A beautiful room and some seriously stunning cakes, this afternoon tea certainly made our day

They say English Afternoon tea originated in the 1840s, a light meal to tide over genteel ladies of quality until dinner at 8pm.

Lunch it seems was not an English thing back then, a posh person had a biggish breakfast and then toughed it out until the evening. No nipping down to the mansion, or the castle kitchen, for a sneaky snack.

So to combat afternoon energy drops, ladies began taking tea and delicate sandwiches at around four o’clock in the afternoon. Soon no society hostess could afford not to invite or be invited to tea, it was ‘the thing’.

Today it’s something many tourists actively seek out, a quintessentially British experience in London’s best hotels. With so many on offer though, many a disgraceful rip off, it pays to be selective.

The Kensington, part of the Doyle Collection,  is one the very best. Just a short walk from South Kensington station and the Natural History Museum, Royal Albert Hall and V&A,  it appears to have been created by joining four elegant 19th Century stucco fronted houses together. Entering through the grand front door, held open by bowler hatted porters, you turn left into a gorgeous double aspect lounge.

On any day it’s a well lit room, warmed by a real fire, but on this sunny early Spring day it shines and dazzles. The furniture is a mix of modern and antique and just what you’d expect to find in the townhouse of a tasteful member of the aristocracy. Understated elegance.

We take a table in one of the bay windows, noting the excellent china cups and saucers as well as the crisply folded napkins. Every detail matters when taking tea.

The menu offers a variety of The Rare Tea Company teas and infusions, from the classic ‘breakfast tea’ to exotic single suppliers. They are all the same price and are served ‘bottomless’, although you’d not utter such a common phrase here. A pre tea glass of champagne is appreciated, if not exactly traditional.

Up to a point the food is classic, which is a good thing. I’ve tried afternoon teas in places where they’ve gone crazy with the sandwiches, creating monsters that can’t be eaten without mess. The whole point of AT sandwiches is that they must be dainty, easy to hold and to nibble at.

Our tea arrives in silver pots too heavy to lift, which is okay as the charming staff are there to pour tea for us. Milk first or last? Last of course, because that way you have a chance to adjust the tea’s strength

I have delicious Rooibos while P has Cloud Tea, a fragrant black tea from the “Abode of Clouds” in the cloudy hills between Assam and Darjeeling. 

From the elegant tiered stand come sandwiches which are pukka and properly finger shaped  – there is St. Ewe Egg with watercress, Chapel & Swan smoked salmon with lemon cream cheese,  Cucumber with mint cream and Pastrami with gherkin and horseradish. All beautifully delicate and the teas make them taste even better.

We have plain and fruit scones, cosily wrapped in a soft napkin. They are still warm. Thick clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam are slathered on.

And now, as we wipe some off that jam off our shirts, we come to the art in the Art of Afternoon Tea.The sweet cakes have been inspired by artists and are quite incredible, so much detailed work has gone into them that it seems a shame to eat them so we look for a while instead.

These are inspired by Jackson Pollock, Yayoi Kusama and Alicja Kwade. The Pollock  uses his ‘drip technique’ for a dark chocolate mousse tart with passion fruit parfait, Japanese artist Kusama’s cake is  polka-dot pumpkin of mango mousse shrouding  coconut yoghurt cream, and visual artist Kwade’s spheres are made from white chocolate vanilla mousse with pineapple compote centre.

Our photos do them some justice, but they are even more remarkable in the sweet, sugary flesh. A bit messy to eat, but I think that’s allowable.

We have our teapots refreshed and sink back into the deep cushions. The ceremony has done its job, we are no longer hungry but also feel that by dinner time we will be ready for more.

Everything done right traditionally and with a modern ‘arty’ twist. This Afternoon Tea is one you will savour.

Prepared and served fresh daily, The Art of Afternoon Tea is available everyday from 12pm-4.30pm for £58 per person or £70 per person including a glass of champagne. 

The Kensington 

109-113 Queen’s Gate

South Kensington, London, SW7 5LP