On a cold November night, when we entered the hallway of Hotel Café Royal, it was not only the warmth that greeted us as we came in, but the pleasant, enrapturing scent of Paris perfumer Diptyque candles. I can’t recall whether it was the smell of Feu de Bois (Wood Fire), Noisetier (Hazel Tree), Verveine (Lemon Verbena), or one of their dozens of other aromas, but whatever delicious combination chosen, it certainly set the mood for the afternoon tea that was to come.
The Oscar Wilde Bar in which the afternoon tea took place was a perfect match for the elegant and refined teatime service. A gilded room full of beauty and grandeur in all its details and arrangements, from a grand piano, to ceiling decoration, to mirrored walls, it was restored to its original Louis XVI detailing. It’s no wonder that world-renowned figures such as David Bowie, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Beatles chose this space, dating back to 1865, to dance the night away. In honour of their most famous patron Oscar Wilde, who spent many a night at the bar where it is said he fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas, the Grill Room, as it was called then, was renamed the Oscar Wilde Bar.
We started off with champagne, tea and sandwiches. The tea choice was varied, ranging from Black to Puerh Tea to herbal infusions. We chose Oscar, a highly prized slow-roasted Chinese oolong made from leaves picked deep within the rocky Wuyi Mountains. Named after Oscar Wilde, the tea had a deep, toasty flavour, as complex and sophisticated as the man himself. We also went for the recommended Celestine, a blend of two fine Chinese black teas with roasted Peruvian cocoa nibs and organic vanilla pod. Delicately sweet and fragrant, this tea of course had a story as well. Because the wife of the founder of Café Royal had a great influence on its style, this camellia sinensis blend was named after her – hence Celestine.
The fine, smooth teas paired well with the exquisite sandwiches. The incredibly fresh and delicious ingredients carefully put together made the sandwiches a delight to eat. These included sandwiches such as Cotswold chicken and lemon verbena, English cucumber and rose pepper cream cheese, and smoked salmon and dill crème fraîche.
The savoury treat that topped it all was the mouth-watering amuse bouche: pickled apple muffin with goat’s cheese. What a soft, creamy, succulent bite to start your afternoon with! Of course we could not help asking for more, a wish which was happily granted.
Aside from luscious traditional raisin and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, the sweet treats were a range of cakes with flavours and ingredients based on four of Diptyque’s signature scents: Roses, Vanilla, Violette and Verveine. Executive Pastry Chef Sarah Barber had previously held Head Pastry chef positions at Corinthia, Me London, Yauatcha, and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal before taking on the lead role at Hotel Café Royal and creating these intricate pastries that combine scent with taste.
Between the Victoria sponge with rose jam and rose mousse, the Violet and Cassis Tart, the verveine infused lemon cream, and the Tahitian vanilla sponge, the latter was my favourite. With a hazelnut praline feuillatine and a Valrhona ‘Opalys’ ganache, it was addictively but not over-indulgently nutty and sweet.
Having chosen the afternoon tea with Diptyque gift and a glass of Laurent-Perrier, N.V., we were sent off with a signature 70g Baies candle with notes of Bulgarian rose sweetened with blackcurrant leaves.
The gift box also included a 2ml eau de parfum and eau de toilette. The candle usually priced at £24, this gift + champagne + afternoon tea package for £65 was a nice one indeed (afternoon tea only was priced at £45 and afternoon tea + gift at £60). Hotel Café Royal and Diptyque’s festive afternoon tea version is on until the 3rd January.
Area: Soho, West London
Closest tube: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly line)
Address: Hotel Café Royal
68 Regent Street
London, W1B 4DY