Is there anything more lovely than High Tea? From frocks to flowers, champagne to cakes, High Tea is every girly guilty pleasure dressed up as an elegant Sunday afternoon out. And because my wonderful pharmily (best uni friends ever + pharmacy degree = pharmily) knows me so very well, they pitched in to get me a couple of vouchers to a decadent high tea with a dessert buffet at the stately Hotel Windsor for my birthday.
|The Grand Ballroom|
The grand ball room, which we were ushered into at 1pm sharp, was a wonderfully preserved piece of the 19th century. It’s an era every girl pines for, and the stained glass windows, chandeliers, and the tinkering of the old grand piano in the entrance hall (played by a gentleman in a waistcoat no less) captured the refined opulence perfectly.
|Hugh Capet Brut|
|Hugh Capet Moscato|
Immediately upon being seated, we were poured a flute of sparkling each. And how could I say no to a bubblegum-pink Hugh Capet Moscato that was fruity and ever so sweet? Chris’ Hugh Capet Brut was a bit dry and a lot less sweet, hence we both found it less enjoyable than the moscato... which probably makes it the better wine, as neither of us have much taste for ‘proper’ alcohol.
It’s not high tea without tea, and being used to all the common blends, I wanted to try something a little more exotic. Upon the waitress’ recommendation, I ordered the Peaceful Lotus, a bouquet of delicate white tea leaves that opened up like a flower to reveal warm, toasty notes of orange chrysanthemum. At least I assumed it opened up like a flower, because instead of being served in a delicate glass pot, the tea was served in a horrid metal pot. So not only could I not see the tea leaves slowly unfurling, I could barely even pour some for myself, on account of the handle feeling more like a branding iron. Fortunately, the quality of the tea was more than enough to make up for the lack of tea leaf choreography. Chris’ Malabar Chai was equally as delicious, a complex mix of spices best served with a splash of milk and lots of sugar.
Pretty soon silver three-tiered stands came parading out of the kitchen, each housing a selection of Ribbon Sandwiches, Savoury Pastries, and Hotel Windsor’s signature Vanilla and Raisin Scones.
|Vanilla and Raisin Scones|
Our waitress suggested to us that we should start with the scones first, as they are fresh out of the oven and at their very best. These were fluffy and light with just a hint of vanilla, and studded with plump raisins. Break them in half and slather the warm insides with jam and double cream, and you may just have some of the best scones outside of the UK.
|Sandwiches and Quiches|
Having regretfully polished off the scones, we moved onto the savouries. On the bottom tier were five pairs of ribbon sandwiches, with standouts being a creamy egg salad, and a delicate cucumber sandwich with a generous smear of butter. The usual suspects – salmon, ham and mustard, and chicken – were also there, but they were fairly average compared to the other two. There were also three kinds of warm pastries; a buttery mini quiche with a tangle of sweet red onion slivers, a pumpkin and goat’s cheese puff filled with a rich pumpkin puree, and a flaky chicken and basil pie that was slightly herbal, but regrettably didn’t have much in it at all. They were all nice enough, but I was getting full by this point, so the buttery pastries were getting a little unnecessary.
But of course, I had room for the Dessert Buffet, an exclusive feature of the weekend sessions. For once I wasn’t the only one scuttling around taking photos; even the greediest of diners manage to pause long enough to whip out their phone for a quick snap before diving in head-first.
Or so I thought. To my utmost horror, I realised that the seemingly small quantity of airy scones, delicate sandwiches and mini pastries, as well as the two cups of tea and one glass of wine, have filled me up to the point that I only managed to try ten of the desserts on display! I ate until I was on the verge of feeling ill, but still only ten kinds!
Luckily, the desserts were so fabulous they were worth feeling sick for. I didn’t get any photos of the ones I had, because by the time I hacked a piece off and slid it onto my plate, they resembled little more than lumps of cream and pastry. But here were the ones we sampled:
Creme Brulee – I can never go past a good crème brulee, and this single serve of custard was torched until the top was brittle with just the perfect hint of bitterness. The custard itself is a bit heavy and slightly grainy towards the bottom, but I can get custard any day; cracking the sugary lid of the brulee is what I’m really after.
Hazelnut Dacquoise – this was a beautifully light dessert, layered with a chewy hazelnut meringue and dollops of airy whipped cream.
Chocolate Torte – don’t let the size of the slivers deceive you, this one is a chocolate bomb. A crumbly shortbread pastry (chocolate, of course) is topped with a glossy ganache that was so thick we could barely sink our spoons through. Thankfully the sinful richness of the dark chocolate was cut through by notes of orange.
Lemon Meringue Pie – desperate for something a bit lighter, the lemon meringue pie hit the spot. The lemon filling was tart, and the meringue was fluffy without being too sweet. The pastry is a little bit on the too buttery side, but considering how much I had eaten by then, I’m not exactly the fairest judge.
Mystery Thing – I got this little pastry from a smorgasbord of sweets, so I have no idea what it was. It tasted like caramel?
Mango Thing – sorry for substituting the actual cake names with ‘thing’ so much, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of this one. It was really good though; I love anything mango, and this was essentially a sponge cake layered with mango mousse, topped with a quivery layer of mango jelly, so I was more than satisfied.
Creme Caramel – this was unfortunately cold and tough and not up to scratch.
Amboise – I was intrigued by the mysterious name of this cake, and it turned out to consist of a meringue layer at the bottom, topped with chocolate mousse, and balanced with tangy raspberry compote. I remember liking the contrast between the chewy meringue and the smooth mousse, but by this point everything had started to blend into a haze of sugar and cream.
Elegance – this cake attracted me with its smooth, flawless chocolate dome, under which hid more chocolate mousse, and a center of chocolate mud cake. Surprisingly, this was actually the lightest dessert we had, despite being nothing but chocolate. I just wish I could have eaten more of it.
And of course, Chocolate Dipped Strawberries. The chocolate unfortunately wasn’t as rich as the fountain at China Bar, and the cut up strawberries were syrupy and sticky, as opposed to juicy and fresh. I stopped after two, though if I had a shred of reason left I would have stopped somewhere around the lemon meringue pie. But the last of my common sense has long since been smothered by the heady combination of moscato and sugar, leaving me as a giggly and slightly sleepy mess, much to Chris’ amusement.
I never thought I’d say this but, the dessert buffet is just too much. Unless if you have a stomach of stretchy iron, or friends wonderful enough to treat you to a sugar coma, I’d suggest scrapping the buffet and just sticking to the classic high tea. That said though, as expensive as it is, I would recommend having high tea at the Hotel Windsor at least once; there is no better place to recapture the elegance and glamour of an era that has long since disappeared.
Rating: 13.5/20 – like a sir.