High Tea and Bubbles at Lanes of London

Today I’m partaking of a great British tradition – High Tea. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon.  Sipping on bottomless Prosecco and trying out a range of aromatic teas while nibbling on delicate sandwiches, pastries and cakes. All in the wonderfully stylish surroundings of Lanes of London.

The restaurant’s large, light-filled room looks out towards Hyde Park – get a table by the window if you can. There’s not a lot of decision making today as the food menu is set. You will have to choose your teas but don’t worry it’s all clearly explained by the charming waiter. Our first selections were Flowering Osmanthus and Blackcurrant & Hibiscus. And after our feast of tea-time delights we finished off with the wonderfully refreshing Whole Peppermint Leaf – the perfect digestive.

Once you’re settled and sipping, the prettiest platter of sandwiches arrives. Four masterpieces – love what you can do with a sandwich. The mini poppy seed-covered bun was lightly toasted with ham and deliciously cheesy melted cheddar, cucumber sandwiches came with two layers of cucumber, there were soft little squares of egg mayo delight and thinly sliced smoked salmon on beetroot-coloured bread. These are no ordinary sandwiches. I could eat plates of them! Loved that the cucumber sandwich was topped and filled with cucumber, sliced perfectly to the size of the bread and that the egg mayo was topped with a slice of quail’s egg.

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Tempting trays of sandwiches

Then it’s time for the Cake Stand. There’s definitely something about this tier of sweet treats that gets the heart beating faster. It’s a beautiful thing. Starting from the top a collection of millefeuille, macaroons, chocolate mousses enclosed in slices of dark chocolate and melt-in-the-mouth mini choux pastries with coffee icing.

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A tasty collection nestles on the top layer

Next up (or down actually) it’s Battenberg cake. This colourful creation is said to have been made and named in honour of the marriage of Princess Victoria (one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters) to Prince Louis of Battenberg in 1884. (Love cakes that have proper history!)

It’s made by baking a yellow and a pink sponge separately, then cutting and combining the pieces in a chequered pattern – holding them together with jam and then covered with marzipan. Sounds like a huge effort to me, but I suppose it’s worth it when the end result’s such a thing of beauty.

The strawberry jam and clotted cream for the scones are in the background – because scones are coming next!

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The checkerboard Battenberg in vibrant shades

It would be wrong to have tea in England without having scones. Today there were two types – plain and raisin, light and crumbly and served with the classic jam and cream topping – possibly one of the most perfect food combos ever conceived of.

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Close up to the classic scones

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The cake stand full of tempting goodies

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Chilled Prosecco served with style

Today’s price point

High Tea – which includes all the food above and your choice of tea is £39.

For £49 you can also include free-flowing Prosecco.

Menus change through the year. Currently you’ll find your tea will have a distinctly seasonal feel.

Lanes of London is at 160 Park Lane, W1 a minute’s walk from Marble Arch tube station.

Celebrating the Queen’s birthday with Royal Tea at St Ermin’s

Today I’m celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday with a slap up tea. She’s Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a lady of amazing dignity and strength (in my opinion anyway). And where better to celebrate her life than at the stylish St Ermin’s Hotel in London’s St James where they’ve laid on a Royal Tea in her honour. It’s available through the summer until August 31.

You enter the St Ermin’s through a lovely courtyard garden. Inside the grand lobby impresses with its marble columns and the sweeping staircase that leads up to the tea room. There’s also a lovely upstairs terrace should the sun decide to show its face on your Royal Tea day.

The menu includes a selection of dainty sandwiches, or savoury bites as they call them here. Three different types of scones served with strawberry jam and cream and four generous sweet treats.

But first you have to select your tea from the wide range on offer – no easy feat. I eventually opted for a Japanese sencha tea to start which was beautifully aromatic. And of course we had to treat ourselves to some bubbles – it was a birthday party after all.

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The grandness of the St Ermin’s is the perfect backdrop for a Royal Tea

And then the tower of delicious delicacies arrived. It all looked so beautiful, a full cake stand is always something to get excited about.

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Here’s some serious tea-time delight

We started savoury with four delightful little finger sandwiches in different styles (and no crusts, of course). Dressed Cornish lobster was served on a mini toasted brioche. I’m very partial to a brioche, and to lobster of course so this was the perfect start for me. Home-cured Puddleduck ham was served with a mellow London Piccalilli on the freshest of white loaf – could you get more British? Hampshire organic cucumber came on delightful brown bread with classic English cream cheese. And finally an open sandwich of Orkney smoked salmon sandwich served on organic brown bread.

I love sandwiches, especially of the dainty sort, I’m sure I could manage a whole platter of this delightful combo of flavours.

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A beautiful plate of the freshest sandwiches to start off with

And then it was on to the sweet treats. On the top layer was The Golden Orb: Scottish shortbread with pistachio, lemon lime curd dome with a bejewelled glaze. Beautifully crunchy shortbread topped with a zest, sweet and creamy dome. The Crowning Joy was an espresso choux bun with Decort chocolate. A melt-in-the-mouth chocolatey treat.

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Top sweet treats on the top layer

The Royal Box was a chocolate and Scottish raspberry opera style grand torte with 70% chocolate ganache, raspberry and dark chocolate glaze and decort chocolate. Much lighter and fluffier than I was expecting, I loved the chocolate and raspberry complementing each other in their sweetness and tartness.

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Up close to The Royal Box

A bowl of three different types of scone (including sea salt which I really loved) also arrived with generous portions of strawberry jam and clotted cream. They were fairly mini thankfully and light and crumbly. Made into real indulgences with the addition of heaped jam and cream.

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Glistening, crumbly scones to be piled with jam and cream

For my second tea I opted for the orange rooibos. There’s a lot to eat and savour so it’s going to be a long afternoon (in a good way), so I took the opportunity to taste another brew. Rooibos hales from South Africa so I’ve drunk my share of it over the years but I’d never come across the orange version. It’s on my shopping list now – the citrussy addition really brings the earthy undertones of the rooibos alive.

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My latest favourite tea: orange rooibos

I loved the delicate patterned plates, here’s a close-up of my favourite sandwiches to tempt you.

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Smoked salmon and lobster for tea…just heavenly

Your tea arrives with egg timers so you know when it’s ready to pour.

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Green sand for green tea and black for black

This is a delightful way to spend an afternoon, indulging in the best that full-on afternoon tea can offer in beautiful surroundings. I definitely felt that I’d been treated like royalty. Happy birthday Your Majesty, I look forward to celebrating more of them with you.

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The St Ermin’s towers with grandeur around the garden courtyard

The St Ermin’s Hotel is at 2 Caxton Street, London SW1 just two minutes walk from St James’s Park tube station.

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My new tea-time heaven

So I’ve relocated to Cape Town in South Africa for a bit, which is great news for all of you as it’s the chance for me to share some wonderful new food experiences with you. From cafes and restaurants to exciting new recipes – watch this space, there’s plenty to come.

Today I met up with my sister for lunch. Angie is always on the lookout for exciting new places for me to try and today, as usual, she came up trumps.

Oway Teacafe is a beautifully unique place for a tea or coffee break, breakfast or lunch. Its welcoming, sleek Oriental-style interior is furnished with mismatched tables and chairs and full of exotic goodies to sample and purchase to take home.

First the tea. They serve over 80 types, ranging through green, white, Chinese, Oolong, black, red, herbal infusions, fruit infusions and rooibos…the menu is quite mind boggling. After much pondering we went for two of the most intriguingly named. Herbal Immensely Beautiful and Gunpowder.

Our teas arrive with their beautiful glass pots ready for brewing

Our teas arrive with their beautiful glass pots ready for brewing

It’s all quite a ceremony (gotta love a ceremony) with glass pots filled with steaming water sat on glass stands with candles to keep the tea warm (amazing how effective it is). The actual tea comes in a separate glass container which fits into the pot when you are ready to start brewing. The presentation also comes with a three-minute egg timer and instructions from the waitress. Three minutes to brew the Gunpowder and six for the aptly-named Immensely Beautiful.

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My Herbal Immensely Beautiful brews in its pretty glass contraption

The Gunpowder was beautifully fresh tasting with a zing of spearmint, while the reddish-pink Immensely Beautiful offered a mix of sweet and floral with hibiscus and blackberry leaf, among others. Wonderfully refreshing brews that you can drink pots of in one sitting…seriously.

The lunch menu offered an exotic-sounding collection of salads, wraps and dim sum. I can never resist a dim sum platter and this combo of dumplings, spring rolls, buns, edamame beans and salad and veggie morsels was packed with flavours. One shared between two was plenty for lunch.

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Our tasty dim sum platter with dipping sauces

There’s also a tasty-sounding range of unusual breakfast options and a range of African coffee blends.

A visit to Oways is a fascinating experience with loads of new flavours and traditions to embrace. It’s the sort of place you feel like visiting every day in an attempt to taste everything on the menu.

Of course I couldn’t leave empty handed and left clutching my own pack of Immensely Beautiful to keep me going until my next visit. Which better be soon…anyone for tea?

Oways is at 20 Dreyer Street, Claremont, Cape Town.

Let’s drink…Tasty Greek Mountain Tea from Urbangrains

Last year I visited Greece for the first time (I know, very remiss of me!) and fell totally in love with everything Greek. The magical light, the dazzling blue-and-whiteness, the welcoming people, the breathtaking scenery and the delicious food. And that’s just to get started.

Travel certainly increases my thirst for knowledge, instead of answering my questions I find it makes me think of more. Or is that just me? Anyway, other than going back to Greece ASAP, my other option is to explore more of the country through its produce. Which is a marvellous goal to have.

So imagine how delighted I was to discover Urbangrains. This family-run business sells the  most amazing artisan, often unusual, foods from Greece. Their mission is to get the best-tasting products while also making the least possible impact on the planet. Today I’m drinking their Mountain Tea, also known as Sideritis.

Sideritis comes from a flowering plant that is indigenous to Greece. This you can tell as the dried stems look so beautiful and have an intoxicating floral aroma.

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The stems of Sideritis are pretty as a picture!

The plant is collected wild from the mountains of Pindos in northern Greece at an altitude of 1200 metres and processed by hand. It’s packed with all sorts of good things like flavenoids and essential oils. It’s said to aid digestion, strengthen the immune system, help with colds and allergies and it’s also an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. Rather an exceptional plant, really. And the herbal tea it makes tastes wonderful, too.

Simply pour boiling water over a few stems, let stand for 3 or 4 mins and drink. You can add a drop of honey, a stick of cinnamon or a slice of lemon to enhance the taste, but I like to drink it as it is, it’s perfect that way. My advice is to make a potful, like I did, I guarantee you will polish the whole lot off.

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The tea turns out this lovely golden colour

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The boxes of tea waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed

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A wonderful new discovery that’s becoming a regular part of my diet – banish those allergies! My love affair with Greece continues…

For more information and to order, visit www.urbangrains.net