There are few places that make such a staggering first impression as the Oscar Wilde Bar at London’s Hotel Café Royal, with its mirror-lined walls, immaculately-tailored waiters and gilded Louis XVI detailing, luminous in the muted light.
Originally opening its doors in 1865, Café Royal was founded by a Frenchman on a mission to bring a taste of Parisian chic to Victorian London. Located between moneyed Mayfair and creative Soho, the magnificent hotel became a magnet for the great and good of London society through the years, and the iconic Grill Room – as it was previously known – is where Aubrey Beardsley debated with Whistler, David Bowie retired Ziggy Stardust and Mick Jagger, the Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor danced the night away. It’s also where its most famous patron, Oscar Wilde, fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas, lending its name to the iconic room that now hosts a rather decadent new afternoon tea menu.
The London Royal Tea is a clever blend of traditional tea time treats and light-hearted edible city-themed bites.
Alongside scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserve, fruit cake and the most intriguing tea menu, is served a fun selection of inventive tea sandwiches, savouries and sweet delicacies. All of which were equally delicious. Adding to the occasion was a live pianist and regular short talks on the history of the setting by the immaculate master of ceremonies.
For tea, I chose the Celestine from the Exclusive Blends menu (with guidance from our extremely pleasant waiter) – a Chinese black tea with flavours of plum and fragrant vanilla, which was strong and just to my liking – not too flowery or sweet.
Cucumber sandwiches were elevated with the addition of cream cheese and beetroot, while the mini prawn roll was updated with spices and London honey. My favourite – the mini wild boar, pickled apple and mustard rolls – were topped with speckles of crunchy crackling.
Perhaps the most inventive item on the tea sandwich stand was the ‘Low Sidecar’- a savoury muffin topped with whipped goat’s cheese, tomato and a tiny pipette of a tomato juice which tasted quite delicious when drizzled over the muffin.
The sweet delicacies were an equally decadent affair with Underground decorated macarons, delicate Pearly King and Queen Opera cakes and Spitfire lollipops.
Not forgetting the traditional favourites, such as Battenberg and Victoria Sponge. If you have an appetite for more cake – which I certainly didn’t and had to resort to a takeaway box, every bit as beautiful as the room itself – then the lemon drizzle and hazelnut tin cake are also well worth devouring.
For a really special occasion, the champagne, lightly-jellied miso eels and caviar are also extremely tempting additions to an already exquisite, and sweeping, menu. Treat your mum, best friend, or simply treat yourself; it’s not just a wonderful first impression this afternoon tea experience makes, it’s a lasting one.