Monday, 19 January 2015

Dee Reviews Science Afternoon Tea at The Ampersand Hotel 18th January 2015

We don’t usually enjoy afternoon teas on two successive weekends, but the Science Afternoon Tea at London’s Ampersand Hotel was only running between 29th December and 6th February, so we had to grab the opportunity while we could.

The hotel is situated near to the South Kensington underground station, near to the Natural History Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum and, it turned out, on the edge of a bustling food and restaurant district.  There were a few great looking small delicatessens that I wanted to call into, but because of time constraints, and the fact that I didn’t want to be carrying bags full of purchases into the hotel, had to restrict myself to window shopping.

About a week or so before our visit, I made the booking online, which was nicely straightforward and user friendly. 

On arrival, we were shown to our table in the hotel drawing room.  We were seated in spacious low chairs at a similarly low table.  The drawing room was decorated in a bright and colourful mix of old and new styles, and a relaxed atmosphere was projected by the grey shirt and Levi jeans clad staff and the bossa nova and smooth jazz playing in the background.  Business appeared brisk, as there were at least 5 other parties also enjoying afternoon tea.  Around half were enjoying the same Science special as us, with the rest opting for the traditional option.

There was a choice of about eight loose leaf teas on offer, and I chose the Afternoon blend, which tasted pretty much the same as an English breakfast tea, while Jay enjoyed a pot of Earl Grey.  We were pleased to be offered refills as the pots delivered a little more than 2 cups each.

The food was served on a traditional 3-tier stand, with sandwiches on the bottom, scones in the middle and patisserie on top.  It was the patisserie that showcased the ‘science’ aspect of the afternoon tea, so was rightly given pride of place on the top tier.  Some venues aren’t keen on their food and drink being photographed, but that certainly wasn’t the case here.  In fact, the staff obliged customers by pouring hot water over dry ice which had been placed among the patisserie at the point of service, in order to maximise opportunities to capture the dramatic smoking effect.  We took several shots but the best is shown at the start of the review.

The sandwiches were served in the style of a French gougere, with rich, buttery round buns arranged in a circle, rather than the more traditional finger sandwiches.  My favourite was the rich, creamy and subtly spiced coronation chicken, but the ham and sauce gribiche, and generously filled smoked salmon sandwiches were also very good.  My only criticism of the entire offering was with the chutney that accompanied the cheese sandwich.  Although it was a little on the sweet side for my taste, it needed to counteract the strong tasting cheese, but the consistency was too runny, causing it to drip out of the sandwich, and also causing the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’ effect.

We took a little while to decide whether to go for the scones or the patisserie next, but in the end decided on the latter, as we figured that the scones possessed more staying power.

After the small white chocolate dinosaurs (Jay’s was a Stegosaurus and mine was a Brontosaurus in case you were wondering), we went for the pistachio macarons with chocolate filling that was accompanied by a pipette filled with a rich red cherry coulis.  This turned out to be one of the highlights overall, as it was packed with flavour and the macaron provided a perfect combination of initial crunch giving way to a soft chewiness.  There was just the right amount of coulis in the pipette to provide a fruity bite to the macaron without overpowering it.
Next we moved on to the impressive looking planet cake, made from two different coloured sponge cake batters which enclosed a small amount of jam and cream filling, spliced with a disc of white chocolate which represented the planet’s ‘ring’.  A mini-masterpiece in cake making and presentation, though taste-wise it was far subtler than it appeared.
This was followed by a turquoise coloured miniature shot of citrus juice, served in a tiny beaker and flask.  I wasn’t at all sure what it was going to taste like so was pleasantly surprised by the huge sweet fruity hit that it delivered.  We followed this with a second pair of chocolate dinosaurs (same types as before), in a rich dark chocolate this time.
We'd been saving the biggest cake on the patisserie tier until last: The volcano cake was constructed from several layers of differently flavoured mousses and very thinly sliced sponge cake, and finished off with a small amount of red fruit sauce to represent lava.  As with the planet cake, the flavours here were more subtle than I was expecting, even though the mousses were quite thick in texture.

Moving down to the middle tier, the scones were of superb quality.  The white chocolate scone was for me another highlight of the entire set.  Texture-wise they were just right.  They held their shape well when split and coated with the jam and clotted cream.  They had a light glaze on the outside which was a plus in terms of presentation and added a slight crunch with the first bite.  There was just the right amount of clotted cream served with them to finish our Science Afternoon Tea on a very positive note.

Experimentation in any form carries with it an element of risk, and with themed afternoon teas, that is style over content.  However, I am pleased to say that with their Science Afternoon Tea, the Ampersand Hotel managed to strike a balance between innovation and respect for what remains a much loved tradition.

After the scones and our second pot of tea, we were well and truly full.  The final bill came to £77.50, which included a 12.5% service charge.  We didn’t object to paying this, as we were very happy with the service.  The staff were polite and professional without being over-fussy.

The Science Afternoon Tea is only running for a couple more weeks so there’s not much time left to book, but we are more than happy to recommend it.

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