Last week was National Afternoon tea week. Well, whilst I’ve no idea about the origins of this week, I do know that it provides the excuse we’re all looking for to indulge. Specifically, in the exuberant British tradition of sandwiches, scones and all things sweet, helped along nicely by a pot or two of tea! I also know that this last week has felt absolutely exhausting. Painful. It was one of those non-stop weeks where you get to Friday and are lost as to where the week disappeared to!
Anyway, it felt like a great coincidence when I was invited to visit St Martins Lane hotel in this same week. St Martins Lane is part of the SBE group with hotels such as the Hudson in New York and The Sanderson. Just a few months ago, we went for brunch at another SBE hotel restaurant, Sea Containers at the Mondrian for my birthday and I loved the cool vibe and buzzy atmosphere. So, when invited, I couldn’t refuse the invitation to visit St Martins Lane for afternoon tea too…
But here’s the thing. I’ve felt so busy lately. I feel like I’ve so much to do and things are piling up so quickly! I’m so grateful to have a lot of trips coming up (regular readers will have read about them in this post) but as they’re all within a few weeks of each other, I’m struggling. I’m finding myself with tonnes to get done ahead of them. I’m also out of London for a while with work so between work deadlines, seeing friends and family, life admin and holiday preparation, I’m feeling pretty wiped and like I have zero time! Do you ever get to that stage where you feel like you’re constantly adding to your To-Do list and the rate at which you tick things off has slowed down? Yeah, that’s me, right now!
So I had this invite and I couldn’t pass it up. I think I needed it! Before we knew it we were at the gorgeous St Martins Lane hotel; a boutique hotel just footsteps from Leicester Square tube station. We passed the dramatic statement furniture, the displays of teas and the sophisticated Den. The Den at St Martins Lane is known for being a great place where guests curl up with a book or catch up over gin. The rich oak panelling of the Den lends itself to a winter afternoon tea. However, many people don’t know that just through the Den is also an exquisite Mediterranean-inspired terrace where you can enjoy the same menu on a pretty little terrace. We thought this was just perfect for summertime!
I kicked off with a cool glass of Laurent-Perrier La Cuvèe champagne and a pot of English Breakfast tea. I’d invited the Doc’s mum along to join me as we had been meaning to catch up for a while and I just knew she’d love an afternoon tea! Her choice of Earl Grey arrived piping hot and fragrant. Given that she, like my own mum, is vegetarian I was intrigued to see how well St Martins Lane could cater for veggies!
Our spread arrived quickly and we tucked into the savoury selection. For us both, the highlight was the Brioche – unlike a classic sweet brioche this pinwheel style option was stuffed with brie, mushrooms, garlic and parsley. Brie is a cheese I love very much but usually enjoy in a simple sandwich or on crackers. I loved the use of it here where it blended well with the other flavours without being overpowering. It’s one you just mustn’t miss, regardless of whether you are vegetarian or not. It had a crisp pastry like base and was rich with flavour. It took real willpower not to ask for more, knowing we had an absolute feast ahead of us!
I also tried the Caraway roll with a filling of roast chicken, tarragon, lime and sun-dried tomatoes, as well as, the Olive and Chilli Bread encasing smoked salmon and salsa verde cream. I loved the bold flavour of both of the breads which were a great twist on the classic sandwich bread often used in afternoon tea. In the smoked salmon option I’d have loved a little more of the salsa verde cream as it was truly delicious. You could tell a lot of thought had gone behind the flavours but I couldn’t help but think they just needed a teeny tiny bit more moisture in the filling to get the textures perfect.
There were two vegetarian options; the delicious brioche mentioned above, and the simply titled Veggie Wrap. This was a flatbread encasing smokey baba ghanoush, wild rocket, roasted red peppers, cubes of ripe avocado and mixed seeds. They didn’t disappoint and I was happy to hear that the flatbread was a success!
Given that I’d given the hotel notice of our dietary requirements, I’d have loved if there were three vegetarian options to mirror the three on the main menu. Instead, for vegetarians, you are given two options and you can double the portion on one of them. Fortunately, the quality of both of the vegetarian savoury options was incredibly high here and the mouthwatering brie and mushroom brioche absolutely stole the show out of all of the savoury options!
Next up on the menu were the scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve. The scones at St Martins Lane Hotel are made with a French recipe where crème fraîche is added to the dough, giving a real lightness to the scone. I loved these! They were absolutely exquisite and had risen perfectly. I piled mine high with clotted cream and jam and finally felt relaxed. This was just what I needed after such a hectic week.
Sweet treats are my favourite part of an afternoon tea and I was very impressed with the quality of those at St Martins Lane. We started with the Dolce Panna Cotta, which was beautifully creamy; as you delved through to the bottom you got a hit of the base layer of sharp blackberry compote which cut through perfectly. The finishing of these little pots added flavour and texture in the form of a crisp chocolate butterfly and crunchy candied pecans. It was very well executed and we polished these off quickly, despite feeling so full! I loved the story behind this too where apparently one of the chefs had forgotten he was melting some white chocolate; by the time he remembered it had caramelised and cooked until it was almost a blonde colour. It was an accidental success but one that works so well in this sweet and creamy pudding.
I loved the story behind this dish – apparently, one of the chefs had forgotten he was melting some white chocolate. By the time he remembered and went back to his pot, the white chocolate had caramelised and cooked until it was almost a blonde colour. He tasted it anyway and was really impressed. So it was an accidental success but one that works so well in this sweet and creamy pudding.
When Chef Ludovic came over to check on us I had to tell him how impressed we were!
We had just tried the roasted banana and yuzu tart, with crisp pastry encasing a perfectly balanced, slightly citrussy curd topped with a thin chocolate disc. It’s so difficult to make a pudding like this without the flavours being overpowered with banana but he nailed it – this was cleverly balanced and the curd hit that sweet spot between sugary and tart. He talked us through his history as a chef, his ideas for the future and why he loved working as a Pastry Chef.
The most popular dessert is apparently Chef Ludovic’s namesake, the Ludovic’s Eclair. This is no ordinary eclair, oh no. This is seriously good choux pastry filled to the brim with a milk chocolate and hazelnut mousse, caramel and crispy praline and topped with chocolate cigars. I loved the different textures and it tasted like a Ferrero Rocher in eclair format!
All of the dishes were unique in flavours, textures and sweetness. My favourite of all was the Raspberry Mousse, served on top of a coconut and almond dacquoise. It was light and fresh with a thin layer of passion fruit jelly in the centre, slight sweetness from the crumbly base and with varying textures. It was topped with gold dust which brought a luxe element to this afternoon tea! It was seriously good, tart in the very best way, fruity and fresh, and undoubtedly one of the best sweet treats I’ve ever tried on an afternoon tea menu!
Finally, the salted caramel bonbon was topped with chocolate and ground pistachios – it was a perfect bitesize portion to end our afternoon tea. Whilst the caramel was sweet it was cut through nicely with the slight saltiness and the biscuit-like surrounding texture. The pistachios added a distinct rich nuttiness. Chocolate and caramel can have the ability to be too sweet but Chef Ludovic has made this into something quite complex and grown up at the same time. Truly commendable and one to remember!
I must admit I’d never heard about the terrace within St Martins Lane before and so this feels a little like I’m sharing a secret discovery with the world, but I think you’ll love it. The pretty green and orange details brightened up an already very sunny day and would make a great setting for a group Afternoon tea (it’s also tres Instagrammable!) It’s the perfect spot to lose an afternon to great food and even better conversation. The pots of tea are huge and keep coming and before you know it, hours have flown by!
The portions were very generous (we found ourselves pretty full after the savoury options and half a scone!) But they do offer to wrap up anything you don’t finish off too, which we really appreciated. The service was friendly with the offer of warm blankets to take the edge away from any breeze in the air. Upon leaving, I noticed they had added a few fresh scones to my takeaway bag as they had heard how much we like them. A very thoughtful touch!
I loved eating al fresco but would definitely love to go back to dine in The Den itself. Not least because it looks so cosy! One small thing that I didn’t love about dining out on the terrace was that the full afternoon tea was brought out in one go. This meant that the warm scones were cold by the time we got to them.
The Den looks very welcoming, warm and casual and I’m really keen to head back there in the winter. Chef Ludovic and I spoke at length and his creative vision was clear. He told us about his plans for the new Autumnal menu which sounds amazing – I don’t want to spoil it for you but I have a great feeling that you won’t be disappointed! This man certainly knows his flavour combinations!
I just knew that this afternoon tea would be a great opportunity to have a much-needed catch up with the Doc’s mum and I have a feeling that going forward, we’ll be going to more afternoon teas together. Our afternoon tea was relaxed, not once did we feel rushed, and we left the hotel having had a great catch up, and super full yet armed with goodie bags of scones and sweet treats to keep us going all weekend!
Right now, I can feel the autumnal breeze gliding through the window onto my skin as I’m typing this. I’ve a mug of steamy tea with me and I’ve got that calm gratitude in me that you often feel when the seasons feel like they’re changing. Yes, summer feels like it’s ending a little early, which isn’t great, but I’m having a calm weekend for the first time in a long time. Afternoon tea was the best way to switch off for a while after a crazy few weeks of having To-Do lists longer than my arm. I’ve still got that list of things I need to do but actually, I’m feeling refreshed and ready to tackle that list now!
National afternoon tea week is over now but I’d urge you to take some time out for yourself and book in for tea at St Martins Lane Hotel very soon. At a very reasonable £29.50 per person, it would be a shame not to!
More details on St Martins Lane can be found here.
Our Afternoon Tea at St Martins Lane Hotel was complimentary but my opinions are, as always, my own.