A hotel that doesn’t charge for items taken from the mini bar (excluding alcohol), and stocks a superb range of chocolate and chips, is a good sign. A hotel that stocks an ample supply of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the mini bar is even better.
So it was shame that i visited the Athenaeum hotel in London’s leafy Mayfair during the British winter when ice cream wasn’t really on my “to eat” list.
However, afternoon tea was on that list — unashamedly right at the top — so that’s where i started once i’d checked in and checked out my fabulous suite overlooking Green Park, which leads straight to Buckingham Palace.
The five-star Athenaeum was recently voted the best Afternoon Tea in London for 2012 by the Tea Guild — an accolade that is dubbed the ‘Oscars of the tea world’.
It was early afternoon when i arrived. It was threatening to rain. It was the perfect time for a light food interlude.
We opted for the Evergreen Afternoon Tea (£28.50 per person, or £35 with Champagne), which kicked off with a glass of Rose Petal Champagne. The bubbles were too sweet for our liking, but there’s nothing like a little afternoon fizz to get you into the swing of a brief London fling.
The Athenaeum has 21 teas on offer, including three rare teas and three “wellness” teas.
I’m rarely tempted away from my all-time favourite, Earl Grey. I find the fragrance instantly uplifting. The initial aromatic inhalation is often just as good as the first sip.
On this occasion the delicate loose Darjeeling leaves delivered subtle Bergamot (citrus) notes, accentuated with a splash of lavender — an addition to Earl Grey that i adore.
The weighty silver teapot and tea strainer were a welcome change from my slap-dash tea ritual at home.
Dainty finger sandwiches were first up on the food front. We gave the cucumber ones a miss, but loved the poached salmon, egg mayonnaise, and smoked salmon options.
Next cab off the rank were crumpets. You can’t visit England and indulge in afternoon tea without knocking off a couple of these lightly toasted, butter slathered numbers.
We swiftly moved onto scones. We doused orange blossom scented scones in jam and Devonshire cream. Lemon curd fans will love the Athenaeum’s tart rendition.
Being more savory than sweet-toothed and having filled up slightly on earlier offerings, we barely made a dent on the impressive cake selection.
There were pretty pink cupcakes, thick slices of banana and fruit cake, lemon cake, chocolate cake. Victoria sponge, and pastries.
My favourites — and the lightest options — were vanilla cheesecake served in a chocolate box, and elegant glasses of Champagne jelly with cream.
I could have happily sat there winding down with the afternoon sipping Earl Grey tea, but i had just 24 hours in London and time was precious.
As we left, I eyed enviously the ladies on the neighbouring table who were taking their excess cakes home doggy-bag style.
I bolted up to my room for a coat — took in the contemporary four-poster bed, huge double shower, kick-arse view of Green Park, and remembered the complimentary Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in the mini freezer bar (a midnight feast, perhaps?). I didn’t feel too bad about leaving those cakes behind, after all.
The Food Sage was a guest of the Athenaeum Hotel.