The sandwiches are evenly spaced on the plate in fingers of three – Coronation chicken, cucumber and cheese, beef with rocket – with the harmony of colours bolstered by pink bread made with harissa. The opening plate of savouries includes a lobster Thermidor tartlet, a little dish of pea puree garnished with caviar, and a “London roll” – a curl of croissant pastry with egg in the middle.
The tier of cake – or rather, little desserts – includes a confection of white chocolate shaped like a mini beehive, with a tiny spoon to scoop out the insides of crème brulee mousse with pineapple compote. Then there’s a weeny Battenberg – not the normal sort, but chocolate and tonka squares – and a shiny, tiny chocolate-covered cheesecake garnished with miniature fig, plus a Bramley apple cake as unlike your normal apple tart as you can get, but a choice morsel.
This, then, is what plutocrats have for afternoon tea at the billion-pound Peninsula Hotel, reviewed earlier by Jonathan Prynn. You can’t miss it, because it’s on Hyde Park Corner, so on one side you can see the buses careering round the bend and on the other, through a glass dimly, the enclosed courtyard where Rolls Royces come to deposit and collect the females of the species – thin, obviously, sleek and, late afternoon, already in evening dress.
Funnily enough, the male plutocrat doesn’t flaunt his plumage anything like as much as the girls – dress-down drab for all ethnicities is the norm, unless it’s evening dress.
What you may notice is that the afternoon tea is not necessarily for the hungry; au contraire – this is a menu that the carb-shy can toy with agreeably. You can however order more, ad lib, which is good for the greedy, like me.
In fact there’s a vegan option too, but the notion of Coronation cauliflower sandwiches is so vile I gave it a miss. There’s no heartiness about this afternoon tea; it’s not for the raging appetite as you come in from the cold – no Victoria sponge or old style Battenberg with its marzipan case, let alone fruit cake or crumpets. In common with every other grand hotel afternoon tea offering these days, it’s a far cry from the old-style tea – though I salute the scones, and the excellent strawberry jam and lemon curd. Rather, it’s a combination of amuse-bouches with scaled down desserts, plus sandwiches and little scones. The very rich are never very hungry.
And, as with other hotels for the super-rich, it has moved beyond actual tea, though the tea selection is very choice. You’re offered at the start English sparkling wine (classier than Champagne?), gin and tonic with the Peninsula’s very own gin, or sparkling tea (no). Just a thought, but how about taking fifteen quid off the £110 price and only serving tea?
It’s all served in the lobby, or Palm Court, which is a pleasingly restrained space with lovely big palms and a balcony where a pianist on a grand piano plays Night and Day or Dancing Cheek to Cheek – which is exactly the vibe you want. It’s interestingly reminiscent of the Savoy.
As for the lavatories, which is what one really wants to know about, they’re Japanese; that is to say, they come with warmed seats (so the plutocratic bottom isn’t shocked as it sits) and you can have fun with the handset so that your bits are agreeably sprayed with tepid water. You don’t, obviously, have to flush the loo, nor turn on the taps.
The service is friendly and the waiters keen to explain what’s on offer. Mind you, I probably shouldn’t have had to semaphore across the room at one point to get someone to come and top up my tea.
So, £110 a head for tea. It’s par for the course for a top London tea these days but is it worth it? My dears, if you have to ask, you probably shouldn’t be there.
The Penisula, 1 Grosvenor Place, SW1X 7HJ, peninsula.com