Afternoon Tea is an institution, trust the Australians to turn it upside down with coffee. Jo Lamiri goes to get her caffeine fix.
In recent years, London has seen its fair share of - shall we say - quirky afternoon teas, from Pret-a-Portea at the Berkeley (cakes fashioned in the shape of shoes and dresses for London Fashion Week), Diptyque tea at the Cafe Royal, which infused notes of perfumes into the tea – think lemon verbena, tonic vanilla and violet – or the brunch afternoon tea at Le Meridien: full English breakfast served in a mini Yorkshire pudding, with Earl Grey cocktails.
But one fundamental has now changed with the brand new idea of High Coffee, apparently popular in Australia, which has launched for the first time in London at the calmly swanky InterContinental Park Lane.
Instead of the usual Earl Grey and Assam, coffee from premium brand L’Unico Coffe Musetti is paired throughout the tea with complementary sweet and savoury morsels from a cake stand. (I must confess that coffee can reduce me to a jittery wreck but Musetti includes none of the nausea-inducing Robusta: all their coffee comes from the finest Arabica beans.)
For the High Coffee, guests enjoy a range from single-origin, smooth coffee to blends with hints of candied lemon, all from the best plantations, as well as a Gold Cuvee blend, new to the UK.
The caffeine-infused feast begins with a salted caramel espresso Martini served with open sandwiches: free-range chicken, celeriac and sweet pepper remoulade on buttermilk bread was a standout, although smoked eel, pickled red onion, caper aioli on a beetroot brioche roll also hit the spot.
Warm savouries served with a Caffe Freddo weren’t altogether a success for me, especially as there was plenty more food to come, but even so the ingredients did complement the coffee well: lamb and rosemary open pie, wild mushroom tumbleweed and sun blushed tomato spiral, warm piccalilli. (I’d suggest seeing this High Coffee as a meal, rather than a precursor to dinner…)
A wonderfully cleansing blood orange and ginger sorbet paved the way for traditional scones with clotted cream and jam, before the ultimate finale: desserts of hazelnut opera, Bailey’s chocolate eclair, Black Forest gateau, macaron with salt caramel and lemongrass and lime creme brulee.
As someone who is a bit meh when it comes to chocolate, a raspberry macaron would have been a welcome counterpoint, but the hotel kindly provides doggy bags for a little pillow snack later at home. Chocolate fans, however, will be in heaven, as will those who enjoy choosing different coffees with their teatime feasting.
High Coffee is available at InterContinental London Park Lane, £42 per person.