Quirky and tasty afternoon tea in a chic oasis.
I first tried the Sanderson’s Mad Hatter afternoon tea shortly after it was introduced 5 years ago. It was style over substance and didn’t work very well at all. Things have changed a bit since then and when I was looking for a fun but luxury tea to share with a rarely-seen friend it fitted the bill perfectly.
Tea is served in the hotel’s courtyard garden; a calm and beautiful open-air retreat away from the grimy hideousness of this postcode, and the atmosphere is relaxed but chic with white décor and fountains. We were enthusiastically greeted by staff who may not have spoken great English but were friendly and accommodating. Once settled at our table we were offered menus hidden inside vintage books and napkins wrapped with riddles: fun details which added to the atmosphere. The bespoke crockery by Luna & Curious was theatrical and playful and I loved the teapots adorned with kings and queens and plates featuring zebras, birdcages and carousels.
We were offered a delightful selection of fresh teas including mint chocolate; rhubarb and custard; and strawberries and cream. They all smelled amazing and tasted great too. The dinky sandwiches were pretty pedestrian combos of ham and mustard on sundried tomato bread and cucumber and cream cheese on spinach bread. They were fine, but not as exciting as the wonderfully short and full-flavoured mini quiches. Yum. The savoury scones with herb butter were also a big hit and we were pleased to see that staff brought extra supplies on request.
The savouries may have been good but the sweet morsels were fantastic. The imaginative carrot meringues arrived nestled in a bed of pea shoots and were accompanied by sweet little strawberry marshmallow mushrooms. Cute and tasty too, just as a fun afternoon tea should be.
This culinary whimsy continued with the “Tick Tock” Victoria sponge clock, although this was quite dry and not very flavoursome which was both surprising and disappointing as it was the simplest item on the menu. It was not as bad, however, as the attractive but somewhat fishy-flavoured green tea and white chocolate mousse in chocolate teacup.
The sublime mango cheesecake coated in rainbow patterned white chocolate made amends for these shortcomings though, as did the passion fruit scented “Drink me” potion which was one of the tastiest things I have eaten for a long time.
The meal ended with an overstuffed waddle over to “Jelly Wonderland”, where various fruit jellies were presented on a Phillipe Starck cake trolley. It turned out we were indeed too full to fully appreciate the jellies but they were good to look at.
Overall the Mad Hatter’s tea was great but I couldn’t help feeling that the emphasis was more on looks than taste, and it probably won’t be enjoyed by those without a kitsch sense of fun. Nevertheless, for me it provided a little light relief in the often staid traditional world of hotel afternoon teas, and I went home smiling.
Cuisine: Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea
Address: 50 Berners Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 3NG
Telephone: 020 7300 5588
Price: £80 for afternoon tea for 2 people without booze
Nearest station: Oxford Circus
Modern cuisine against a backdrop of restrained elegance in a premier location.
Tartufo is the newly opened restaurant at 11 Cadogan Gardens, a discreet boutique hotel in the heart of Chelsea. Situated within four interconnected grand Victorian houses, Tartufo comprises two dining rooms of around 12-15 covers each as well as several private rooms and an outside dining space. The décor is as you would expect from a quietly opulent 5* hotel in SW3: a neutral colour palette with accents of blue glass tableware and bold red touches.
Vintage prints by Jean Cocteau and illustrator Jean-Michel Fólon line the walls and combine with jazzy background music to create an overall effect of understated glamour. The front of house staff have impressive pedigrees: Le Gavroche; Galvin at Windows; Roussillon and L’Étranger all feature on their CVs. As we were gently escorted to our table I nearly went flying across the highly polished wooden floors in my Louboutins and I knew I was in for a good night.
The kitchen is headed up by Manuel Oliveri who has previously worked with Alexis Gauthier at Gauthier Soho, and Gauthier’s vegephile tendencies can be seen throughout Tartufo’s modern menu. We began with a generous and diverse bread selection: crispy music bread, brown sourdough and focaccia studded with fat olives, all dipped in a fruity olive oil from the purple Taggiasca olives of Liguria. This information came readily and enthusiastically from the very knowledgeable waiter, who was a typical example of the excellent brigade at Tartufo.
For my starter I selected plump, meaty and fantastically fresh grilled scallops with a light fennel and orange salad and was delighted with my choice.
Hubbit went for the black truffle risotto made with al dente Acquarello rice and a perfect demi-sel brown butter. It was adorned with generous shavings of truffle whose scent hit the back of my throat before I tasted them. It reminded me of Rousillon in its heyday which is no mean feat.
It would be tricky to pick a bad dish at Tartufo and I did not. My main course was fat crustacean filled ravioli with cherry tomato and broad beans. Yum. The smoked bottarga jus was topped with fat prawns, scallops and seabass and seasoned with lots of light chervil. The pasta may not have been as thin as I would like but the dish was overall more rustically generous than I expected so this seemed a fair trade-off.
Hubbit’s side of Black Spotted pig with leeks and broad beans was a lovely thing. The juicy, perfectly cooked meat was lightly seasoned and accompanied by super thin crackling and chip-like chick pea beignets.
Puddings are so often an afterthought at many restaurants, even good ones, but the standout dish of the meal for me was the coconut cream. It sounds simple but was innovative, texturally interesting and full of the purest flavours. It was drizzled with an intense pistachio and coriander oil, whose savoury hint provided an excellent foil for the soft, sweet, unctuous cream. A coupe of fresh tangy raspberries and powerful raspberry granité completed the dish, and the meal, exquisitely.
The prices at Tartufo are as good as the cooking – just £25 for 2 courses or £30 for 3 courses, which is very good value especially in a luxury hotel in this part of the world.
Cuisine: Refined modern European
Address: 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea, SW3 2RJ
Telephone: 020 7730 6383
Price: £90 for dinner for 2 people without booze
Nearest station: Sloane Square
Buzzy atmosphere and great service guarantee a good night out if you’re in the area, but it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
Meursault is a bar and 40 cover restaurant, the younger sister of the more established L’Étranger located upstairs. Acclaimed as L’Étranger is, we have had our problems in the past but I seem to get on better with Meursault. The vibe is relaxed yet refined in the lounge bar, previously famed for its molecular cocktails which have now disappointingly disappeared with the bartender who created them.
Meursault is the protagonist in L’Étranger, the novel written by French existentialist and Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, and was the inspiration behind the decadent and elegant interior. The sleek design is all dark wood and masculine leather, with a striking illuminated Belle Époque ceiling by award-winning illustrator Noumeda Carbone. The overall effect is dramatic and expensive, which makes it the ideal environment for those seeking to impress on date night.
Much less sophisticated but infinitely more fun were the cool champagne cork seats, which added a touch of whimsy to the grown up décor.
We were greeted on arrival by the General Manager Dorian Pryce, who was as knowledgeable as he was charming. We wound our way around the bar learning the history of Camus’ story and characters, and admiring the glass cabinet displays of rare and excruciatingly expensive wines for which the venue is so rightly famous.
Once we were comfortably seated, post tour, I dabbled in pyromania with a Flaming Passion Fruit Daiquiri. This sweet and tart drink was tasty and was distinguished by a flaming passion fruit shell floating about on top. Great, but what do I do with the burned out acrid-smelling carcass once it’s finished?
The wine list is vast, with a decent range by the glass and a very good array of champagne and sparkling wine. The sommelier is also very helpful and knowledgeable, which always helps when there is a dizzying array of choice.
The cuisine at Meursault is a fusion of the simple elegance of Japanese cuisine and the luxurious decadence of French food, and the kitchen is headed up by Executive Chef Jerome Tauvron. We kicked off with some satisfyingly fresh and fat salmon sashimi, which made me long for another 3 week tripette around Japan.
Hubbit then selected the predictable boy choice of Wagyu beef burger with truffled sumo polenta chips. I say chips, but there were only two of them, which I thought was a little cheeky. £13.50 seemed a reasonable price for this main course, but the burger was small and the pair of chips did look lonely on the big plate. It would be better, I think, to upscale the burger size and let diners purchase a side order of the crispy, fluffy chips. The burger itself was moist and well-seasoned, but the cheesy truffle sauce lacked depth or punch, or even the tantalising aromatics of my fungal friend.
I chose the bestselling smoked kadaif langoustine and prawns with seaweed salad and onion salsa. This dish was always going to be popular with me as I love seafood and crispy bird’s nest vermicelli, as well as anything smoky or barbequed. I enjoyed the theatre of a smoke-filled dome being released to allow the delicious scent to waft across the table. The test tube full of spicy dressing added to the atmosphere of edible chemistry experiment, and made me smile.
Accompanying the main courses was a tasty but unremarkable dish of roast aubergine with ginger and chilli. Personally I could have done with a lot more flavour but the aubergines were meltingly soft, just as I like them.
Meursault is known for its ice creams and sorbets and I could not see why that could be a claim to fame until I tried them. The Granny Smith was my favourite, tart and zingy and delicious, it was frozen perfection. The pineapple was too sweet for my taste but I could nonetheless appreciate the fabulously smooth texture and lack of annoying crystallised shards. The flavours available on the night were very limited compared to the extensive list on the menu, but no matter. There is a limit to how many sorbets I can eat in one sitting in any case.
The venue’s macaroons are also rightly celebrated and I very happily munched my way through the rose, black sesame and melon-lime flavours. They were chewy with delicate liquid centres and distinct favourings, and were not too sweet as macaroons can so often be. For the greedy amongst us, they can also be offered in adorable little takeaway boxes.
I am old and decrepit now and dined at 20.00, so I was not around to experience the jazzy music and live DJ after 23.00 but I imagine it was fun and funky. The loos were pretty cool in any event, and I was serenaded by the lilting French tones of Monsieur Camus reading excerpts from his iconic novel.
Prices are on the steep side but this is SW7 so that is to be expected, and to be frank this is the only venue I would visit on the not-so-smart Gloucester Road.
Cuisine: Smart Franco-Japanese fusion
Address: 36 Gloucester Road, South Kensington, SW7 4QT
Telephone: 020 7823 9291
Price: £92 for dinner for 2 people with booze
Nearest station: Gloucester Road