Sanderson hotel can lay claim to London’s most wonderfully whimsical afternoon tea. Initially launched in conjunction with Tim Burton’s (shameful) big-budget remake of Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter’s tea continued to be such a hit that three years and a menu/design revamp later, this eccentric afternoon tea is better than ever.
Afternoon tea is served in the courtyard of this five-star Philippe Starck-designed hotel. Walk on by the minimalist bar to find a zen space with a small Japanese garden in the centre and soothing water fountain. There’s even a retro swing seat for good measure. Sleek marble tables are set to the side – completely sheltered by large umbrellas and warmed by outdoor heaters. It’s the best of both worlds; fresh air and a chilled garden party vibe, but still warm and dry.
Even the most skeptical misery guts would struggle to keep a down-turned mouth when they discover the menu concealed in a vintage book (ours was Wuthering Heights) and sugar cubes inside a musical jewellery box (complete with twirling sugar plum fairy). The crockery was custom designed by concept store Luna and Curious and you know you’re on to a winner when your plate has a zebra on it.
Presented in pretty vintage glass bottles with stoppers, the loose teas on the table smelled good enough to eat (seriously, hold back…). Flavours included rhubarb and custard, strawberry, mint chic chip and apple pie. Rhubarb and custard tasted just like the classic boiled sweet, but wasn’t sickly in the slightest. Mint choc chip was like a fresh mint tea, with a subtle note of chocolate coming through at the end. If this selection isn’t up your street then don’t worry as they offer the good old classics too. A special mention goes to the hip Luna and Curious teapots, which featured playing card faces of a king and queen, and were topped with a paper crown. Brownie points removed for having to share just the one tea strainer.
Let’s discuss the presentation of the bottom tier. You won’t find finger sandwiches. Oh no. You’ll find four (per person) pastel-hued sandwiches rolled up tight like hedgehogs in a game of croquet. The coloured breads aren’t the result of anything sinister; they’re rye, tomato, spinach and lemon flavoured. The ham and mustard seed filling had a real kick to it but the egg was bland. It’s probably fair to say the sandwiches could be better. They’re not bad, but a more generous filling would make all the difference. Luckily, the underwhelming egg mayo situation was rescued by a delicious roasted vegetable mini quiche.
Sticking with the non-traditional theme here, you get two small scones with your afternoon tea and one of them is savoury. Saving the still-warm sweet scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam for after, you might want to go for the savoury version first. Salty with black olives and smothered with herb butter, this will be a welcome surprise for afternoon tea veterans who find that they’re usually on the slippery slope to queasy town as soon as the sandwiches are over.
There’s a ‘drink me’ apothecary bottle of passionfruit and coconut pannacotta, strawberries and cream marshmallow toadstools, a dark chocolate mug filled with a subtle matcha tea mousse and topped with popping candy, sweet carrot meringues in grass teacups and an unbaked cheesecake with a candy striped case and a yellow mango ‘yolk’ hidden in the centre. Unfortunately for this most creative pud, it was the only one to lack flavour.
Finally, head over to the self-serve jelly buffet (yes, really), where you can pile your sundae glass high. To get the full Wonderland experience, it would be rude not to force a spoonful down. The jellies included banana, peach and green apple and whilst they tasted authentically flavoured, they were a little grainy and firm in texture – not smooth and wobbly like a good jelly should be.
We found the service to be flawless but try to be smart about your visiting time. At weekends, the Mad Hatter’s tea is so popular that 400 covers aren’t out of the ordinary, whereas on our Monday afternoon visit, we were seated immediately and the beautiful Japanese garden setting was only half full. Our tea was served promptly, we were checked upon a few of times and the offer of extra sandwiches was perfectly timed, coming just as we were finishing the savoury course.
You can imagine that the staff might be run ragged during the weekend service, so for a calmer experience, visit during the week if you can. Despite aspects of the Mad Hatter’s tea not being perfect, it was fun, fanciful and one of my favourite afternoon tea experiences to date.
Afternoon tea, £35 per person. Served daily 12:30pm – 5:30pm. Sanderson, 50 Berners St, London, Greater London W1T 3NG – 020 7300 5588
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