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London: A snowstorm in a tea cup

London: A snowstorm in a tea cup
Liz Gill makes like the Snow Queen at Conrad Hotels' fairy tale teatime


I’m rather a fan of pretty food when I eat out – I can after all always get a sensible slab of steak or salmon at home. What I’m looking for are the edible results of someone else’s skills and imagination, visual as well as culinary - and nothing is a better test of this than afternoon tea.
 
I suspect it may well be a girlie thing. The meal is said to have been invented in the early 19th century by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who, in an era when it was usual for people to eat only breakfast and dinner, complained about having ‘that sinking feeling’ during the late afternoon. Her solution was a pot of tea and a light snack taken in her boudoir at Woburn Abbey, first on her own and then with invited friends. It became so popular that the Duchess continued it in London and soon every social hostess was aping her example.
 
I’d say devotees are still predominantly female:  mothers, daughters, grannies, female friends all attracted by – and prepared to pay for - the dolls’ house daintiness and indulgence of it all. For an afternoon tea at a stylish hotel is never cheap. As my male companion (there being no female alternative available) pointed out, you could get a ‘proper meal’ for these prices. (He did, needless to say, then proceed to scoff it all with great relish).
 
What one is paying for, of course, is the sense of having a special treat and this is what the Conrad London St James has tapped into with the introduction of its special winter Snow Queen tea. Pastry chef Zoe Wager has created delicacies to echo the themes of the Hans Christian Andersen story.
 
So there’s a ‘snowstorm’ of coconut cream, mint macaroon and candy floss. Salted butter
London: A snowstorm in a tea cup
shortbread, yoghurt cream, frosted blueberries and sugar shards represent the shattered pieces of the magic mirror which froze hearts to ice. The Snow Queen’s sceptre combines chocolate and pearl sponge and praline ganache dipped in chocolate. The fortress of snowflakes guarding the palace is recreated with a blackcurrant and cardamom cake inside a glittering meringue topped with icing sugar snowflakes. Lastly, the blackberry and cream tart symbolises the love that breaks the Snow Queen’s spell and marks the return of spring with a light dusting of icing sugar to evoke the melting snow.
 
It’s all very sweet, literally as well as metaphorically and definitely for those who want to leave on a big sugar rush. Earlier though savoury tastes have been satisfied with a trio of a smoked salmon blini with caviar and lemon crème fraîche, a mini tartlet of Stilton, poached pear and walnuts and a prawn cocktail followed by a selection of sandwiches including turkey, beef and cucumber with cream cheese.
 
Next came warm plain and raisin scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and mixed berry curd before that fairytale finale in blue and white, suggesting a magical winter of snow and ice quite different from the reality of the mild, damp London outside.
 
There was a wide range of teas to choose from: green, white and herbal as well as black. We chose the Darjeeling 2nd Flush although I wish I’d followed my companion’s example and taken it without milk. I think that way I’d have better appreciated what the menu described as a ‘rich and full-bodied aroma with hints of the sought after muscatel flavour for which the second flush is famed.’
 
What we did appreciate though was the ‘free flowing’ champagne option with glasses generously and frequently refilled with Mumm.
 
The Snow Queen afternoon tea runs until February 11th 
Price £55 per person with champagne or £39 per person without.
For bookings and further details please visit
www.conradhotels.com/London or call 0203 3018080.
 
Liz Gill was a guest of Conrad Hotels
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13 January 2016
By: Liz Gill
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