Academy Town House Hotel, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Academy Town House Hotel, 21 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 6HG (nearest tube stations are Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road)
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 2nd April
  • Time of Table: 2pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £25 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This afternoon tea deal includes:

  • Selection of sandwiches
  • Scones with jam and cream
  • Selection of cakes
  • Unlimited tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What we drank…

  • English Breakfast tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What did we think?

When spring is attempting to make itself known, with peeks of sunshine and a glimmer of warmer weather, it appears to me to be the ideal time for a civilised afternoon tea. When my sister and I spotted an offer on Groupon for an afternoon tea with a glass of Prosecco for two people, for a mere £25 all in, we just had to snap it up; especially as the location was a simple 10 minute walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station, so really central and convenient location too.

When we stumbled across the Academy Town House Hotel, it wasn’t at all what we had envisioned. It was a terraced building, with a stone pillar framed doorway, leading to a small and classically decorated reception area. A brown leather sofa snuggled by a bay window while pale peach walls detracted from a busy patterned carpet. Glancing down the hall, it was clear to see the building was a traditional London townhouse, complete with poky narrow stairwells, lots of floors to navigate, and the slight dizzy feeling of being in a rabbit warren. It reminded me of Mary Poppins for some reason, feeling traditional and old school elegant.

Announcing ourselves at reception, we were shown downstairs into a basement restaurant after a short wait. It was a bit disappointing to be shoved in the deepest, darkest part of the hotel on such a beautiful day, especially as the décor was really nothing special. A brown, white and red colour theme did its best not to look worn, faded and tired as a TV blurted in the background playing, granted, some very decent tunes. As the only ones in the restaurant, we got our pick of the tables, so we picked one for two people that was near to a curtained window as possible in an attempt to catch some rays. The table was dressed very simply with a white linen tablecloth and a white dish of white and brown sugar lumps.

Our afternoon tea experience started with the waiter bringing over our starting glass of chilled Prosecco – light, bubbly and refreshing in every sip. He also poured us some iced tap water too from a jug he then left on the table – unusual for an afternoon tea but nice to have as we were pretty thirsty. Weirdly, we had no choice of tea whatsoever. Our waiter simply said did we want English Breakfast tea, without mentioning any alternatives or even if there were any. We both like English Breakfast – and I probably would have chosen that anyway – so it wasn’t a problem, but I know Jess is sometimes more adventurous in her tea tastes, and she will occasionally opt for a fruit or green tea instead. When the tea arrived at the table, it was in a large, plain white teapot, with matching plain white teacups sitting in their partnering saucers. The teapot was a very good size and we easily got three cups of tea each from it before the waiter refilled it for us.

The afternoon tea itself was brought on a standard tiered set-up, with sandwiches fanning out across the largest bottom plate; one plain and one fruit scone each stacked up neatly on the middle plate, while the top plate housed an array of miniature desserts in bite-sized morsels. We started at the bottom with the finger sandwiches, naturally crustless and featuring an array of, slightly dry, white and brown bread. We munched on cheddar paired with tomato, salmon spread with cream cheese, ham layered over mustard, and a new personal favourite, the egg mayonnaise. We were allowed one finger of each flavour. The sandwiches were very basic and bog standard, a tad dry and nothing to write home about.

The scone layer was next. The scones were still warm which was a very pleasant surprise, and there was a plain scone and then a sultana studded fruit scone each as well. Two scones each is always a bonus, and I was also pleased that we got variety in the type of scone and that the scones were full sized. Mini scones are just sheer disappointing in my opinion. It was also so refreshing to get jam and clotted cream dishes that contained enough of each condiment to actually complete your scones. Dressing your scones can be a battle with thin layers and patchy coverage as you are hardly ever given enough toppings. We luckily didn’t have this problem here, so we could top our scones perfectly. The jam was strawberry, so very classic there, and the clotted cream was lovely – very silky and smooth with the rustic top too. The scones were probably my favourite bit of the whole tea. They weren’t the best scones I’ve ever had or anything, but it was tasty.

Last up came our cake layer. We had a selection of absolutely tiny mouthfuls, and since they were all different items, we had to try and cut them in half so we could each try each one. It would have been more useful to have two of each mini cake, or larger cakes that could be more easily divided. The cakes themselves however were really lovely. I chowed down on a chocolate macaroon while Jess ate the raspberry one. Mine was gooey and dense like a brownie in a crunchy yet chewy meringue shell, whilst Jess’s had an interesting layer of jam hidden within. One was a mini custard tart topped with a jewelled segment of peach, whilst another mini portion had a eggy set custard in the middle, bookended by a slightly soggy bottom cake layer and an icing drizzled finish on top, the custard itself home to a few stray sultanas.  A hexagon shaped mini layer cake had a chocolate orange vibe going on with its flavourings, which was very tasty, however out favourite munchie was covered in cocoa powder, and turned out to be a chocolate and hazelnut concoction featuring cake yet also decadent chocolate mousse and crispy nut like sections too. It tasted a bit like a cakey Ferrero Rocher and really hit our spot.

One thing I really did not like about the afternoon tea however was how a service charge was thrust upon us. As we were finishing our treats, the waiter arrived at our table with an envelope on a small silver dish, which he left on our table. As we opened it, we were shocked to see a note about how much service charge we owed. At the end of the day, the hotel composed the deal that was to go on Groupon and we paid our due for it, so to slyly add a charge in that manner felt wrong. Ironically, we most likely would have left a tip on our own accord as the waiter was a nice chap, however the manner of presenting the service charge in this staged way really grinded my gears and I felt it was rude to be honest.

At the end of the day, I would say that this was an average afternoon tea. It was nothing special, however the price point of £25 for two people made it a cheap afternoon treat that we could enjoy together while having a natter and a catch up. The food wasn’t top notch or anything, but it was edible with a few hidden gems among the sad looking finger sandwiches. The décor of the location needs a serious spruce up, as the basement restaurant looks fusty and old fashioned, however the bubbles of the glass of Prosecco was a nice added extra. It was a good deal, however I think to achieve the price you are compromising on the scenery and dazzle of the location.

Homeward Bound: Lifehouse Hotel and Spa, Colchester, Essex

img_1388Being generally a very lucky bean, I was thrilled when my husband whisked me away for a luxury spa break as my Valentine’s present for this year. Hitting the A12, we powered on for just over an hour until we reached the zen-filled, adults only hotel and spa Lifehouse, for a weekend of doing nothing, where my biggest decision would be whether to go in the steam room or sauna.

As part of our stay, we were entitled to a three course dinner in the restaurant on the Saturday evening, and I must say, I was looking forward to getting stuck in. Ordering a large glass of Merlot, I settled down to study the menu, and I have to say I thought the array of choice available was great. Not only did the main course selection feature both a healthy list and a luxurious list, the starters included both nibble options and main starters, and you could also have any of the pasta dishes as a starter or main course. All these options of course made decisions a lot harder, but I got there in the end!

img_1389For starters, I went for mozzarella bites, sunblush tomatoes and olives, served with artisan flatbread. I have to confess, this didn’t come up exactly as I expected, although maybe my past dining experiences had tarred what I thought I would get. I fancied bread, yet the flatbread was more like brown, round, crisp crackers, like what you would have with cheese. Tasty, just not entirely what I fancied. The same with the mozzarella bites. I love mozzarella, and normally when you see mozzarella bites feature on a menu, they are bread-crumbed and cooked so they have an oozy middle, yet my starter included just the plain, naked, baby pearls of mozzarella. The rocket was fine and the olives were really nice actually; a combination of green and black and all of them pitted, which makes for a much classier date night rather than spitting out stones. Although not really what I expected or fancied, it was still a lovely starter and I enjoyed all of the components.

img_1391For main course, I went for something from the healthy menu, and then made it unhealthy by adding a side. I opted for the chargrilled duck breast served with roasted vegetables, and then I added a side of dauphinoise potatoes. When my main course arrived, I was very happy that I ordered a side, as the portion itself was a little on the small side, however the flavour on the other hand was certainly big enough. The chargrilled duck had a really delicate barbequed taste, that in no way overpowered the tender, juicy and soft pink meat of the duck. Served rather rare, it was a pleasure to eat and so succulent. The red wine vinaigrette that came with it only enhanced the flavour, and was light enough to just be a subtle touch. The roasted vegetables consisted of mainly root vegetables cut into neat and tidy cubes, so nothing rustic here. Their roasted flavour and texture worked really nicely with the chargrilled nature of the duck. I spotted carrots, parsnips and onions among the veg but it was tricky to work out what else was in there due to everything being cut up into cubes. My dauphinoise potatoes came in img_1393a separate shallow, square white dish, in a wonderfully neat little tower of thinly sliced potatoes; soft and creamy underneath a crispy golden hat on top. I simply popped this onto my plate with the rest of my meal and got stuck in. It was lovely.

Despite thoroughly enjoying my meal, I also suffered from severe food envy when I saw and sampled Dan’s truffle carbonara. One forkful of pasta and it was love and I seriously wished I had ordered this as a starter. Undoubtedly it was the truffle aspect that made this so special as it literally took over the dish with its luxurious and silky flavour, hugging the pasta endearingly and coating the bacon cubes protectively. Wowsers, what a pasta dish.

img_1390Dessert for me required Googling. The dessert menu was not as large as the starter and main selection, so I naturally ended up gravitating towards the main chocolate option, a chocolate pave with a chocolate orange crumb, raspberry coulee and Chantilly cream. I wasn’t sure what a pave was, however after a swift Google, I decided that this mousse come brownie option would suit me very nicely indeed and I ordered with enthusiasm. When it arrived, I was very pleased with my choice as it was excellent. The chocolate flavour was more milk chocolate, so not as dense and sometimes overwhelming as dark chocolate desserts or as sickly as white chocolate ones. It was firmer than a mousse yet not as unyielding as a brownie and the raspberry accents were magical paired with it. The crumb added a different texture to the plate which was unusual, while the cream added a lightness of flavour and helped combine all of the components. On the whole, it was a super dessert.

img_1387The restaurant at Lifehouse Hotel and Spa is certainly a very nice one to visit. It’s roomy, with one glass wall showing views of an enclosed and paved courtyard style garden. The décor of the restaurant utilises a lot of pale wood to make it appear larger, with a mixture of table sizes and arrangements featuring both sofa and dining chair seating. We had a table of two that was luckily a bit further away from other tables, so we had a bit more privacy. Although this didn’t always work in our favour, as I do feel we were a bit ignored by the waiting staff at times, which was rather annoying. We were offered a dessert menu, but weren’t given one. An age later, the same waiter came over to ask if we were ok, whereby we asked for the dessert menu…again. I understand the restaurant was busy, and he was getting frustrated with the touch-screen hand-held notebook replacement but this was our Valentine’s dinner, so I feel he should have been more on the ball.

Charging our drinks and my side to the room, I was very full when making my way back to our bedroom for the night. The food at Lifehouse is really delicious and there’s a great selection, so I would certainly recommend it.

Eating Around: Park Grand Lancaster Gate, Lancaster Gate, London

P1050521If there are two foodie treats in this world that make for a happy Katie, I would count afternoon tea and chocolate as two highly ranked, big hitting items. Imagine then my sheer delight when I spotted a very reasonably priced chocolate afternoon tea package for two people on Living Social, complete with a bubbling glass of refreshing Prosecco (certainly in the top 10 when it comes to treats). After frantically emailing the link to said offer to my sister, we purchased the deal and booked in for a lovely lunchtime delight. Opting for a weekend, I nabbed the central line into London to Lancaster Gate, where the Park Grand Lancaster Gate hotel is a mere 10 minute walk away if that.

P1050522The staff couldn’t be more attentive when we entered – we were offered hot towels to wipe our hands at reception which I thought was a bit strange but also oddly refreshing on a baking hot day. We were shown into the white tiled restaurant bar area and we were able to choose our own spot, with my sister Jess opting for an intimate table for two by the curtained window so we could grab some rays of sunshine while we ate.

The restaurant itself had a quite a modern feel with a white tiled floor, angular coloured sofas and white square tables adorned with polished silver cutlery, however the bauble of purple decorative flowers and the petal filled bubble vases on the tables hinted as a traditionalism too for a strange combination. When we arrives, it was really empty so it had a bit of an eerie feeling, but our waiter instantly P1050528put us at ease, showing us a box of different tea bags and offering to take pictures of us on our camera if we wanted.

I ordered a cappuccino and Jess went for a fruit tea while we waited for our Prosecco and food to arrive. When our tiered stand came to the table, I couldn’t help but do a bit of a double take. The white and blue patterned china was so sparsely populated, I wondered whether I would even be full afterwards – the top two plates were certainly more space than cake and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the portion size.

Started at the base layer though, the sandwiches certainly caused a stir when we spotted what looked like pink bread, P1050529which was filled with slices of cheese and a spicy, Indian inspired chutney.  I’m not sure what this bread was exactly but it reminded me a bit of the consistency of gluten free bread. Brown bread housed a thick lashing of egg mayonnaise which I loved and the white bread went nicely with the tuna filling. Baby brioche buns had a chicken style concoction inside which was also tasty, the bun offering a varying texture to get our teeth stuck in to.

Next up was the scones and to start off the chocolate theme, the usual vine fruits had been replaced with chocolate chips. Still served with a minute amount of strawberry jam and clotted cream, it was nice to have a scone with a difference, even though I wouldn’t say the chocolate chips were in abundance. The scones were small P1050530in size and there was only one each (which is always a poor show at afternoon tea, you want a minimum of two) however they were still slightly warm and had a nice, buttery flavour despite being a little too crisp on the outside for my taste.

The cakes on offer were traditional favourites, however there wasn’t two of everything, so we either had to share some items – which is a right nightmare with tiny cocktail sized cake – or just pick and mix what each of you are having. I do find this a bit annoying as both Jess and I like to try everything, so it makes life so much easier if there is two of each item so you can both try all there is on offer. The two macaroons we were given were two different flavours; I took the muted green pistachio while Jess was left with the near white P1050527vanilla – both were lovely and chewy on the inside with a creaminess due to the filling, with that lovely crisp bite on the edge of the shell too. The hazelnut sprinkled chocolate brownie was super soft and rich in flavour, giving a dense chocolate punch which you expect from a quality brownie. We were also given two tiny fruit tarts. This consisted of a shortcrust pastry case filled with a squirt of vanilla custard and topped with slivers of fruit. Nice but again, very impeccably small!

The chocolate éclair was pretty standard, although to carry on the chocolate vein it was filled with a chocolate cream instead of the plain stuff, while the mini chocolate muffin had an impressive dome and a crumbly texture, again with a rich taste of dark chocolate. My favourite cake of the lot though had to be their take on the Victoria sponge. This mini version consisted of two typical soft and bouncy vanilla sponges, but instead of housing jam and cream, this one had lashings of lovely P1050520chocolate and nut spread which I thoroughly enjoyed. We washed down our desserts heartily with our refreshing glasses of chilled and sweet Prosecco.

Despite it not looking large on the plates, we were full afterwards although we also ended up having a two course meal again in the evening, proving that it certainly wasn’t as filling as other afternoon teas we have attended. The chocolate theme was a nice twist, however I feel they could have indulged in it a bit more to really make it unique; for example why not make chocolate scones and pair it with raspberry jam and clotted cream? The chocolate element seemed a little lacklustre but if that is your selling point, I thought it could have been bigger, along with the portion sizes.

I did enjoy my mini afternoon tea and the staff couldn’t have been more pleasant. Although I don’t think the venue has masses of atmosphere, it was a nice, calming room, clean and tidy although the tables are close together. Luckily this wasn’t a problem for us as we visited during a quiet spell. Enjoyable but needs to be supersized and thought through a little more.

Doubletree Hilton Victoria, Victoria, London

Our odd looking afternoon tea

Our odd looking afternoon tea

Set Menu:

  • Location: Doubletree Hilton Victoria, 2 Bridge Place, Victoria, London, SW1V 1QA (nearest tube station is Victoria)
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 24th August 2014
  • Time of Table:00pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £17 for one person (we used three vouchers in one sitting)
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess and friend Mike

Getting More for your Money?

This deal includes:

  • Traditional Afternoon Tea including selection of finger sandwiches, current scones with clotted cream and jam and a selection of cakes, served with choice of tea
Inside Doubletree Hilton Victoria

Inside Doubletree Hilton Victoria

What we ate…

  • Smoked salmon in granary bread finger sandwiches
  • Egg mayonnaise in granary bread finger sandwiches
  • Ham and mustard in white bread finger sandwiches
  • Cucumber and cream cheese in white bread finger sandwiches
  • Current scone, served with strawberry jam and clotted cream
  • Lemon drizzle slice with raspberry coulees
  • Ginger cake slice with raspberry coulees
  • Vanilla / Chocolate / Coffee macaroons
  • Chocolate tiramisu bites

What we drank…

  • Breakfast in Bohemia tea (Mike)
  • Raspberry and Chilli tea (Jess)
  • Berry Blossom White tea (Katie)

What did we think?

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

Tidily unassuming, Doubletree Hilton Victoria, one of the many popular London hotel chains, is situated a simple five minute walk from Victoria station, the dreary mediocre blah shade of beige on the outside not much to look at, although the spiralled topiary bushes acting as sentries to the front glass double doors, hint at a concealed class, the sign above the entrance quietly indicating that yes, you are in the right place. Going through the doors, I was instantly hit by the ‘ooh’ factor, although stacks of suitcases lining the main lobby area slightly detracted from the plushly carpeted flooring and the gleaming wooden reception desk. We headed to the right, where we could see the restaurant dining area, aptly named 2 Bridge Place after the hotel’s location.

Descending some steps into the sunken seating area, the dining section was well manicured and nicely groomed; very spick and span with an elegant polish. The navy carpet was kaleidoscoped with purple and cream circles, the muted mushroom coloured walls home to large dark leather panels studded with regal purple, the sofa seating beneath in corresponding shades of grey and mauve. There was a mix of both circular and rectangular tables, all in light wood, surrounded by speckled grey-green comfy seats or dining chairs, both upholstered in the neutrally pleasing shades. The tables were dressed simply; plain white teacups sat uniformly on their saucers, teaspoons angled attractively. A small white side plate held a linen napkin and cutlery, ready for the off as soon as tea arrived. Although the atmosphere was quiet, it was regally peaceful, and we felt no need to natter in whispers. It certainly looked the part of a posh afternoon tea venue, and we were looking forward to finding out the nuances of this particular teatime treat.

Scone level

Scone level

Firstly we were presented with the afternoon tea menu – not to choose the food or anything like that, but to peruse the tea choices. To be honest, there wasn’t a large selection of black teas – I only noted breakfast tea or Earl Grey. I have breakfast all the time so I fancied something different, yet I find Earl Grey far too perfumed for my taste. This meant I had to pick from the startlingly large array of fruit teas. Although an Orange Blossom sounded appealing, in the end, I settled for Berry Blossom White tea. I’ve never had white tea before so I had no clue what that was all about really; however, I do enjoy summer berry flavours, so I thought this might be an interesting one to try. It was intriguing to have a beverage that was so distinctly berry flavoured to be a vanilla cream in colour! I’m not usually a fan of fruit teas since I find them too weak or wishy washy, however this white tea version had enough of a punch for me, whilst still being soft and smooth with a very clear flavour. Served in a typical silver teapot, the presentation was again simplistic yet did the job. Jess chose the raspberry and chilli tea, which came out a very violent pink colour, however the sample sip I stole didn’t seem to have much heat or flavour to it, but that may be because it needed to brew for longer. Mike had the classic breakfast tea, with milk and a dainty white sugar lump, which always look so irresistible.

Macaroons and coffee bites

Macaroons and coffee bites

When our afternoon tea arrived, I almost had to do a double take, as I have never seen an afternoon tea presented in such a way before – I’m not 100% sold on it, but I appreciate the creativity and design of it. It was basically a dark wooden square that could stand up by itself, the waitress carrying it by a silver handle on the top that looked like a kitchen drawer handle. The square frame had small wooden shelves within it, providing different compartments and cubbyholes for the food to be stashed away in. The bottom of the frame for example acted as the plate for the finger sandwiches. The shelf above formed three small square compartments, each end one housing the large, current laden scones, the central square balancing a small ramekin with a large perfectly formed scoop of clotted cream, complete with the crumbly curled topping. The top two sections each held a small white presentation plate with the sweet cakes to finish. The jam wouldn’t fit on, so was given to us separately, again in a small white ramekin. We all sat staring at this unique square server before we tucked in. We debated whether it would have the same sense of achievement as working our way up the traditional tiered plates of the normal afternoon tea, and we also wondered whether they could possibly fit as much food onto such small little sections. Remaining undecided about the presentation, we decided to cut our losses and get stuck in.

Lemon and ginger cakes

Lemon and ginger cakes

The sandwiches were pretty standard really, the flavours nice and generic to suit most tastes. The egg mayonnaise was really chunky and not very saucy, although I enjoyed this flavour the most, especially when paired with the super soft granary bread. The smoked salmon was also nice and not too heavy. The cucumber was surprisingly crunchy and provided a good taste contrast to the soft cheese it accompanied. The ham and mustard combination seemed a little dry to me, but on the whole the bread was nice and soft and the finger sandwiches were a decent size so that was nice. They whet the appetite very well for the main event of every afternoon tea, the scones.

Chic and comfortable

Chic and comfortable

Peppered with fat, juicy raisins, the scones were fantastic, and we all agreed we could damage to much more than the one each we were provided with.  They were large and rustic looking, not uniform in shape which gave them a really nice home-made appeal. The outsides were a beautifully baked golden colour, with a tasty crunchy bite when you cut the scone, pieces flaking off excitably. The inside of the scones were still slightly warm from the oven, and despite the firm exterior, they were light and crumbly, proving very soft to bite in to. The jam we were provided with was laughable. I did basically the whole first ramekin in my one scone alone they gave us that little. Mike asked for more jam and they basically presented us with exactly the same again, so jam was very thin on the ground for both Jess and Mike, although I think I got away with it since I went first. Odd though, as there was more than enough clotted cream for all, as the scoop we were given sat pretty on even more cream, so there was plenty of that for us all. Once our scones were somewhat unevenly laden, we were positively licking our fingers afterwards as they were so delicious. Double the scones each next time please! They were a good size though, as I must confess, a mini scone just doesn’t hit the spot in the same fashion.

The main doors

The main doors

Our top tier was the interesting cake level. We started with our sponge cake plate, each of us receiving a miniature slice of both lemon drizzle and ginger cake, raspberry coulee swirled decoratively across the spine of each tiny slice. The sponges were amazing, I don’t know if I have ever tasted cakes so soft. The lemon drizzle didn’t taste overtly of citrus, but was still pleasant, especially with the fresh fruit hit of vibrant raspberry. I absolutely loved the ginger cake though – it reminded me so much of a wonderfully soft and spongy version of a gingerbread man, lightly spiced and again with that cut of clean fruit taste. Could have done with a whole slice of the ginger cake, which was a lovely medium sandy brown in colour. The macaroons were perfect – I got stuck in to the chocolate one, which tasted identical to a decadent chocolate brownie. With an addictive chewy bite on the outside and that gloriously rich centre, it was divine – I seriously could eat those baby bad boys all day long. Ideal for chocoholics. Last, but by no means least, we hit the little tiramisu bites. At first, we had no idea what they were. To us, they were just very small stacks of intriguing looking mini layers of lord knows what, topped with a clear chocolate tiffin style glossy layer, with either a single raspberry, or strawberry segment perched on top. Delicately cutting the stack in half to make it last longer, we were instantly struck by the intense coffee flavour, the layers now seeming to be soaked sponge, reeking of espresso shots. It was punchy and tasty, although not really enough of it to really make too much of an impact on the tea as a whole. Definitely the most daintily presented though so top marks for that.

Jess and Mike

Jess and Mike

In conclusion, afternoon tea at Doubletree Hilton Victoria felt very genteel, civilised and lovely. The setting was part understated elegance and regality paired with a comfortably and relaxed vibe. The tea itself was yummy, the finger sandwiches the usual stated savoury chowed down on just to get to the sweet stuff, the flavours traditional and not pushing the boat out too much. The scones were simply the best section, really delicious and having some wonderful textures, although staff were incredibly tight on the jam. The macaroons and sponge cakes were spot on, although I’m not sure if there was enough substance to the little coffee bites to be worthy of a place in an afternoon tea. For £17 a head though, in central London, the afternoon tea was very cheap and we still really enjoyed every aspect. The presentation was quirky and made a good talking point, and although the tea selection wasn’t vast, there were still options for us to choose from. Staff were polite and friendly, even if the first guy went past our name on the reservation list numerous times! If you fancy a quiet afternoon tea out, then this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

The Dinner Dates Opinion:

Beige building

Beige building

Jess:

“The afternoon tea at the Double Tree was lovely. Although it is quite a prestigious hotel, I found the surroundings comfortable and easy going, whilst still being luxurious and sophisticated. The choice of teas was not as extensive as some of the other places I’ve had afternoon tea, but there was still something different for me to try (I like having something that I can’t get at home). Turns out raspberry chilli tea is very nice, and with the chilli not being overpowering at all (verging on not being present if not steeped enough).

“The sandwiches were very nice, nothing too special but I still enjoyed them. They came with all the classic fillings. I think the scones were the highlight, they were still warm and smelt great! A very nice scone indeed. We didn’t really get enough jam for the table though, even after asking for more, it was still a bit on the skimpy side. Next we had mouthfuls of a lemon drizzle and ginger cake, which were really lovely. Would have been nice to get a little bit more of these as they were moist and flavourful. Macaroons came next, and I love macaroons so have no complaints! I had the coffee one; we had 3 different flavours which may have been a problem in a different group but luckily for us it wasn’t. The last thing on our tea were these little ‘opera’ cakes I think they were called. They were little cubes of various layers, which tasted like a tiramisu to me. Nothing too special but still tasty. Everything was very nice, although it would have been nice to get a bit more of it – I had saved myself for it and I left with some space left in my stomach!”

Our afternoon tea

Our afternoon tea

Mike:

“Had a very good cream tea in comfortable surroundings. The scone was the best so far – fruity, a decent size, nice and crusty, with strawberry jam (a very meagre portion, really only served one – so asked for more) and clotted cream. Shame there was just the one per serving. Still prefer a cream tea to be served on a tier of plates rather than in ‘the picture frame’ that they used. Looked as though it was meant for two, but if there was a third person in the party, then their portions were squeezed in on top/alongside. All in all, it was still a very nice tea.”

London Hilton at Park Lane, Park Lane, London

Dessert Sample Selection to get taste buds tingling

Dessert Sample Selection to get taste buds tingling

Set Menu:

  • Location: London Hilton at Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE (nearest tube stations are Green Park and Hyde Park Corner)
  • Date of Visit: Friday 15th February
  • Time of Table: 6.30pm
  • Deal Bought From: Living Social
  • Deal Price: £39 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Fiancé, Dan

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Two Starters
  • Two Main Courses
  • Two Desserts
  • A bottle of wine to share or a cocktail each
  • For Two People
The classic bread basket has gone oriental

The classic bread basket has gone oriental

What we ate…

Katie:

  • Starter: Maple Glazed Pork Ribs
  • Main: Roasted Pork Belly in Oyster Sauce, with Bali Rice
  • Dessert: Dessert Sample Plate

Dan:

  • Starter: Maple Glazed Pork Ribs
  • Main: Roasted Pork Belly in Oyster Sauce, with Bali Rice
  • Dessert: Dessert Sample Plate

 

Dan's light and fruity cocktail

Dan’s light and fruity cocktail

What we drank…

  • Scorpion Cocktail  (rum, orange, almonds)
  • Singapore Symphony – not included (rum, gin, lime, passion fruit, orange and pineapple)
  • Rhusa Cosmo (lime, pineapple and light rum)

What did we think?

After a long and dull working week, arriving at the Trader’s Vic restaurant, situated within the London Hilton Hotel at Park Lane, was like greeting an exotic Amazonian adventure that promised a slice of escapism in its heady scents of French Polynesian cuisine, with a fat dollop of holiday spirit amidst the heavy tropical theme. With bundles of accolades and awards to its name, I was expecting the Hilton to really deliver on quality, and first impressions definitely contained the wow factor.

Decadent explorer's haven

Decadent explorer’s haven

After coming in through the hotel’s main revolving doors, the entrance to the Trader’s Vic basement restaurant was completely separated from the marble opulence of the main reception area, just to the left. Golden, Inca-style lettered sat heavily above a square cut opening, framed in elaborate bronzed and wooden carvings, providing a window to another world that descended down a wide spiralling staircase, carpeted in a rich navy blue. The further we walked down the staircase, the more it felt as if we were leaving reality behind, and entering a realm of rainforests, complete with over reaching plants, and decadent deep reds, hinting at the depth of decorated undergrowth.  The styling of the restaurant was definitely a demonstration of pure luxury, carefully reined in and yet splashed energetically with tiki-themed touches brushing every single corner of the eatery. The attention to detail in the exotic styling was so complete it had an amazing transportative effect – so much so that it even enabled you to overlook the restrictive voucher menu with barely a grumble of complaint. Bursting with totem pole icons, honey coloured lanterns and even a boathouse bar, we were both in complete awe at this amazing oasis, hidden as a foreign utopia under the regal dressings of London’s Park Lane.

After leaving our coats in the cloakroom, very polite staff led us to our table, despite the fact that we were about 25 minutes early for our reservation. Even they almost seemed liked actors, dressed in loud tropical floral print dresses to further the extension of the theme. The tables were incredibly well spaced, and overcrowded was not a concern at all. The mood lighting was ideal and added to the air of enclosed intimacy that the theme already openly encouraged. The deep red bucket chairs were really comfortable, and the table was also roomy, despite being just for two people.

Maple Glazed Ribs to start, paired with a duo of dips

Maple Glazed Ribs to start, paired with a duo of dips

When I first set eyes on this deal on Living Social, I was bowled over by the fabulous pricing and what was included – three whole courses plus a cocktail or wine to share. However, on reflection, I should have known that this was too good to be true as this was evident from our very restricted menu selection. We had three choices for both starter and main (one meat dish, one fish and one vegetable) and we didn’t even get to choose dessert – this was already stated as a sample selection which sounded a bit like pot luck to me, as it didn’t even tell us what we would be sampling. For drinks, we opted for the cocktail each instead of the wine, as Dan doesn’t really drink wine, although he has been known to knock back the pina coladas. With a venue famed for its Mai Tai’s, it would have criminal not to test out the cocktail menu, and with our voucher, we could select any one up to the price of £12.50 – a fact that the staff pointed out on numerous occasions.  My first choice was the deadly Scorpion – a concoction of rum, orange and almonds that was deliciously sweet and strong at the same time, dressed with an abundance of crushed ice in a decorative bowl like glass.

Whilst perusing the menu, the tropical version of the traditional bread basket arrived containing thin and crispy poppadum style crackers, surrounding a round dish of chunky tomato salsa that was surprisingly zingy and fresh, with a hint of ginger for extra energy. A nice accompaniment to kick off the snacking and the food adventure that was no doubt to come.

Inside Trader's Vic

Inside Trader’s Vic

Distracted by the oriental ambience, we chose from our limited menu happily, which looking back I am quite surprised about now! We both ended up choosing the same dishes – kicking things off with the maple glazed ribs. I don’t usual eat ribs at home and they aren’t my favourite joint, but out of the options, this choice seemed the most favourable by far – and boy was it impressive. Three thick and chunky rib joints, gleaming with the gorgeous glaze smothered on top, sat in the centre of a plain white plate. This then sat atop an elaborate golden heat stand, the flickering candle underneath keeping your meat warm. This contraption sat next to your cutlery on the table, actually in your place centre, staff gave us a lovely butterfly shaped dish, with one wing holding Chinese mustard and the other wing offering a sticky barbeque sauce. Granted, for such a classy establishment, we had no idea of the etiquette of rib-eating, but the fantastic flavours soon had us munching with gusto, gripping the bones with our fingers. The Chinese mustard was softer in flavour that classic English mustard, with a vaguely scented aftertaste. The barbeque sauce was wonderful, with great punchy flavours yet it didn’t overpower the meat at all. Sometimes ribs come up a bit on the thin side, but these bad boys were bursting with meat for us to get our teeth stuck into. On a whole, a really amazing starter, although interestingly enough, these ribs don’t actually feature on the full price menu.

Deadly Scorpion Cocktail

Deadly Scorpion Cocktail

As soon as our starters were whisked from our table, our mains were promptly plonked in their place, so a very quick turnaround. Neglecting the sea bass and the vegetable stir fry, we had opted for the pork belly for our main course, dressed in oyster sauce and served with a molehill of yellow Bali rice, threading with various vegetables. The presentation was clean and simplistic – one long slab of the meat, the neat mound of rice beside it, a sprig of some greenery balanced between the two. Even though the starters had been a good size, mains looked rather small and I was surprised that there wasn’t more of it. Cutting into the pork was a dream, with a crunchy top, squidgy underneath and the softly cooked pork beneath. The skin was a little tricky to cut at times but it was beautifully cooked and I have no complaints about the quality. The rice was also delicious and a really excellent side with the pork. The flavours weren’t as exuberant as I may have imagined (maybe the décor was doing all the talking?) considering the themed menu but it was well cooked and tasty, despite the small size.

Sticky Pork Belly with Bali Rice

Sticky Pork Belly with Bali Rice

Done with our choices for the evening, we were now in limbo as we awaited our mysterious dessert sample. When it arrived, it again came up incredibly small – I would have much preferred one, larger dessert given the choice. Served on a long and thin rectangular black dish, with three separate compartments, were three different sample-sized desserts.  In the first section, was a small rectangular brownie about the size of my little finger. It was a beautiful rich brown in colour, studded with nuts, although I couldn’t say what nuts they were. Topped with a drizzle of berry compote, this succulently dreamy dessert was right up my street and I sincerely wished I could have had a much bigger slice. A larger portion would have gone down a treat with what was in compartment number two, a perfectly round singular scoop of vanilla bean flecked ice cream.  Cool and creamily sweet, it was a match made in heaven with the deep chocolate flavours of the brownie.  And last, but by no means least, was a quarter of a slice of pineapple. Not much to look at, but once placed on your taste buds, they were assaulted by the roasted spice combinations of cinnamon and nutmeg, adding an entire new depth of warmth Caribbean flavours. Again, it was rather small, so not a lot to judge on, but it added a refreshing slash of juice to the fuller bodied flavours accumulating on the platter.

Table tiki theme

Table tiki theme

With our three courses done and dusted, it was just a matter of if we wanted anything else…naturally I did! I was intrigued by the rum-heavy cocktail menu. It had none of your traditional classics, so not a Cosmo or Sex on the Beach in sight, but I liked that. I enjoyed the fact that the intense and dedicated theme once again left its heavy handprint stamped across the cocktail menu, so I simply couldn’t resist the extortionately priced Singapore Symphony at £18. While Dan gathered his jaw from the crisp white tablecloth, I rubbed my hands together in glee at my additional treat. With bags of panache it arrived at our table, an entire pineapple sitting pretty, with a simple coloured straw poking out of the skin. Slurping the divine concoction of rum, gin, orange, lime, passion fruit and pineapple, I could feel the exotic and tropical booze go straight to my head. Lifting the top off my pineapple, I spied the pink cocktail, once again packed with crushed ice. If you prefer a creamy cocktail, then you may be hard pushed to find one you fancy, as they are all rum focused and full of vigour and vitality, so nothing overly soft toned here.

The impressive Singapore Symphony

The impressive Singapore Symphony

Once I had finished my concluding cocktail we got the bill – literally the price of my final drink and the service charge. Such a magical hideaway that is in sore need of some serious discovery.

Making a second reservation? Realistically speaking, I don’t think I would ever feel 100% comfortable paying for a full price meal in here, so on that basis I would say no. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the food I was given, the selection was so poor when compared with all the delicacies they had to offer. Granted, the price was fantastic – for £39 it was a complete steal if you look at their regular prices. But in some respects, you did feel that because of the limited menu selection. The service however was faultless and staff were very attentive, maybe anticipating that they would like us to spend more. However, we didn’t need to spend more, as the original offer was so all encompassing which is what is so attractive with these vouchers. My final drink was a mere treat, but unnecessary really if you were trying to save your money. Even though the portion sizes were small, the food was tantalising, exotically presented and really delicious on the taste buds.  The meat was divine to eat and perfectly springy.  It was also really refreshing going to a restaurant that offered a different mix of foods that normal, with such an unusual atmosphere.

Doorway to another realm...

Doorway to another realm…

The attention to detail was unbelievable and a clear demonstration in ideal showmanship with a master class in ambience and atmosphere. We were completely blown away by the mere setting of the restaurant, so realistically; the food didn’t have to do much to leave us happy. The mixture of wooden carvings and plush red upholstery instantly transported you to an entire new world, well worth the exploring – if you have plundered some lost treasure on the way down the stairs.

The Dinner Dates Opinion:

“Straight away I was relieved I was wearing a tie after seeing other customers wearing suits and ball gowns. I was blown away by the amazing attention and service we received. Being a ‘voucher’ customer can mean you get treated second rate but not here. The restaurant had a very relaxed atmosphere and the staff were very attentive and friendly.  The food was very tasty although the choice was a little small. The ribs were amazing and I could have easily eaten a whole rack. Overall I had a great evening and would go back but the expensive menu is a turn off.”

Dusky ambience

Dusky ambience