Eating Around: The Swan, Shakespeare’s Globe, Southbank, London

I’ve visited Shakespeare’s famed Globe theatre more times than I can count over the past few years, enjoying a wide variety of performances both in the outdoor circular stage area as well as the indoor Sam Wanamaker theatre. One thing however that I have been dying to do for absolutely ages is have a meal in the accompanying Swan restaurant. Peeking through the windows of this opulent looking British eatery, there was nothing I wanted to do more than nab myself a table and check out the menu. Luckily for me, my sister Jess and I received some money from our grandma at Christmas, with strict instructions to book ourselves in to see a performance and treat ourselves to dinner beforehand. We excitedly booked to see The White Devil in the Sam Wanamaker, preceding our show with an early Sunday dinner.

No doubt about it, the Swan restaurant is gorgeous. It’s so visually stunning that you simply feel more elegant and regal just by sitting in there. In glorious rich hues of gold paired with a statement charcoal grey and an abundance of modern ball lights and chic cream ceramic animal heads, the Swan manages to capture both trendy yet traditional, stylish and chic yet comfortable. It is glamourous in a rustically English way that polishes up lovely. It felt wonderful to be there as we were shown to our table in the restaurant, which is situated above the bar.

Ordering a bottle of Chenin Blanc from our suited waiter, we then turned our attention to the important task at hand – dinner. We had been given the Sunday menu which included the deal of two courses for £24.50 or three courses for £29.50. We immediately opted for the three courses. As we were mulling over our options, a bread basket was brought over, alongside a flat dish housing a disc of creamy butter. The bread had the holey inner appearance of a ciabatta, however it was also flavoured with herbs – I think rosemary, with green flecks here and there in the bread. With a dark, chewy crust and cut into thick doorstops, we knew we had found a safe food haven if this is how they served bread.

Starters was a tough choice, however I decided to play it safe and have the ham and savoy cabbage terrine, served with Yorkshire rhubarb and sourdough toast. Presentation wise, it was very arty and colourful. The terrine was the traditional ham coloured pink, flecked with large chunks of orange carrot studded throughout as well as the layer of bright green cabbage running through the centre for an extra splash of colour. If this wasn’t lurid enough, the rhubarb actually came in the form of a vibrant and robust puree, served as a puddle next to my lightly toasted half slice of sourdough bread. The puree was potent and punchy in flavour, really enlivening the terrine. It was colourful and creative and I enjoyed tucking in to this playful plate.

As it was Sunday, I decided to remain stoically British and have a roast dinner, however I veered away from the classic cuts of meat and inside opted for the pork belly, something I don’t usually have at home. When my plate arrived, I couldn’t resist licking my lips at the satisfyingly large hunk of meat sat dead centre in my plate, an island topped with crackling that was surrounded by roast potatoes, a caramelised onion, boiled carrots and cabbage as well as a large and imposing Yorkshire pudding. A dish of apple sauce was placed on our table, and our waiter poured gravy over our meals from a silver gravy boat. Wowee what a roast. The pork belly was amazing. The underbelly meat was tender and flavourful, the fat absolutely bursting at the seams with rich yumminess, while the crackling adding a moreish juxtaposition in texture, despite being more chewy than crisp (maybe due to the gravy?). Regardless, the meat was splendid and proves just how decadent a simple dish can be when executed perfectly. The Yorkshire pudding didn’t have the soft and squishy centre that is usually my calling card, however it was yummy and crisp. The roast potatoes were spot on with that delightfully fluffy centre paired with a crisp outer shell, while the colourful veg added a nuance of colour and healthiness to the edge of the plate. The onion was an unusual but really lovely touch – I haven’t had caramelised onion served with a roast before, however I think this combo really worked. This was some impressive roast dinner.

Despite being full to the brim thanks to the more than generous helpings, we were not going to stumble at the last hurdle, no siree. Plus, I had already spied the vanilla rice pudding served with plum compote and I was not going anywhere until I had tried it. Oh it certainly lived up to my dreamy expectations. The rice pudding itself was wonderfully flavoured so as not to be overladen with vanilla, but rather just beautifully accented, with the texture at that fantastic middle ground between goo and set custard which basically equals rice pudding perfection. The plum compote was zingy, flavourful and a real taste injection which was magic with the rice. The whole dessert was sprinkled with flaked almonds too giving the dish extra crunch and a creamy, nutty element. It was a match made in heaven with these flavour combos so I adored every spoonful. I didn’t need room to breathe, I just needed more dessert!

The wine we had selected was also fabulous and a great choice from Jess. It was fruity and light, very drinkable and bursting with zingy, fresh flavours. Our waiter helpfully propped it up in an ice bucket next to our table, even refreshing it when the ice turned to water to ensure our wine remained at an icy chill. The waiting staff were incredibly professional, poised and polite, with a splash of charm thrown in.

Price wise, with the bottle of wine, our meal came to £91. Usually such a price tag would have me cringing – not that I’ve ever paid that much at a meal for two! – but luckily this was a Christmas present treat, so we could afford a bit of a blowout treat on something so special. And it was special. The food was magnificent and I can’t compliment it highly enough. It may be basic and simplistic British favourites but the food is also uniquely playful and exciting, in both colour, appearance and taste. I absolutely loved going to The Swan and I think I’ll definitely be putting this on my Christmas list again next year!

Advertisements

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.

OXO Brasserie, Southwark, London

Set Menu:P1040889

  • Location: OXO Brasserie, OXO Tower, Southwark, London
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 24th January 2016
  • Time of Table:45pm
  • Deal Bought From: Bookatable
  • Deal Price: £30 per person
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • 3 course meal from the Winter Feast Menu
  • Cocktail

What we ate…

Katie:

  • Starter: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
  • Main: Slow Cooked Duck Leg with Lentils and Winter VegetablesP1040885
  • Side: Truffle Mash (extra)
  • Dessert: Dark Chocolate Tart with Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Jess:

  • Starter: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
  • Main: Roasted Cod, Cuttlefish and Butter Bean Stew
  • Side: Chips
  • Dessert: Sticky Toffee Pudding with Rum Sauce and Clotted Cream

 

What we drank…

  • House Cocktail Each
  • Glass of house white wine each (extra)

What did we think?

P1040887I have long wanted to eat at this imposingly iconic London statue, the OXO Tower. Situated only a 10 minute walk from Southwark tube station, the OXO Tower building spreads lavishly next to the River Thames, a stone’s throw from the Millennium Bridge, the view across the water of the breath taking St Paul’s, the sunset gathering colours behind the regally domed head. Although the lipstick red initials stacked vertically on the tower’s top have made it a signpost of London, oddly enough from the ground below you can’t even spot the trademark letters – it seems the OXO Tower contains a lot more than I thought!

Heading up to the eighth floor, I was here on one of my acclaimed twin dates, with my sister Jess. We had spotted a rather decent deal on Booktable, where you could nab a three course meal and a cocktail for a mere £30 – in central London, it seemed too much of a bargain to pass up, let alone the fact it was in a renowned location too. Arriving at the OXO Brasserie, you are instantly made to feel like a VIP, your coat swiftly disappearing into the cloakroom in exchange for a ticket, a waiter showing you to your table from a central reception desk, manned by specialist staff and swamped in scenic, atmospheric blue light. On arrival at your table, your eyes can’t help but be drawn to the extensive glass wall that cover the sides of the restaurant, showcasing rooftop views of urban London, with glimpses of St Paul’s to boot. Lit up in the dark night, it’s just another reason why I love our capital.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup

Our deal including a three course meal, to be chosen from a set menu. There was definitely enough choice on the menu, covering vegetarian, meat and fish options for the savoury dishes, and covering either chocolate or fruit for the dessert. While we were mulling over our choices, we were presented with our cocktail – we didn’t have any say in what cocktail we were receiving so it was very lucky that it happened to be one we liked! With a dash of raspberry tones and a bit of fizz, I promptly forgot the detailed explanation from the waiter – I just enjoyed the fruity zing and fresh bubbly flavour. We also ordered a glass of the house white wine each to enjoy with our meal.

Perusing the menu, starter simply had to be the butternut squash soup. A decadently thick and creamy consistency, the soup had a spicy, paprika tone that really brought out the flavour of the autumnal butternut squash, and I really loved the juxtaposition of flavour and texture that the dollop of cream and sprinkling of pumpkin seeds encouraged. The spiced tones really made this a stand out soup for me, and I also couldn’t resist a bit of mopping with the chunky ciabatta style bread that was brought around beforehand, served from a rustic style

My duck main course

My duck main course

basket.

For my main course, I had chosen duck – a meat I love but don’t really eat that much at home. Served straight of the leg, the meat was so tender and succulent that it simply fell away at a mere prod of my fork, revealing the pink and soft meat underneath the crispy exterior of skin. The flavour was rich and similar to game, the meat left simply to cook in its own juices – an unfussy and simplistic style of cooking executed to perfection.  The duck was sat atop a layer of lentils, adding a stew like feel to the dish. The winter vegetables were rather an unequal ratio, containing one lone carrot and one shallot, although the greenery was definitely present and correct. To go alongside my main dish, I had opted for one of the optional side dishes for an extra £5 – quite a lot for a portion of mash, however the fact that it was truffle mash definitely made up for it, especially when I saw the generous portion size too. Wonderfully creamy and smooth the truffle flavouring was spot on, giving a full bodied taste yet not overpowering the dish in the slightest. Everything

Jess's fish main course

Jess’s fish main course

worked together perfectly and the portion size in general was ideal too. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and you could tell the quality was up to par.

No meal would be complete without a spot of dessert and being the chocoholic fiend that I am, I had to go for the chocolate tart. The pastry bottom was incredibly firm and buttery, providing a solid base for the rich, dark chocolate filling that was also more of a solid. Its firmness accentuated the deep chocolate flavour that was full on cocoa. To add a spot of lightness, the tart was sat on top of a decorative swirl of caramel goodness, a scoop of peanut butter ice cream snuggled next to the slice. Speared into the flesh of the tart was also a shard of crisp and crunchy peanut brittle – a really nice twist that added an unexpected layer to the texture, so you had the barely wielding squidge of the tart, the oozing chill of the ice cream and the harsh bite of the brittle, the nuts acting as the perfect accent to the chocolate. All in all, it was a lovely dessert that was well thought out and prepared.

Chocolate Tart

Chocolate Tart

I would love to visit the OXO Brasserie again, as the food really excelled in my opinion. Despite having an early dinner at 5.45pm, the restaurant was busy and thriving, which may have contributed to our slow service, although staff were pleasant. Three courses and a cocktail for £30 sounds like a decent bargain to me, especially for central London and an iconic building to boot. The fact that the portion sizes could actually fill me up was a bonus too and the quality was superb – each dish had a simple foundation yet a magic twist and I really enjoyed the combination of flavours and texture present. The cocktail was lovely although I think it would have been nice to have been given a choice of what we were drinking – I enjoyed it but other diners may not have. It wouldn’t do any harm to add it onto the set menu more officially. All in all, delicious food, great company and a deal too! When can we next go?

Jess's Sticky Toffee Pudding

Jess’s Sticky Toffee Pudding

Our table

Our table

Our sides

Our sides

Eating Around: Café Enzo, Ardleigh Green, Essex

Inside Cafe Enzo

Inside Cafe Enzo

Wedding dress shopping is tiresome business, so refuelling with a treat lunch out seemed ideal as my mum, sister and I staggered around Hornchurch in a flurry of white, lace and veils. Only a five minute walk from my mum’s front door, we decided to try Café Enzo, a new café on the corner. Having recently changed hands, we were all intrigued to see what had changed and what had remained the same, as we knew some of the conditions of the sale was that the recipes could be handed over to the new owners. With a distinctive Italian coffee shop feel, Café Enzo are trying to strike the right note between high market coffee venue, and cosy catch up spot for the passing mums from the junior school.

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Chicken Salad Sandwich

Decorated in a musky shade of purple paired with a muted sage green, Café Enzo is understated, yet has a really lovely relaxing and calming vibe; it’s definitely a place where you can feel you can unwind. The seating is split into sections, with large brown leather bucket chairs clustered around coffee tables by the front windows, ideal for groups of friends nattering away over a hot drink, and definitely the perfect place to people watch, with the floor to ceiling windows providing a great outlook onto the pavements outside. There are wooden high tables paired with backless stools for those who just want to hop aboard and grab a quick lunch, and there is also an area further back, with more stool seating against tables that run along the walls, suitable for those who are popping in alone and want to surf the net with something fancier than a cup of PG Tips. A frameless blackboard on the wall proudly states the specials of the day, proving you can get some heartier meals if you so wish, such as the classic Italian special pizza, however the counter also displays an enticingly alluring selection of cakes and cookies that had my fingers twitching for my purse before I’d even decided on what sandwich I was having.

Cappuccinos

Cappuccinos

Throwing our coats and bags on some of the leather chairs at the front, we went to the counter to order. I went for the chicken salad sandwich, on brown bread with a cappuccino to drink. I also ordered a yo-yo to have as my sweet treat. These three items came to £7 so a bit pricey just for lunch, but it was good quality. The guy who served us promptly disappeared into the kitchen to make our sandwiches fresh, while a colleague begun making our coffees. We didn’t have to wait long either so that was good, although it was only just pushing gone 12pm, so we were still early for the lunchtime trade.

Sweet Treats

Sweet Treats

The cappuccinos came first and these were divine I have to say. The frothy milk on top was so silky and smooth, it really enhanced the coffee; it was also lovingly scattered with coco powder and served with a small caramel biscuit, individually wrapped and thoughtfully placed on the plain white saucer. Knowing a decent coffee when I slurp one, this one rates highly with me. Trying to avoid the gaze of my yo-yo, I was glad when my sarnie arrives. Thickly filled and served on a square plate with a handy paper napkin, I couldn’t wait to tuck in. The chicken was in chunky stripes, snuggled down among lettuce, peppers, onions, tomato and cucumber; as well as lashings of lovely mayo to moisten it. The bread itself was from a sliced loaf, however it was soft and slightly seedy, and just really lovely. The components by themselves were all spot on, so combined it was a delicious sandwich that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Blackboard Specials

Blackboard Specials

As for our naughty afters, the yo-yo was calling me! Two thick slabs of shortbread biscuit acted as a top and bottom for a thick set layer of custard-like filling. With a slight sugary grainy texture, yet a vanilla custard flavour and colour, the filling was a match made in heaven with the crumbly biscuit, which was sweet and buttery, and literally melt in the mouth. Sharing mine with Jess, I licked at leftover crumbs eagerly – waste not want not! Mum had gone for coffee and walnut cake, and though some of the edges were dry according to her report, the cake was still a winner with her, although she was still blissfully happy after her chicken, brie and cranberry Panini.

Ideally located with a nearby college, school and plenty of residents, hopefully Café Enzo will get its fair share of customers. The staff were friendly, eager to please and conscientious so no faults there. The price was pretty average for the fair we received and I thoroughly enjoyed all of the food, which obviously used quality ingredients. Hopefully I’ll be popping in again soon!

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.”

Homeward Bound: Marygreen Manor, Brentwood, Essex

Scones and Co.

Scones and Co.

Managing the social calendar of my badminton club is something I take great pride and pleasure in, not just because my organisation and nagging skills boarder on dictatorship, but also because I get to take my shuttlecock shooting pals to all the restaurants and venues that I have been secretly hankering to try out. For this month’s outing, I decided on something more refined and classy than our usual evening booze ups – a swanky afternoon tea at impressive 16th century Tudor manor house Marygreen Manor, now a popular hotel, restaurant and wedding venue.

Originally the home of Henry Roper, a servant to Catherine of Aragon, you feel like you have taken a wonderfully long step back in time as you walk up towards this Tudor nest. Brightly whitewashed, the dark oak beams straddling the house really stand out with a quintessential charm, the diamond shape leading on the windows and the ornate wooden carved doors and frames showcasing the glamour of the Tudor period beautifully. Marygreen Manor has a sophisticated polish with bags of historic charm, so you can’t help but be transported vividly to a different time and place.

Outside Marygreen Manor

Outside Marygreen Manor

The inside of the hotel is just as elegant, the ceilings low and covered in carved artwork, the walls smoothly wood panelled with more oak beams in abundance. You would have thought that the quantity of dark wood would make it feel claustrophobic or tiny but the layout has been really nicely done, so that it simply feels relaxed, cosy and like a family home of the Tudor period. Upon entering, the main reception is to the left of the door, a welcoming committee of patterned chairs and a coffee table to the right, encouraging you to lounge around. However, our afternoon tea was due to be served in the conservatory, a delightful sun trap with views of the small courtyard garden.

Inside Marygreen Manor

Inside Marygreen Manor

The conservatory was light and airy, although it needed to be since it was actually a rather tiny room, especially since we were a large group of ten people. We were sat at a round table tucked in the corner, on dark blue cushioned dining chairs. The elaborate black iron stand in the centre of the table was currently empty, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the plates of finger sandwiches, scones and cakes to fill up its numerous tiers. It almost reminded me of a fancy, intertwining candle holder. The only problem was that it was so tall, that I couldn’t really see the people who were sitting opposite me, which made it difficult to hold a conversation involving the entire table. Other than the traditional tiered stand, the table was simply dressed with a white tablecloth and domed white napkins, small white plates ready to receive our food, and cutlery was also set, although mainly for show, as we all know that afternoon tea is finger food.

Our table

Our table

Before the food could be brought out however, we had to decide on our hot beverages, and we had a nice selection of teas to choose from, as well as the option of coffee, brought to the table in a gold topped cafetiere. The tea was brought in a large, plain white teapot if two people were sharing the same kind of tea, or a smaller, individual teapot in the same style if only one person was opting for a specific tea. For me, tea has to be the classic English Breakfast, although some of the group went for perfumed Earl Grey and the detox champ green tea instead, although coffee was also popular. Matching white milk jugs and sugar bowls with white granulated sugar lumps were already placed on the table at regular intervals around the circumference, so we could get going with the condiments as soon as the hot drinks arrived.

Drinks

Drinks

Once we were all settled and slurping, the black plates piled with food were brought out to be placed on the battlements of our fortress style central stand. The finger sandwiches formed our bottom layer, the neat rectangles using white and wholemeal bread in squidgy, crust-less cubes that transported me back to my childhood lunches. Garnished with salad, nosy nibblers plucked the pencils of bread from the plates – we had the choice of grated cheddar cheese paired with tomato, ham with round of watery cucumber, swatches of smoked salmon with a thin layer of cream cheese and a chunky egg mayonnaise. There isn’t really too much to comment about sandwiches, but they were tasty, as I decided to dive into the cheddar and tomato and egg mayonnaise options. No one really went for the salmon except my mum so there were quite a few of those ones left.

The best way to eat scones

The best way to eat scones

Next on the afternoon tea agenda were the scones – my very favourite part of this tea time treat escape. One plate housed sultana studded versions, while the other offered plain scones, both dusted with decorative flour. The home baked beauties were still warm from the oven and broke apart when you cut them with an eager crumbling submission. Two white dishes held the scone accompaniments – the classic smooth strawberry jam which I smeared on first using the back of serving teaspoon, followed by an unhealthy dollop of the luxuriously thick and almost solid clotted cream, that stuck up in straight spears on top of my jam. The scones were perfect and some of the nicest I have eaten. The only trouble we encountered was that they didn’t really give us enough jam and cream to go with them, so we were a bit careful when building our scones as we wanted to make sure everyone had enough. In the end, we asked for extras but it would have been nice to just have enough in the first place.

Cake and pastry layer

Cake and pastry layer

After the wonderful scone layer, it was time for top deck where you really hit and indulge the sweet spot – the cakes and pastries. All of the delights on offer combined all of my favourite foods and flavours, so I really was in heaven with this thoughtful mix of Katie-friendly fodder. Around the edge of the plates were small circular shortcrust pastry tarts, filled with a wobbly yellow custard, proudly supporting an Arabian dome style strawberry. Succulently oozing once you bit into it, these were divine little morsels and I must have eaten at least three. Wedged neatly between the tarts were mini eclairs, puffed out choux pastry carefully containing lashing of softly whipped chocolate cream that quickly erupted from the opposite end once you bit into it. With a thick chocolate rectangle topping the eclairs there was a nice mix of textures in this light and fluffy munchies.

Chocolate tiffin and custard tart

Chocolate tiffin and custard tart

The centre of the plate had rows of neatly cut chocolate tiffins and sponge cake. The chocolate tiffins were quite simply sensational, and I lost count of how many of these decadently rich and dense treats I made my way through. The bulk of the tiffin was a layered mix of what looked and tasted like crunchy rich tea biscuits, paired with an almost sludge like, thick chocolate goo that stood solidly around the biscuit. A shiny and glossy chocolate ganache topped the tiffin, with a pearl of hazelnut placed atop this opulent chocolate mountain. A complete indulgence and despite being so heavy in chocolate, they were very moreish and addictive. Juxtaposed with this full on sweet was the simple lemon tinted sponge next to it, topped simply with grated coconut. The sponge was light and moist, although I rather fancied smothering it in leftover jam.

Milk jug and teacup

Milk jug and teacup

We were able to bask in the beautiful sunshine glowing down in to the conservatory for as long as we wanted, waiting staff popping up every now and again to ask us if we wanted any more drinks. For £15.50 per person, I think we got a really good deal. We couldn’t finish off all of the cakes (although not through lack of trying on my part), and everyone was really stuffed, so although it doesn’t always look like much when it is brought out to you, it really is filling. The sandwiches were a tad boring but that’s just because their sandwiches more than anything Marygreen Manor had done. The scones were the highlight but the cakes and pastries were both visually stunning and wonderful to eat. On the whole, I really enjoyed the food and would recommend it if you fancy trying something a little bit different.