It bugs me just a little that in the UK there are no buffer holidays between Easter and Christmas. There are bank holidays but there isn’t anything like Thanksgiving for Canadians or Americans. I suppose there is Halloween or Bonfire Night, and if you’re in London Carnival is a pretty big deal, but it’s still not the same.
Of course, if you love Christmas you’ll also love the fact that Christmas basically starts in September. In October, shops will start selling mince pies and puddings (hey, they need to be stored and stale to be truly delicious). After Halloween, things really start to pick up when Christmas crackers and decorations are being sold in every shop – even grocery stores.
Lucky for me, Christmas came extra early when I got to head to the Conrad London St. James Hotel for a preview of their Christmas Afternoon Tea as part of the London Bloggers Tea group.
Afternoon Tea in London
Located just outside St. James’s Park Station and next to the iconic rotating sign for New Scotland Yard Metropolitan Police, I knew I was in for a classy affair.
Upon arrival, I was ushered back to the Emmeline room where I was offered a selection of sparkling elderflower or Laurent Perrier champagne. I went with the champagne, naturally.
Before everything got started, we had to opportunity to see the flavours we could expect in our afternoon tea, including cinnamon, ginger, and brussel sprouts – in combinations you wouldn’t even expect!
The Tea Part
Naturally, afternoon tea isn’t afternoon tea without…well, tea. The menu had a variety of really interesting teas and I went with Vanilla Black.
A Selection of Savouries
Okay, all of this foreplay before what you really want to know: what was on the menu?! Well, I’ll tell you, I raved about it to everyone who would listen.
First, there was the brussel sprout and goat cheese mousse. I’ll eat anything that involves goat cheese, so this was a big hit for me.
I did recently proclaim that I’m not eating meat – but this day I did, which is precisely why I refuse to label myself a vegetarian. I’m more of an opportunistic omnivore. Next up, there was the turkey ballotine – stuffing rolled up into turkey and sliced into rounds, served with cranberry sauce. Then, the venison bite, which if you ask me looks exactly like the paté salé you eat in Martinique for Christmas! See:
I digress. Then there were the finger sandwiches: smoked salmon with lemon creme fraiche, cured gammon & mustard, and beetroot and spinach. Oh, and I can’t forget the scones! Freshly baked, crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside orange and cranberry & Christmas spice scones. They were served with the traditional Devonshire clotted cream, homemade strawberry jam, and blackberry curd.
I tried all combinations and they were all good.
Delectable Dessert Involving Cake and Pastries
That may look like a wintery scene to you – and don’t get me wrong, it is – but it’s also our dessert platter. The Christmas trees are winter berry mousse with a chocolate brownie base; the snowmen are mini-meringue with fruit strip scarves, white forest yule log cakes, chocolate dipped marshmallow Christmas postcards, chocolate orange Battenberg presents, topped with gold, amazing macarons… Am I missing anything? Oh yes, even the snow was edible!
And believe me, you want to eat it all.
We were joined by the company of a beautiful harpist, playing all of our favourite Christmas carols. I must say, it was a little cute hearing ‘Let It Snow’ on one of the sunniest days in September.
What is the deal with ‘tea’ anyway?
Brits love their tea. Every person comes with their own idiosyncracies and specific ‘way’ of making tea. Getting it wrong is NOT the way to win friends and influence people here.
Tea isn’t just a drink, it’s a meal, a snack, a synonym for dinner (by that I mean the evening meal, which can easily be confused with ‘dinner’ the afternoon meal, also known as lunch, and it can sometimes be known as supper depending on the part of the country you’re in, not to be confused with…oh I give up. If someone invites you over for dinner in the UK, be sure to clarify the time).
I’m going to lift the mystery of tea very quickly for you:
This is what I had. It’s a historically aristocratic tradition that involves a light meal in the late afternoon. Expect tea, finger sandwiches, scones, and cake, typically in three courses.
High tea sounds like it would be something upmarket, but in fact high tea is a traditionally working class meal. The ‘high’ comes from the high tables the food was served on at the end of a long work day. Expect pie, bread, and other quintessentially English food with weird names.
This is a simpler version of afternoon tea. It’s less formal, less expensive, and mostly involves scones, thick clotted cream, and strawberry jam. You’ll find this particularly in the South of England (especially Devon or Cornwall), where you’ll get the best clotted cream of life.
It’s a late morning snack that’s eaten around 11:00 AM. Naturally, it involves tea and perhaps a small snack.
So, yeah. Technically Brits could justify eating about five meals a day… does it make you love the UK more? Tea in all its forms is a quintessential part of British culture, so if you want to experience afternoon tea in London over the Christmas period, check out the Conrad London St. James!
The London Bloggers Tea were paying guests of the Conrad London St. James. Christmas Snow Scene Afternoon Tea costs £37, or £45 with free-flowing champagne.