Friday, January 18, 2019

Just A Spoonful of Sugar: The Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea at Aqua Shard

I was on cloud nine when I passed my UK driving test in November, so I took this feeling rather literally and treated myself to the Mary Poppins afternoon tea at Aqua Shard, a restaurant with stunning panoramic views of London located on Level 31 of the Shard.

Now, I don't want to ruin any surprises for you (in case you decide to treat yourself too), but suffice to say, the Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea is full of them. It's a tea for those who want to be delighted and dazzled; charmed and enchanted.

In short, it's anything but ordinary - and those who know P.L. Travers' books well will fan-girl all over the details.

From the menu etched into a gold-framed mirror (a recurring symbol in the books) to the plates adorned with Mary Shepard's original illustrations and the little bottles of "medicine" (homemade rum punch, lime cordial, and strawberry liqueurs that can be added to your champagne glass) - not to mention the warm scones which are presented at the table from within Mary's bottomless carpet bag - nearly every little detail from the books has been cleverly re-imagined for this afternoon tea with a literary twist.

Two bespoke teas have been created for this delicious afternoon tea experience, which I think work beautifully well with the selection of sandwiches and sweets: "Mary's Tea", which is an exotic but delicate blend of Darjeeling from India, Ceylon from Sri Lanka, Keemun and fragrant rose petals from China (a truly worldly blend!) and "Bert's Tea" for those who favor a smokier, richer fragrance to their tea (Souchong and Keemun from China, plus Ceylon from Sri Lanka, a hint of vanilla and Sussex cornflower).

The delicious finger sandwiches include Cackleberry farm egg and truffle (my favorite - I could eat that every day for lunch and never tire of it - the truffle lends a wonderful umami flavor), Dingley Dell honey roast ham and mustard, Ploughman's and a Devon crab and cucumber brioche (my second favorite!), plus mini crumpets topped with smoked salmon and cream cheese.

If, like me, however, you like to rush through the savoury bits of an afternoon tea just to enjoy the sweet selection, the Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea does not disappoint in this respect. My favorites were the oh-so-creative Mary Poppins' "hat" (mousse covered in dark chocolate with an edible flower brim and a black cherry on top) and the more understated homemade plum jam, which I greedily slathered onto warm raisin scones (pulled straight out of Mary's magical carpet bag!) before topping with clotted cream.

And of course, the "Fairground Candy Floss" (or "cotton candy", to my fellow Americans) was a very (and literally) sweet way to end the afternoon tea experience.

I savoured the view as much as I did the sandwiches, scones, and cakes (we had an incredibly sunny day, which offered spectacular views of the Thames and beyond) - and left humming, "Just a spoonful of sugar ..." on my way to the tube.

The Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea is the perfect gift for the New Year - I can't think of a better way to kick-start 2019 than with this whimsical tea (which will have you humming, "Just a spoonful of sugar ..." in no time).

Huge thanks to Aqua Shard for generously hosting us. All opinions are my own. The Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea is currently running until 3 November 2019 and is priced at £49 per person, or £66 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Champagne, and £72 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose. Book your table here


Monday, January 14, 2019

One Whole Year

My baby's bedtime routine makes me drowsy. I have, on occasion, settled him in his cot and fallen asleep beside him - only to find when I wake that it's 10 pm and all the lights are off downstairs, with John already in bed upstairs.

Our routine begins with a warm bath, followed by a leg massage and milk straight afterwards, then at least two stories ("Goodnight comb and goodnight brush! Goodnight nobody, goodnight mush.") and then a lot of hand-holding and adjusting of various stuffed animals. It's very sweet, but also incredibly soporific.

Sometimes, he has trouble getting down, and I pick him up and sort of do this bounce thing. His head drops on my shoulder, his hands grip my arms, and slowly, I feel his breathing slow and his weight drop into my hands - that's how I know he's falling asleep, and I gently place him back in his cot.

Last night, I was doing this bouncing thing and staring straight ahead at the felt garland hanging above his bed - white clouds alternating with grey snow-capped mountains. Suddenly, I had a flashback of standing in the same spot, 11 months earlier, staring at a blank wall and just feeling so, so sad that I'd come home from the hospital without our baby.

And that, when I did, I was terrified of him; this small (yet robust!), jaundiced little human asleep in his bedside cot: arms raised by his ears, mouth set in a tiny down-turned line. Every time he looked at me, I felt like I'd been caught out - a fake, a fraud. Not capable of being his mother. Totally clueless. Unworthy.

And then the seasons changed, and the frost melted between us - literally and figuratively. We went to Baby Sensory classes: me sitting cross-legged with him on my lap, both hands clasped protectively around his belly, watching him watching balloons being tossed in the air or stars being projected onto the ceiling. I sang to him: during diaper changes, bath time, car rides ... all the time. I took him along to Baby Cinema, where I ate popcorn and watched Sandra Bullock orchestrate the perfect getaway in Ocean's 8 in a darkened, air conditioned theater, while he gurgled before falling asleep in my arms.

Today, nearly a year has passed and I'm soothing this baby who reaches out to me; who cries when, to his consternation, I've walked out of the room (we're working on this!). Who giggles uncontrollably and chews on a finger when I threaten to "roll him up like a sausage and eat him like a sandwich" while slinging him over my shoulder and burrowing my head into his stomach. Who is settling in with his new nanny before I head back to work next week.

This past year has been the most adrenaline-fuelled and terrifying - but happiest - dream ever.

And I don't ever want to wake up.
© angloyankophile

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