and anticipation to the experience which was relaxing and unhurried. I was also impressed with the expert advice on tea pairing with each course which I felt added to the quality experience.

If you are in London this summer and go to only one afternoon tea, I recommend the Scents of Summer at the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel.

If you are in London this summer and go to only one afternoon tea, I recommend the Scents of Summer at the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel. Great thought and care has been taken with the creation of this afternoon tea menu. We spent a most relaxing and enjoyable afternoon over tea at the Park Lane and it was one of the highlights of our 2015 visit to London. Now, if I could just justify another trip to London, I would go in December to experience their holiday tea which Chef Wells is already designing. Based on his Scents of Summer creation, I can only imagine how extraordinary the Christmas afternoon tea will be.

The Scents of Summer afternoon tea experience costs ₤45 + gratuity (generally about 15%) which, at the time of writing totals approximately $100. (CDN) per person.

The Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel is located at One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London, England, W1J 7QY (Tel: +44(0)20 7409 3131. Reservations are required for afternoon tea which is served from 1:00pm – 5:00pm daily. For more information, visit the hotel’s website.

My thanks to the Park Lane for the opportunity to experience their Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea and for the fine hospitality. My afternoon tea at the Intercontinental London Park Lane Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of conducting a review of the new Scents of Summer offering. However, this in no way influenced my opinions of the afternoon tea experience.  All opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

 

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Asparagus Quiche

Asparagus Quiche
Asparagus Quiche

One of the first local veggies to appear on PEI each year is asparagus.  This vegetable is very versatile and is often used not only for its earthy flavor but also for its presentation.  With its long straight stems with a texture tip end, asparagus turns a bright green color when cooked so it plates well and makes a meal attractive.

A few years ago, I paid a visit to local asparagus grower, Tim Dixon in North Tryon, PEI, and you can read about my visit to Tim’s farm here.  Each year, I get a supply of asparagus from Tim and create a new recipe using this springtime vegetable.  Last year, I posted my recipe for asparagus soup which you can access here.

This year, I created an asparagus quiche that can be eaten warm or at room temperature which makes it a good buffet or picnic food.  Pair it with a good green salad and it is suitable for brunch, lunch, or an informal supper.

What makes a quiche flavorful (in addition to the primary ingredient(s)) is the egg-milk filling.  The contributing factors to the flavor depend on what cheese blend is used and the choice of herbs and spices.  In fact, I often use my basic quiche filling and change up the cheeses and seasonings and end up with a brand new quiche.

I recommend using at least whole milk (or, if you want to make it really rich, either cream or blend) in a quiche.  Using skim or partly skim milk will not give the creamy texture that is characteristic of quiches and I find the no-fat/low fat milk makes a more runny filling.

For the asparagus quiche, I chose to use a blend of six cheeses:  Onion and red pepper Gouda from PEI’s Glasgow Glen Farm in New Glasgow, marble cheddar cheese from Summerside’s ADL Dairy, mozzarella and a three cheese blend of Parmesan-Romano-Asiago from Kraft. I chose to lightly season the filling with dried dill, basil, garlic powder, and just a hint of nutmeg. Now, you don’t have to use all six cheeses.  The quiche is quite tasty with just a cheddar-mozzarella mix of cheeses. But, the six-cheese blend steps it up a notch and makes a lovely rich quiche!

I used cremini mushrooms because of their flavor which pairs really well with the earthy flavor of the asparagus.  However, white button mushrooms would also be fine.  Add a bit of onion and you have the makings of a tasty quiche.  Adding the prosciutto is optional to this quiche but it adds a taste  dimension.

I always par-bake my pie shells – usually 10-12 minutes in all that is required.  Be sure to lightly fork-prick the shell bottom and sides so the shell doesn’t rise up with an air bubble underneath.  I also line the shell with parchment paper and place  a layer of beans on top to help keep the shell flat during par-baking. This process is often referred to as “blind baking“.  I make my own pastry because I love making pastry but a frozen pie shell would work fine, too.

Asparagus cooks super quick and it is easy to overcook it and end up with limp, soggy asparagus.  For this recipe, the asparagus only needs to be par-cooked by placing it in boiling water for 2 minutes then quickly rinsing it under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Be sure to let the asparagus drain well and cool completely before slicing it into 1/2″ – 1” diagonal pieces.

Asparagus Quiche

Ingredients:

1 – 9” pie shell, partially baked
1½ cups fresh asparagus, par-boiled and sliced diagonally into ½” – 1” pieces (apx. 6 oz after the woody ends have been snapped off)
½ cup onion, finely chopped
3 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
¾ cup whole milk or cream
¼ tsp dried dill
¾ tsp. dried basil
¼ tsp. garlic powder
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 oz. grated cheddar cheese
2 oz. shredded Parmesan-Romano-Asiago mix
2 oz. grated Gouda
1 oz. grated mozzarella
2 oz. prosciutto, chopped or shredded into bite-size pieces

Instructions:

Assemble ingredients.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

With fork tines, lightly prick the bottom and sides of the pie crust and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside while preparing quiche ingredients.

In pot of boiling salted water (you only need a small amount of water, not a full pot), steam asparagus spears for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain well and let cool before cutting into ½” – 1-inch diagonal pieces. Reserve the tip ends of the asparagus, about ½ cup, for top of quiche.

In medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the milk. Add the dill, basil, garlic powder, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

In separate bowl, combine the cheddar and mozzarella cheeses together.

Sprinkle cheese over bottom of par-baked pie shell.

Sprinkle onion on top of the cheese.

Add the sliced mushrooms and then the asparagus pieces.

In small bowl, combine the Parmesan-Romano-Asiago cheese mix with the Gouda.

Set aside ⅔ cup of the cheese for the top of the quiche. Sprinkle remaining cheese over vegetables.

Next, sprinkle on the prosciutto.

Arrange the ½ cup of reserved asparagus tips on top in desired design.

Pour the milk-egg mixture over the cheese and vegetables.

Sprinkle the remaining ⅔ cup of cheese over the entire quiche.

Place quiche on baking sheet on rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes then immediately reduce the heat to 375°F. Bake for approximately 50-55 minutes or until knife inserted into centre of quiche comes out clean and centre is set.

Let quiche stand for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving. May be served warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 6-8 servings

My featured PEI products in this recipe were:

Island-grown asparagus – from the farm of Tim Dixon in North Tryon

Mushrooms – purchased from Paul Offer’s booth at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market

Cheddar Cheese – ADL Dairy, Summerside PEI

Gouda Cheese – Glasgow Glen Farm, New Glasgow, PEI

Milk – Perfection Foods, Charlottetown, PEI

 

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Asparagus Quiche

Yield: 6-8

A delicious quiche featuring fresh asparagus and a blend of cheeses

Ingredients

  • 1 – 9” pie shell, partially baked
  • 1½ cups fresh asparagus, parboiled and sliced diagonally into ½” – 1” pieces (apx. 6 oz after ends have been snapped off)
  • ½ cup onion, finely chopped
  • 3 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
  • ¾ cup whole milk or cream
  • ¼ tsp dried dill
  • ¾ tsp. dried basil
  • ¼ tsp. garlic powder
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 oz. grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 oz. grated mozzarella
  • 2 oz. shredded Parmesan-Romano-Asiago mix
  • 2 oz. grated Gouda
  • 2 oz. prosciutto, chopped or shredded into bite-size pieces

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. With fork tines, lightly prick the bottom and sides of the pie crust and bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven and set aside while preparing quiche ingredients.
  4. In pot of boiling salted water (you only need a small amount of water, not a full pot), steam asparagus spears for 2 minutes. Drain and immediately rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain well and let cool before cutting into ½” – 1-inch diagonal pieces. Reserve the bud ends of the asparagus, about ½ cup for top of quiche.
  5. In medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs. Whisk in the milk. Add the dill, basil, garlic powder, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
  6. In separate bowl, combine the cheddar and mozzarella cheeses together. Sprinkle cheese over bottom of par-baked pie shell.
  7. Sprinkle onion on top of the cheese.
  8. Add the sliced mushrooms and then the asparagus pieces.
  9. In small bowl, combine the Parmesan-Romano-Asiago cheese mix with the Gouda. Set aside 2/3 cup of the cheese for the top of the quiche and sprinkle remaining cheese over the vegetables.
  10. Next, sprinkle on the prosciutto. Arrange the ½ cup of reserved asparagus tips on top of quiche in desired design.
  11. Pour the milk-egg mixture over the cheese and vegetables.
  12. Sprinkle the remaining 2/3 cup of cheese over the entire quiche.
  13. Place quiche on baking sheet on rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Bake for 5 minutes then immediately reduce the heat to 375°F. Bake for approximately 50-55 minutes or until knife inserted into centre of quiche comes out clean and centre is set.
  14. Let quiche stand for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving. May be served warm or at room temperature.
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