An Afternoon Tea at The Millennium Hotel

Considering how many cups of tea I drink each day and the fact that I’ve now lived about six years of my life in this city that’s pretty synonymous with the stuff, it’s strange to think I’ve only just experienced my first traditional afternoon tea.

Invited to learn about the etiquette of this ceremony and indulge in a bit of bubbly as well as a snoop into the hotel rooms, Jorge and I arrived at the Millennium Knightsbridge Hotel on the style strip that is Sloane Street. We were met with glasses of champagne and an overwhelmingly female group of mainly fashion bloggers.

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We were taken upstairs for a tour of an “average” hotel room followed by a £1,000 per night + VAT (excluding breakfast) suite on the 14th floor. It was much too brown for me (I prefer quirky, colourful, boutique type of hotels), but the view was beautiful, looking down over the rooftops of Chelsea while the sun was beginning to fade.

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And the details on the lamps were pretty:

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Then, it was time: My first afternoon tea. It took place in the hotel’s Tangerine Cafe Bar, which had tables on one side of the room, a bar in the middle and a group of guys watching football on the other (one of whom, coincidently, turned out to be an old student of mine who I bumped into later on).

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I somehow managed to be seated as the only female with three out of the total of four male bloggers who attended, but one was Jorge and the other two were interesting to talk to – brothers from Nepal.

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Christine Pearce from Minding Manners had been invited in to give us a run down of the history and etiquette of the traditional afternoon tea.

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Who knew there were so many rules? Here’s some pointers from Christine on how to have an afternoon tea properly:

THE BEGINNING

  • Invitations, if you host your own, should be sent by post and require your guest to RSVP.
  • Napkins are placed on your lap, of course, but only opened halfway.
  • There should never be phones or keys placed on the table. Everything on the table should be about the food and the tea.

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THE TEA

  • The china used for an afternoon tea should be your finest and most beautiful. It’s perfectly acceptable if it’s mis-matched. It could be a variety of pieces collected from your travels, picked up at vintage shops or inherited from your family.
  • When you’re drinking tea, tea goes before milk, of course. Know why? It’s because historically, the cheaper china couldn’t handle the heat without it, so pouring in the water first was a discreet way for the richer folks to show off their wealth.
  • If you have sugar cubes, never plunk them in the middle. Instead, let them slide down against the side. 
  • Don’t stir in a circle, rather slowly move the spoon from side to side.
  • When you drink your tea, leave the spoon on the saucer, pick up and hold the saucer around the level of your chest while you sip the tea soundlessly. In some cultures it’s considered a sign of appreciation to make a sipping noise, but not here!

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THE FOOD

  • Scones are on top, cakes in the middle and sandwiches on the bottom, but you always start with the sandwiches, then the scones and then the cakes, in that order. You can’t move to the scones until the sandwiches are finished. Then you can’t move to the cakes until the scones are finished. And you better have your fill because there’s no going back even if some have been left behind!

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  • Sandwiches are dainty and delicate with fillings like chicken salad, salmon, cucumber, egg salad, tomatoes and mozzarella, etc.
  • Crusts must be cut off.

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  • Scones must never be cut with a knife. They are like bread and should be broken with your hands into bite sized pieces.
  • The clotted cream is considered the most indulgent part of the tea. The cream goes on the scone first in Devon-style afternoon tea, though in Cornwall-style afternoon tea, it goes second.

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  • Always put the cream and jam on your plate first before putting it onto the scone.
  • If scones are larger, they may be eaten with a knife and fork.

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  • Cakes are eaten with your fingers.
  • However, if there is something a bit more complicated, like the chocolate cups filled with mouse in the photos above and below, it’s acceptable to first use a spoon.

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OTHER

  • Plates are not changed between courses, because it was traditionally a “relaxed” occasion among friends.
  • Everything should be eaten as elegantly as possible.
  • The best tea you can buy will say “SFTGFOP” on the package. If it has all of these letters, it’s the best tea you can buy.
  • When you finish, you should leave your napkin on top of the table, to the left side of your plate, folded maybe once, but not too neatly.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 21.37.35Jorge enjoying his tea the correct way

There are probably more rules but that was difficult enough to try to remember as it was!

If it’s all a bit too girly for your liking, there’s rumours of a  Gentleman’s Tea at Sanctum Soho with caviar, mini burgers, a tankard of Gentleman’s Jack and a cigar.

I really can’t compare this to other afternoon teas in London as this was my first but if we had paid for it, minus the champagne was about £20 so it was good value for money. Finding some of the best afternoon teas in this city is a mission I’d be willing to take on! The staff at the Millennium were delightfully accommodating and curious about what us bloggers do and they made it a really fun evening.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 21.39.51Me with my tea!

On a side note, London Living has also posted their choice of the top five unusual afternoon teas in London which includes a Mad Hatter tea at The Sanderson and a Chinese take on the tradition.

I’m curious to know: Where in London did you have the best afternoon tea? Leave a comment and tell me all your afternoon tea secrets!

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Listen to a Londoner: Daisy Coole

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Daisy Coole, 26

Daisy Coole is a jazz and session musician who has temporarily swapped touring Europe for organising the biggest and best cupcake extravaganza this country has ever seen. Cupcake Camp London will feature thousands of cupcakes and raise money for the North London Hospice, who looked after Daisy’s father until he died in March 2010.

LLO: As a born and bred Londoner, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the city throughout your life? Anything in particular you miss?
DC: I miss being able to walk down a street without being knocked over by a 4×4, controversial as I’m sure that is! Drivers try to fit these ridiculously wide cars down the narrow backstreets of London. Use public transport or buy a smaller car! Or walk! I often have to travel with at least two saxophones, a music stand and some hefty sheet music, as well as my boyfriend’s bass and amp but I don’t need a mini truck to transport me across London: my little Ford Fiesta does the job. We are blessed with a brilliant transport system in this city. Except when you want to get from Kilburn to Hampstead. Then it’s a pain. Why isn’t there a connecting line between the Jubilee line and the Northern line before Kings Cross?

LLO: You’re a jazz musician. What’s your favourite London venue to play and what’s special about it?
DC: When I toured Europe last year, some of the best gigs were to hundreds of people in small Swiss cities, so it’s somewhat ironic that my favourite venue to play in the huge city of London is the Green Note in Camden. It’s a tiny vegetarian restaurant and live music venue which has the most incredible atmosphere. The audience are literally at your feet and you often have to swing round to avoid the waitresses as they pass between the rooms but you feel them take every step with you as you perform. Plus the food is amazing – always a bonus at a gig.

LLO: What the best thing about living in your postcode?
DC: I grew up in Hampstead and although it took me 12 years (aged 12-24) I moved back into the area as soon as I could, albeit to Gospel Oak! From my house I can walk to the posh cobbled streets of Hampstead Village, the eclectic and somewhat grubby Camden Town or the bustling (polite word for overcrowded and crazy) central London! Most importantly I’m back near Hampstead Heath, park of my childhood and the scene of many fond memories. It’s also my memorial place for my father who died last March. We scattered his ashes on top of Parliament Hill and you can see the whole of central London, particularly Fleet Street, where he spent so many years as a journalist. There is something overwhelming and yet calming about sitting on a bench on the hill and imagining the thousands of trials and tribulations taking place down in those streets. I find it peaceful.

LLO: One of your ideal escapes is an armchair in a cosy café. Share your top three comfy cafes?
DC: I hate to sound cliche but number one has to be the Starbucks in South End Green, NW3, because it’s right next to my gym – caffeine and comfort when I need it most! There used to be an amazing cafe in Camden called the Bean & Cup, which had huge sofas to sink into and loads of newspapers in the back room. They also did a divine Strawberry Latte, which I’ve never found anywhere else. My third recommendation is Proud Galleries in Camden: a gallery and live music venue with gorgeously decorated stables, in which you can hang out and have a coffee while browsing the internet, playing Wii or watching TV. The best room is pink with a big white wicker throne and loads of hanging plants. It’s also the venue for Cupcake Camp London.

LLO: As the organiser of Cupcake Camp London, give us a rundown of what to expect and why we should sign up to attend immediately.
DC: Cupcake Camp London is the first of it’s kind in this country, having started in San Francisco two years ago and travelled via New York, Paris and Sydney (among others). It is an incredible day where London’s amateur and professional bakers can bring down their best cupcakes to share with the public and raise money for the North London Hospice. There will be live bands, Frosting Shot Girls, a tombola and a silent auction where you can win seven nights at a gorgeous hotel in India! Bakers can even enter the cupcake competitions, judged by the founders of Primrose Bakery, legendary food writer, Mary Berry, supreme political strategist, Alastair Campbell and the winner of BBC’s Great British Bake Off, Edd Kimber. We have almost 2,000 cupcakes pledged so far and need lots more so sign up on the website www.cupcakecamplondon.co.uk and join us!

LLO:Favourite London bakery and best thing they serve?
DC: I’m a big fan of Primrose Bakery and bought their book while my father was in the North London Hospice. Cue much excitement when they agreed to be judges at Cupcake Camp London! Their bakery in Primrose Hill is almost painfully gorgeous with its yellow shopfront and pastel-coloured interior. I celebrated my birthday there last year with my oldest friends from school and we shared about eight different cupcakes between us. I think my favourite has to be the Lime and Coconut cupcake although it’s almost an impossible decision.

LLO: I hear you’re up for a cupcake tour of London… Tell us the starting point, the ending point, and not-to-miss stop off in the middle.
DC: Bake-a-boo in West Hampstead is the perfect starting point, particularly for anybody with allergies. It is also delightfully pink and girly and they do wonderful ‘Afternoon Teas’ on cake stands for Hen parties and the like. Crumbs & Doilies have a stall in Covent Garden, among other places, and were one of the first companies to support Cupcake Camp London by donating a prize. They do a great ‘name this cupcake’ competition on their website every month and whoever does their piping is a genius – Johnny Depp in icing is quite a sight! Lastly I would travel down to Greenwich Market and visit our Cupcake Camp Vegan judge, Ms Cupcake. Discard any preconceptions you have of vegan cake: these are delectable and rich and not at all healthy… love it!

LLO: After all those cupcakes, what’s a fun way you’ve found to work it off and stay fit?
DC: Most of the cupcakes I bake go straight into the bellies of my boyfriend and his friends, thank God! If they’re not around, I try to get the cupcakes out of the house as quickly as possible to avoid becoming as big as a house. I’m captain of a social league netball team in Islington and we’ve just won our league for the third season in a row, with a random assortment of teachers, hotel executives, insurance brokers and corporate PA’s. Come to think of it, they always complain that I never bring them cupcakes so I should probably get baking before they start a mutiny.

LLO: I’m in London for one night only and want to get off the tourist trail. Where would you recommend I go to eat and drink?
DC: La Porchetta in Chalk Farm produce delicious pizza and pasta in a lovely setting. I was taken there for Valentine’s Day a while ago and keep meaning to go back! Alternatively, the Pizza Express in Kentish Town is in the most incredible Art Deco building, with a floor to ceiling mirror design and wide, sweeping features. I think they have planning permission to tear it down, which would be a disaster as it’s the most beautiful building in the area. The best place for drinks is FiftyFive Bar, down the road in Camden. They serve 180 different cocktails and have a 2-4-1 offer from 6-8pm on Monday-Saturday. Definitely get there before 7pm, though, because it get seriously busy at the bar! If only it didn’t clash with my netball league, I’d also be there every Monday for ‘Mojito Madness’: 2-4-1 on all 12 Mojitos. Genius.

LLO: Best London discovery?
DC: My boyfriend keeps nagging me to get a bike so we can cycle the Regent’s Canal from Camden Lock to Limehouse and the Thames. The path is a bit narrow at Regent’s Park but it’s almost a direct route to the Primrose Bakery – result!

Thanks Daisy!

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