Enjoy civilised afternoon tea in an exquisite central London location
London doesn’t lack for afternoon tea options, so providers of this civilised institution are immediately put in the rather less civilised position of having to be (whisper it) competitive. Some efforts to stand out are quirky enough to be successful, others, like tea that’s been steeped too long, leave something of an unpleasant taste in the mouth.
The Landmark London doesn’t appear to be trying to differentiate its offering from what you might find on a conventional tea menu - but it doesn’t need to, because its setting is exquisite. Located close to Marylebone station and opened in 1899 as a Victorian railway hotel, it was originally named the Grand Central Hotel and is now a Grade II listed building.
The foyer is deceptively dim, the low light punctuated by a huge floral display. It makes entering the Winter Garden, large and light-flooded, all the more dramatic; your daylight-accustomed pupils dilate and then contract while your eyes widen with glee at the sight of the central table, heaving with delicious looking treats. Soaring above, the central atrium’s 8-storey high glass ceiling not only fills the area with light, but also absorbs much of the sound, so conversations at the surrounding tables are seen rather than heard.
In fact, being seen is a large part of the afternoon tea experience at The Landmark London, at least if the clientele on the day of our visit is anything to go by: the young ladies at the tables nearby are engaging in an orgy of selfie taking with an enthusiasm that I usually reserve for cake - of which, fortunately, there is plenty.
There are no end of beautiful backdrops for photos in this stunning setting, however - from grand, curving staircases and spikily proud palms, to the graceful harp, from which the resident harpist teases a waterfall of enchanting melodies. There’s the table itself, which is elegantly set with gold-patterned china. In any case, even though the tradition of afternoon tea began life as a way for a cake-craving Duchess to push through the post-lunch slump on the long road to dinner, it soon became an occasion for which invitations were jealously sought, hair was curled and frocks were chosen, and over which gossip and confidences were exchanged. It became, in short, an opportunity to show off a bit. If yesteryear’s inner circle had been gifted with social media, they unquestionably would have posed, pouted and posted as voraciously as their modern day counterparts.
As noted above, The Landmark London isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel - nor indeed, the roulade - with their afternoon tea: the flavours are reassuringly familiar, but beautifully executed, with sandwiches of cucumber, Coronation chicken, smoked salmon and egg and cress served on wonderfully toothsome bread. If you so desire, waiters will deftly tong additional morsels on to your plate: beware not to overdo it, because the scones and cakes are worth leaving room for. A glass of pink champagne is the perfect accompaniment before moving onto tea: I chose the Landmark Blend, which melds Assam and Ceylon with a hint of vanilla, while my friend opted for a pot of Lapsang Souchong.
The menu offers a choice between a classic and a chocolate afternoon tea: for the scones, this means either raisin and apple or chocolate chip and fruit peel - both delicious. The jam menu is a quaint touch, with each table allowed a selection of two from Bergeron Apricot, Blackcurrant, Cherry, Strawberry and Gooseberry and Elderflower; the last of these had us in raptures.
The cakes are gloriously pretty; on the chocolate menu, there’s a coconut and chocolate macaroon and a blood orange and white chocolate mousse, as well as a milk chocolate dacquoise sponge and banana, pecan and chocolate cake. Traditional tea takers needn’t fear missing out on the chocolatey treats - they get a dark chocolate and caramel dome, as well as classic fruit cake, a pistachio and cherry macaroon and lemon, elderflower and gooseberry meringue tart. Once again, that combination of elderflower and gooseberry is to die for; as delightful as everything else it, I would happily have had just that one. Well, four of that one.
It’s not just the palm trees that put one in the mind of an oasis - The Landmark London is so beautifully calm and elegant that it seems to whisk you away from the fast-paced London that lies, unbelievably, just beyond its doors, and swaddle you in an air of indulgence. The service, while possibly a little too attentive in so far as the waiters seem constantly to be apologising for interrupting us, makes up for our disjointed gossip by responding to our every whim and request smoothly and smilingly. As a special treat, an occasion, or just as an excuse to wear that new dress, The Landmark London definitely offers one of the loveliest ways to take afternoon tea in the city.
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