When Runawaykiwi told me that she'd won an afternoon tea for two at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane and asked if I'd like to join her, I had one of those moments where I felt like the dork at school being picked for the cool kids' team, pointing to myself and looking behind me, asking, "Who? Me? What, me?"
Yes, me, apparently.
I arrived at the hotel's beautiful Wellington Lounge looking like a drowned rat, having been caught out by a surprise downpour on my way from Green Park. Rebecca arrived personifying a dewy spring flower, recently plucked from the garden: her sweet curly hair intact, cheerful floral top and polka-dot skirt looking perfect for the occasion.
I was excited to try the Intercontinental's "Scents of Summer" afternoon tea, which aimed to "create a sensory journey that celebrates the beauty of British summertime", according to the website.
Our "journey" began rather unexpectedly with a wheatgrass shot and instantly, my panicked mind asked, "Do I have to?"
Slightly bemused by this, I tipped my head back and said to Rebecca, "Down the hatch, then" ... and tipped my head back further ... and further ... and further, until I realized that this shot was NOT coming out of the glass. I horrified our lovely waiter by turning the entire glass upside down and shaking it, demonstrating how this gelatine shot wouldn't move, while the equally puzzled table beside us watched to see how we were drinking ours. He reappeared with two of the smallest spoons in the world so we could scoop out the strawberry pearls and get our dose of greens. Rebecca wasn't have any of it ("Just ... no," she said, after trying a spoonful), but I shrugged and perservered because, well, it's good for you.
Next we tried the delicious sandwiches: smoked salmon and bergamot-infused cream cheese scroll (yes, that wasn't a typo for "roll", it's a "SCROLL") served on lemon bread, rose-picked cucumber and mascarpone cheese served on Peruvian bread, pink peppercorn on thyme chicken bound in mayonaise and cucumber served on tomato bread, and honey-roast pumpkin crumbled feta cheese served on spinach bread. A mouthful. Literally, and figuratively.
I started with what I thought would be my least favorite (that's how I eat all my food, really), the honey-roast pumpkin - the flavors didn't really stand out for me and the pumpkin was slightly undercooked, there was none of that naturally sweet flavor that pumpkin usually has either. My favorite? The cucumber on Peruvian bread. So delicious. I could have had a plate of those all to myself!
And, having scoffed at the "scroll", its shape was very effective, I thought. Rebecca and I agreed that even some of the nicest afternoon teas often skimp on the quality of bread, which certainly wasn't the case here.
Next, we moved on to my favorite part: the scones. But not before we were spritzed down with Floris perfume. Also not a mistake. The point was to enhance the citrus flavors and scent of our next "course", but unfortunately, the spritzing sent me into a slight coughing fit.
But the scones were delicious. And they were impossibly cute, since they were mini-scones. Being served scones that are far too big and filling are one of my biggest afternoon tea pet peeves. I know, crazy, right? As an American, you'd think that my motto would be, "the bigger the better" (and yes, I am aware of how inherently wrong that is on so many different levels), but by the time I've filled up on scones, I have no room for cake. You see the complexity in this?
Thankfully, this wasn't the case at the Intercontinental, as we spread our lemon and pink peppercorn curd (which I didn't love, but couldn't help going back for more ... it had an addictive quality about it) and Earl Grey butter, which - unless my heathen senses were completely unable to appreciate nuances - tasted very much like ... butter. The clotted cream and wild strawberry jam were delicious though, and my mouth is watering at the memory!
But then, but then:
This happened. Basically, when this gorgeous plate of desserts was placed before us and we were (again) spritzed by the next jasmine-scented perfume, I went through all the phases of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory characters i.e. "I've got the golden ticket!" (Charlie) to the gluttony of Augustus Gloop, to Veruca Salt's "I WANT IT NOW!"
We were advised to begin with the delicately flavored jasmine tea-cakes (bottom left), before moving on to the bergamot macarons, peach melba mousse (which, yes, is housed in that ball that impressively resembles a real peach) and violet cream and grapefruit tart. Oh yes - those stones? They're edible palate cleansers (chocolate) to be eaten with the raspberries and blueberries.
The cakes were delightful. I think my favorite might have been the little jasmine tea-cakes, but the peach melba came in at a close second. I started feeling sick though, after cutting off a fraction of Rebecca's tart, so I stopped and admitted defeat, before asking for a doggy bag to take home. No shame in my American game.
Oh, and the tea! Tea pairing is taken very seriously at the Intercontinental, and though I was familiar with most of the teas on their extensive list (I was super impressed to see Chinese Ti Kuan Yin on the menu - a tea that my tea-connoisseur family drinks on a regular basis), I appreciated having the recommendations and suggestions of teas that would enhance the sweet and savory items on our menu.
We began with a lovely, light Darjeeling tea, followed by Earl Grey with a pinch of Lapsang Souchong (nope, still not a fan of that smoky tea!), and finally, a light, white peony tea with rosebuds.
Btw, tea and edible rocks go down a treat, dontchaknow?
After catching up on all things blogging and expat-related, Rebecca and I were told in the nicest way possible that the restaurant needed the table back by 4 pm (we'd started at 1 pm - eeks!) but we were offered a table in the lounge area outside to continue our tea-sipping, which we politely declined.
By now, the sun had started shining again and my drowned-rat look had considerably subsided. I thanked Rebecca profusely for picking me to be her afternoon tea buddy and happily brought home the rocks to my husband who, upon me presenting the beautiful box to him, peered in and said, "What is that?"
A wonderful, edible, explorative adventure. That's what it was.
Scents of Summer Afternoon Tea at the Wellington Lounge is running until the 27th of September 2015 at the Intercontinental Park Lane . Prices are £45 per person, with gluten-free options available.