I simply adore the ritual of an afternoon tea, from the mouthwatering selection of dainty pastry to the sunken sofa seating, from the excessive display of china to the towering silver stand. To me, it is the ultimate indulgent experience. In college, my fellow afternoon tea buff and I swept every single afternoon tea spot in London. We were the perfect partners in crime- she attacks the cakes and pastries, while I devour the scones and finger sandwiches. I miss those afternoons dearly, as so far, I have yet to discover the perfect afternoon tea spot in HK, and what's more, a number of the hotel coffee shops here prefer to serve tea buffet instead of the traditional English high tea.
On my recent hopover to London, we decided to relive this fond memory. We headed for The Park at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, which has a green and beige theme, complementing the serene greenery of Hyde Park, which is just steps away.
We wasted no time in selecting the traditional English tea, which is priced at GBP26.50 (plus service charge) per set. Cannot believe how much prices have crept up in London - the last time I had tea here, it was less than GBP18.00, including service charge. Those were the days...
The china used at The Park is a refreshing diversion from the traditional more elaborate style, although am not sure how the bonsai plants fit into the grand scheme of things.
We started tackling the three-tier cake stand level by level. Was once taught that one should start with the savoury and hence the sandwiches, then the scones, and finally the cakes and pastries.
The selection of sandwiches on offer at The Park was tasty and fresh, including egg mayonnaise, salmon, tuna and corn. Though I do miss the truly traditional ones like paper-thin cucumber sandwiches and smoked ham sandwiches using top notch meat.
We then moved onto the scones and cakes, which included plain and raisin scones, and home-made madeira and banana cake slices. This includes my absolute fave part of an afternoon-tea: the Devonshire clotted cream.
Clotted cream is the thickest and richest of all types of cream available and is the trademark of Cornwall and Devon. Yes - it has a 55% fat content whilst double cream only (!) has a 48% fat content - but who is counting. Its thick clotted consistency is achieved via heating cream of high-fat breed cows, resulting in the spoonable texture and the formation of a golden crust when cooled. It is so thick that it verges on being butterlike, which should not come as a surprise as it has almost 70% butterfat content apparently. My favourite way of enjoying this rich cream is by scooping a thick generous layer of the cream onto the scone and spreaded unevenly, then adding a thin layer of strawberry jam on top. This is my perfect English cream tea. And the one at The Park stood up to the test well, as the delicious scones were crumbly without falling apart, still slightly moist (I do not like dry scones), and the clotted cream was the real variety. In HK, it is rare to find a hotel that uses clotted cream, the high cost and I guess the high fat content, has deterred many. Still recall how devastated I was when The Clipper's at Hong Kong's MO began serving whipped cream instead of clotted cream for tea - it just was not the same. Was later told by the pastry chef there that they only temporarily suspended serving of clotted cream at that time and has now resumed the practice. (Phew!) Am not normally interested in cakes, but tried a bit of the banana cake and it was surprisingly well-made.
Now onto the pastries layer - it doesn't look that attractive does it? I was actually going to skip this part, as I normally do after finishing off all the finger sandwiches and scones. Was tempted into trying just one and found these to be extremely good without being too sweet. The pineapple cake was a delight, light and refreshing. The strawberry and chocolate mousse cake were creamy and smooth, and the delicate cream trumpet was sprinkled with cinnamon to make it more interesting. Was genuinely impressed by the selection. What's more, I noticed that each table gets a slightly different selection of cakes. The thoughtful kitchen scored with me.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon tea here, this was not the best that I have had - am having a hard time deciding between The Dorchester and Brown, which have very different afternoon tea style. Actually, the absolute best would be the ones at the unassuming, quaint little teahouses scattered all across the countryside. Recall with fond memories a small blue and white tea house that perched next to our boarding school called Thatcher's. We visited almost on a daily basis for its cream tea and toasted teacake and crumpets, not to forget its velvety smooth hot chocolate. Even though The Park was not the best, it is still probably better than 90% of the ones you get in HK, which serve you pastries that were prepared way in advance and tea using teabags, and the worst crime of all - store bought scones and jam!
Was doing some shopping in TST recently and popped by to The Lobby at Peninsula for some scones after shopping exhaustion, and also wanting to check out what the standards are like these days. It was a busy lobby lounge, with many people queuing up discreetly next to the lobby. Noticed that over 50% of the tables were Japanese ladies - a phenomenon that I have observed at the afternoon tea places in London too.
Since I was not particularly hungry, I only ordered the scones and milk tea from the a la carte menu. The warm scones looked attractive with the golden brown finish on top and huge raisin spots everywhere.
Was reassured by the clotted cream on display but as you can see, it was less creamy and rich than the London variety. As you can see, I always make a mess of myself when spreading the cream and jam on top of the scone - but I reckon this is the proper way to take it in. While it was nice, there was nothing special about Peninsula's scone set. At over HK$120 for the tea plus scones, it was not cheap either. But I suppose people come for the full-on experience, rather than concentrate on just the food quality, which is a shame.
I'd still probably still pick Clipper's Lounge as my top choice for afternoon tea in HK, in spite of its tatty furnishing. Perhaps I am bias, 'cos every time I go, it reminds me of our girlie high-school gatherings there, when we spent hours lounging at the comfortable sofas chatting about nonsense whenever we came back for the vacations.
Footnote: Was flipping through a magazine that talked about MO's little sister, Landmark MO, also offering afternoon tea at its MO bar at HK$190 per head. While eager to try it out next time we have a girls' gathering, I deducted marks for its store-bought glasses of jam on display. Will let you know once I get the chance!
The Park, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA, United Kingdom
The Lobby, The Peninsula, Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong