Unless I feel in the mood for what one might imagine as a truly traditional British afternoon tea, I tend to seek out revamped, witty versions which adhere to the traditional concept, but play around with presentation and/or the food served. The Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory-themed afternoon tea at One Aldwych comes to mind as a whimsical experience (read more about it here), while the Basque-inspired afternoon tea at the Halkin bar and lounge can be seen as a bit of a cultural trip, in fact showcasing more complexity in texture and flavour than many a ‘conventional’ British afternoon tea offered at other hotels in London.
Now armed with the background knowledge that this afternoon tea, created by chefs at the adjacent one-Michelin-star Ametsa restaurant, receives its inspiration from the famous three-Michelin-star modern Basque Arzak restaurant in San Sebastián, the explanation for a Spanish afternoon tea starts coming into focus. Not long after Ametsa was opened in 2013, the Halkin Hotel decided to transform their classical afternoon tea into a British-concept, Spanish-flavours formation.
While the idea of finger sandwiches are virtually non-existent in Spain (at least not traditionally), it is one that has been taken up by the chefs to create delicate and exciting “Spider Crab Tempuras” or “Hand Carved Ham and Manchego Cheese Pillows.” And best of all: the melt-in-your-mouth “Piquillo Peppers and Avocado Sandwich,” with a soft yet crispy toast and addictive taste.
Beautifully presented and balanced carefully for flavour and texture, the savoury tapas-like selection blends effortlessly into the Brits’ tea ceremony. While reviewers have decried the molecular size of an avant-garde molecular Basque Arzak and Ametsa cuisine (in San Sebastián restaurant Arzak boasts its own food laboratory, creating fifty new dishes per year), the bite-sized savouries and sweets fit the medium of afternoon tea perfectly, allowing for the mix to feel harmonious and organic and, most of all, satisfactory (in the sense that you feel fulfilled). Considering the price at £32 per person (£36 with added cava), which is on the inexpensive side for afternoon tea in London, I came out feeling impressed and contented.
The same kind of finesse and range in flavours you receive in the savoury finger food, you can also expect to find in the combination of sweets. It is hard to choose a favourite, but if I’d have to pick it would be the “Orange Toast with Spinach,” for despite my dislike of orange and citrus flavours in desserts, this one erred just on the right side of sweet and refreshing, soft and gelatinous.
“Sweet Cabbage Juice with Melting Rock” was a fun touch to the afternoon: the melting rock (a beetroot powder candy), as explained to us, was to be dropped in the sweet cabbage juice for instant dissolvement and thus colour change and a slightly sweeter flavour. Items on the afternoon tea menu are changed fairly frequently, roughly every two or three months a few will be replaced by new concoctions, allowing for further innovations and heartfelt involvement by the chefs. The tea selection is not extensive but comes with good advice regarding food pairing, and you are free to try as many as you like.
If presentation is important to you, if you like something different, but most importantly, if you appreciate nuanced texture and taste in sweet and savoury foods served with your afternoon cuppa, then the COMO Halkin Hotel is the place to go. Ingredients are mostly locally sourced, I have been assured, but the flavour combinations are Spanish (in particular Basque). It will be interesting to see what the future holds for further tapas and sweets at Ametsa’s afternoon tea.
Area: Belgravia, Southwest London
Closest tube: Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line); Victoria (Victoria, District & Circle line)
Address: Halkin bar and lounge
COMO Halkin Hotel
5-6 Halkin St
Belgravia, London SW1X 7DJ