69 – 71 Dean Street, London W1D 3SE www.deanstreettownhouse.com
At Dean Street Townhouse, you will find the afternoon crowd lunching alfresco, slowly displaced by more mature guests inside the restaurant as evening approaches; all well heeled of course. It’s an easy walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station, but just out of the way enough to create a sanctuary from the hustle of Soho. Inside, the décor is traditional but subtly stylish, transporting guests back to a bygone era. It may also be the only place where the French waiters are polite.
Aside from the impressive menu in the all day restaurant, the Townhouse also upholds the quintessentially British tradition of Afternoon Tea. Served between 3pm and 5.30pm everyday, the menu consists of a selection of scones, cakes, pastries and finger sandwiches, of which I selected the Townhouse Tea.
As with traditional Afternoon Tea, the bottom tier of edibles was finger sandwiches, perfectly cut and without crusts. Given the popularity of triangular sandwiches, it’s rather surprising to find rectangular ones on the plate. At first, they seemed a little odd; the ham sandwiches were especially out of place next to the smoked salmon and egg and cress. In hindsight, the savoury selection probably helped to balance the sugar rush from the top plate.
As pleasing to the eyes as they are sweet on the tooth, the prime location of the top tier is occupied by a selection of mini cakes and pastries. Classics like the strawberry tart take the pride of place but there was also a fine array of cakes and pastries to accompany, like the Battenberg or the chocolate éclair.
I, for one, found the custard tart to be achingly good and full of surprises. Tapping open the caramelised crust, as you might on a crème brûlée, will reveal a deliciously smooth custard and at the centre of it, a raspberry filling skilfully hidden away until the last moment. It’s disappointing how quickly the custard tart disappears but then there’s the mini black forest gateaux to temporarily satiate your sweet tooth.
What really took my fancy was the residents on the middle tier. Perfectly placed at eye level were four fruit scones, toasted, warm and crumbly, served with clotted cream and a selection of jams. It would have been enough to drive anyone into gluttony.
A word of warning to those calorie counting, this menu is designed with every indulgence in mind. The rich, creamy luxury is certainly not for the faint hearted but if you are lactose intolerant, arrangements can certainly be made to accommodate your needs. As an alternative, Dean Street Townhouse also offers a High Tea menu which serves a selection of savouries, including a disturbingly good chicken liver on toast.
Incidentally, those who take pleasure in taking Afternoon Tea will agree that it is as much about the edibles as it’s about the tea and conversation. Loose tea leaves are allowed to infuse in generous tea pots and then served with a strainer and matching china cups. When you serve tea in pots, you are always in danger of the tea becoming too strong by the second cup. In this case, even the fourth cup was as refreshing as the first and you can certainly taste the quality of the leaves.
My guest found the number of staff walking around rather disconcerting, although one supposes this contributes towards the efficiency. Despite this, the laid back anonymity in the atmosphere certainly helped liberal conversation. Of course if you do suddenly discover that you’ve spent far longer at tea than you had intended, you could always stay for dinner.