Annabelle Hood tries out The Langham London’s newly relaunched lighter Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood, and is pleased to see the classics are still on the menu.
Flute of Laurent Perrier in hand, I tried almost every delicacy at the preview of the Langham London’s Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood relaunching this week. I didn’t feel too gluttonous, knowing that this famous hotel Afternoon Tea is slightly lighter and leaner. So that’s alright then.
To put this update in to context, old-school Langham Afternoon Tea aficionados may remember the show-stopping patisserie style of Cheryl Finden, The Langham’s former Head Pastry Chef of ‘Bake Off: Crème de le Crème’ fame (she left The Langham in the new year). Diminutive in stature yet hugely outspoken, her insistence on perfectly-executed, aesthetically complex, rich sugar-work patisseries were her hallmark. But times they are a changing, and so is the public’s awareness of sugar’s perils.
Cue newly-appointed Executive Pastry Chef at The Langham London, Andrew Gravett, former chocolatier at Valrhona – as you’d expect, premium chocolate plays a lead role in the revised menu. Gravett explained to me that he has reformulated their Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood to “return to the classics, but in a simpler, lighter, less sugar-laden way”.
Naturally I took this as permission to pop quite a few treats on to my Wedgwood plate; not wishing to offend our new pastry chef, you understand (oh the agonies of research). Gravett plans to introduce one new pastry at a time to the Afternoon Tea repertoire “in line with the seasons,” meaning fresh seasonal produce of course – not an angle you hear too often in the context of Afternoon Tea, but why not (a couple of the patisseries are even piped with cream only moments before being served, so as not to compromise the pastry).
I was pleased to note that the handful of finger sandwiches devised by The Langham London’s Executive Chef Chris King offers a balance of old favourites in un-fiddled-with form, while others come with a twist.
Biting in to a crustless English Cucumber sandwich (featherlight white bread and wafer-thin cucumber, just as it should be), for example, revealed the lightest seasoning, chives and cream cheese; textures melting sashimi-like on the tongue.
The egg and marinated artichoke in light rosemary bread was notable for its quality Burford Brown eggs, which in my book cannot be beaten for taste (Clarence Court eggs notwithstanding).
Beef Pastrami with a yellow sauce ‘Albert’ (extra points for use of English mustard) and watercress in a caramelised onion bread offered respite from its creamier companions (although if I were to be super-picky, removing all grissle would help refine it). A flavoursome favourite.
Scottish smoked salmon with Sarawak pepper and preserved lemon cream was good. But my tastebuds were vying for the most sumptuous-looking sandwich on the plate: A prawn cocktail offering, which when grasped, oozed from its pillowy potato bun. It was too ample to eat in one go, so I attempted three mini-bites to comically undignified effect… (my silk shirt mercifully saved by my Wedgwood sideplate and quickly-proffered napkins).
I was intrigued by the menu’s curiouser-and-curiouser names, such as “Spherically Challenged” and “The Decidedly Madeleine”; a classically-shaped Madeleine, coated in fruity Itakuja Valrhona chocolate with an ephemeral gold shimmer. Biting in to it yielded a surprise of dense tangy passion fruit jelly and light sponge within.
The Paris Brest, made with Crunchy Choux pastry, “lightened” pecan cream and a scattered caramelised pecans resembles a mini bagel; the pecan was subtle and distinctive – I was relieved they hadn’t used walnuts as I’m allergic to them.
Next, Gravett’s sous-chef José piped a row of vanilla-infused mascarpone baubles along a rectangle of mille-feuille pastry; topping off this ‘One in a Million’ with a thin plank of glossy white chocolate. “We don’t fill the pastry literally until the minute before we serve them to our Afternoon Tea guests, in order to retain the pastry’s trademark flakiness,” he beamed.
Sadly I didn’t have space for the enticing shot-glass ‘Babalicious’ filled with blackcurrant and star anise soaked baba, Jivara whipped ganache and biscuity pearls, let alone for any scones... I was saving myself for the quirky-sounding ‘Spherically Challenged’ (a health warning perhaps for anyone over-indulging in them as I was about to), which beckoned with an increasingly loud Alice-style “Eat Me!”
Inside this generous chocolate ball garnished with a pink chocolate flake, was an explosion of light coconut cream, intense fresh raspberry purée and Manjari mousse. Alice would never have left the tea party had she been served this madly moreish ball.
I washed these gourmandises down with a Wedgwood cup brimming with refreshing Green Tea (typical of The Langham to offer proper Japanese Sencha with its distinctive grassy taste).
If you have more willpower than I showed, I’m sure The Langham’s latest Afternoon Tea could, in theory, be a lighter experience. But unless you’re the Mad Hatter, I doubt you’ll be any the more able to hold back than I was.
The Langham Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood is served in Palm Court from 12.15pm to 5.30pm, £49 per person, £59 with a glass of N.V Laurent-Perrier Brut champagne, £64 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Rose champagne. Photos by Paul Judd Photography