When you spend 50 quid on food and drinks and come home hungry, something is not quite right. As I munch on crackers and rapeseed mayo (delicious) I reflect on the evening events which saw me experiencing the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at posh London hotel the Sanderson. As a wannabe foodie, I cannot help but feel the urge to blog about the soiree, partly food related but generally, to write yet another ‘grumpy old woman’ account of a hit and miss experience.
As I entered the funkily decorated reception area, staff in ‘non uniform’ said hello, glancing from behind a strangely positioned desk or from a lectern. The decor is actually pretty interesting. I asked one of the girls where the Mad Hatter Tea Party was, and I was directed towards the courtyard where I asked for my table. So far, three people had greeted me yet not a single one of them had bothered asking me if I wanted to leave my bulky leather jacket (not fashion, it’s a bike jacket) or one of my two bags in the cloakroom. Welcome to the Sanderson!
I found the table and sat waiting for my friends to arrive, taking in the surrounding. Nice water feature, lush plants, but a strangely laid out space, which did not feel very spacious. The hotel offers the Mad Hatter Tea party yet they don’t allow fancy dress. A bit of a contradiction, I think, as part of the enjoyment would surely be dress up for the theme. Some of us coyly wore hats or fascinators, but the atmosphere just wasn’t there. Still, we did have a great time (it was a hen do) helped by the admittedly good drinks.
For a fairly steep 35£ you get a cocktail or a glass of champagne too, and I cannot fault the cocktails. Mine was called Vivid something and was very good. The food arrived, introduced by a disinterested waitress who went too quickly through the various stages for anyone to actually remember.
The first bites would have been the finger sandwiches. Fair, there was plenty of them but I found them full of hot air (saffron bread and ham, spinach bread) and pretty stingy on the filling.
The most decent one was the salmon and cream cheese (but how can you get this wrong?), the worst I would say the cucumber. Soggy slices of cucumber and nothing else.
Next, the tiered tea trays. Having read the menu, I had expectations of excellence and creative, almost molecular, dishes. It could not have been farther from reality!
Ice cream coated in chocolate lollipops were nice, but by the time I had mine, the ice cream was totally melted. Their description was a tad misleading: “hazelnut praline ice cream lollipops explode with a single bite”. The next thing was a sugar coated flat pink lollipop which allegedly, goes hot and cold in your mouth (“Guests will be grinning like Cheshire Cats after blueberry lollipops turn their tongues from hot to cold”).
The second level had the scones, and these were good enough, yet I could only manage one and half, despite feeling the need for substance.
By now, nobody had asked us which tea we would like. I stopped the waitress and asked if tea was actually on the menu. Yes of course, would you like it now? Errr…when do you think?
No tea menu, and this made me finally realised this Sanderson has no interest in the actual afternoon tea ritual. It’s not what this is about, is it? I was starting to get the message. Tea arrived. 8 people on the table, 3 teapots. Stingy or what? In fact, I would have liked more but none came.
The lower level of the trays had the final wow – sort of. Heart shaped ‘eat me’ strawberry mousse cakes (icing unedible, filling melted and dull); there was also a chocolate and coffee layer cake which I did not even attempt to try, as it looked totally uninviting and out of a Patisserie Valerie at closing time; finally, a cute little bottle with ‘drink me’ label. Get it? It’s Alice! I drank it. Actually, I did like it. It was some sort of apple, lemon curd and raspberry drink, but had some lemon grass too and I did enjoy it, although it was quite sweet. Yet the description on their website is extremely embellished! (“this bizarre concoction will send taste buds hatter crazy with each sip delivering a totally different and contrasting taste experience as you drink through the layers with a straw”)
While I had a great evening with my friends, the foodie in me was left disappointed by the experience, and the service did not live up to the hotel projected standards.
Strange encounters in the loos (high heeled, mini skirted bimbo asking her equally dumb friend ‘what’s that thing you put on yours face.. ah yeah, lip gloss!’), strange encounters in the bar (two drunk en middle aged men offering one of our party £1200 to kiss her bum, while one of them claimed to be Kate Middleton’s uncle), it was surely a colourful, fun hen do.
But in terms of gourmet experience, it’s all style over substance. Fans of proper afternoon tea, invest your money elsewhere. Fans of creative food, forget it. Fans of pretentious, expensive nosh and ‘see and be seen’, enjoy the ride!