As you may have already read about in previous posts, I’m a bit of a stickler for innovative afternoon teas with a playful twist, be this a Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-factory themed adventure, a retro-style afternoon tea indulgence, or a Spanish-tapas-infused tea time extravaganza. Much like the latter, the afternoon tea with an Italian twist offered at Il Pampero takes the virtues of another cuisine’s bite-sized foods and seamlessly integrates it into a British tradition. Fusion, if done right, can yield the best results. After all, traditions are nothing other than the best fusions celebrated and eternalized.
The Italian Bar & Restaurant Il Pampero is nestled in the new boutique hotel The Hari in the midst of all the embassies that call Belgravia home. It is open for lunch and dinner for Italian food in a setting that embodies Italian chic and vintage charm. A grand bar greets upon entering, and Il Pampero’s ‘Napolitea’, as their afternoon tea is called, nods to its surroundings with both contemporary and traditional elements.
Upon sitting down at our round table by the window, adorned with green plants left and right, and the usual ritual of studying the afternoon tea menu (where everything is already selected for you except for the type of tea), we are asked about our personal tea preference.
There are no teas to choose from on the menu. To hear about the available choices, we have to enquire about them first. The lack of tea presence on the menu made perfect sense when the waiter described the teas on offer only according to their basic categories (green, black, white, red – oolong was unavailable), and also had no information as to where they sourced it from. The Earl Grey we enjoyed was sufficiently delicate the first time around, but by the second order had become bitter much like the jasmine tea we also tried.
Upon inspection of the tea leaves inside the pot, it was immediately apparent that too many had been used in relation to the amount of water. Clearly the emphasis of Il Pampero was not the tea in afternoon tea, but rather the afternoon. An afternoon filled with Italian delights.
The savoury bites adventure was a diverse and appetizing experience. We were able to enjoy a creamy burrata (fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream) with avocado, a classic bruschetta (grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, salt and diced tomatoes), refreshing melon covered with Parma ham, and mushroom and truffle, as well as pea and saffron arancini (stuffed rice balls coated with bread crumbs and deep fried).
In my experience so far, afternoon teas tapping into different cuisines make a nice change to the finger sandwiches traditionally served, because as delicious and gratifying as those can be, they still remain within the category of sandwiches. New flavour profiles can be explored, and enticing combinations celebrated. Although afternoon tea is easily a good excuse for indulging in a sea of sweets, the savoury part is usually the food I am most excited about, having arrived hungry and ready to dive in.
Since the sweets section normally comes last, it’s almost a relief when it is something more (or rather, something less) than a mere pile of sugar. It should be sufficiently light and yet diverse enough to allow me to finish all of it (or at least come close to doing so). Many pastry chefs or other professionals in charge of the pastries for afternoon teas pull out all the stops and present their guests with sugar frenzies. Whether this is down to popular demand, management values, chefs’ tastes or capabilities all depends on the institution. In many cases it will probably be a combination of all of the above. But who can really stomach mountains of sugar after a hopefully inviting savoury start to the afternoon? Who would really want to? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I wouldn’t (unless for some reason I’m in a sugar-crazed mood). And so I always appreciate afternoon tea services that take this into account.
The sweet treats selection at the Italian Il Pampero erred just on the right side of not too sugary, with ricotta chocolate cannoli (“little tube” Sicilian pastries), a lemon pastry, hazelnut bignè and chocolate sfogliatelle (shell-shaped filled pastries from Campania) providing versatile and light enough options to also leave room for the cream- and strawberry-jam-filled doughnuts called bomboloni, which replace the scones in a more traditional afternoon tea.
Overall the atmosphere was relaxed, and the savoury bites a nice change to the usual finger sandwiches. If you’re into afternoon tea and like a twist, this is for you. If you’re craving Italian food, but not a whole meal, also for you. Tea aficionados won’t be satisfied here, but if you’re in it for the experience, and some Italian crudités, then Napolitea certainly is one to recommend.
Area: Belgravia, Southwest London
Closest tube: Sloane Square (District, and Circle line); Knightsbridge (Piccadilly line); Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line); Victoria (Victoria, District, and Circle line)
Address: Il Pampero
20 Chesham Pl
London SW1X 8HQ