A right royal blow-out: the return of afternoon tea
Andrew Lloyd Webber knows a thing or two about putting on a show. And his latest effort – afternoon tea at the revamped Theatre Royal Drury Lane – is quite a production. Served amid the Regency splendour of the chandelier-lit Grand Saloon, it stars an array of camp treats by A-list baker Lily Vanilli: huge slices of chocolate cake iced with pastel swags and topped by gilded cherubs; bite-sized sticky toffee puddings oozing custard; and miniature lemon tartlets crowned by jellies that look like jewels. There are sausage rolls, first-rate scones, smoked salmon “madeleines” and scoops of absinthe and mint choc-chip ice-cream served in silver shells from a perambulating trolley.
Lloyd-Webber is famously an oenophile. I’m told that “sticky wines” from the impresario’s cellar could be added to the list in the coming months. The tea is also a class act: brews from the Rare Tea Company – supplier to Noma and Claridge’s – include an Earl Grey scented with Calabrian bergamot, a hand-fired green tea from China and an iced jasmine silver tip.
There can be few afternoon teas in the world right now more hedonistic than the one served here. The only tea, I suspect, that comes close is the Marie Antoinette-inspired affair at the lavish new hotel Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle. Featuring finger sandwiches, Viennese brioche rolls and exquisite dainties fashioned daily by the hotel’s pâtissier, it is a right royal blow-out.
Not everyone likes tea served with a song and dance – in which case they may feel at home at Be-oom, a serene new tea bar in Clerkenwell’s Exmouth Market. Conceived by 32-year-old Korean Sooji Im, the shop and tasting room deals only in Korean specialities: lemongrass-scented magnolia tea, persimmon leaf tea and wild plum flower tea, an infusion of pink petals with a marzipan perfume.
Sitting in the plant-filled greenhouse in Be-oom’s tiny garden, I taste an invigorating blend of black tea and yuzu peel, and the Korean answer to Japanese Genmaicha, a blend of green tea and roasted brown rice.
“I wanted to call my shop ‘be-oom’ – which is Korean for ‘to empty’ – because in Korea tea-drinking is associated with meditation,” explains Im. “As you empty your cup, you empty your mind.” In the latter half of the week, she serves Korean snacks and tea cocktails created with Zoe Burgess, the mixologist behind Atelier Pip. Drinks include a Genmaicha G&T, an Old Fashioned made with Japanese whisky infused with Hadong black tea, and a magnolia sour. Tea time, however you take it, never looked so tempting.