“All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes.” That passage from George Orwell's 1946 essay, A Nice Cup of Tea, welcomes you to one of the most lush Afternoon Teas London has to offer, writes Liam Rudden.
The signature Jasmine Afternoon Tea at Kona in the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, reflects the Indian heritage of the owners of the regal self-contained apartments that sit a mere stone's throw from Buckingham Palace.
With at least 15 different teas as well as an additional selection of infusions on offer, my choice is 'Chai Secrets of India', an intoxicating blend of black tea, ginger, star anise, cardamom, pink pepper, cloves and orange slices. It's a spice heaven, the flavour intensifying with every pour as the aroma transports you to another continent.
As for the 'sandwiches'... where to start? Each is a culinary work of art evoking the traditions of Indian dining culture. Savouries include a spiced cream cheese and kachumbar pinwheel in beetroot bread. There's a curried egg pinwheel, a spiced paneer bhurjee and a hot crispy chicken tikka wrap, each is far lighter than they appear.
The cakes and sweets too are tempting and include Gulabi Scones with kismis and almonds served with mango compote and cinnamon clotted cream. Then there's the Gajar Halwa Macaroon, a pistachio Crusted Fruit and Cardamom tart, a chocolate Rasmalai cup and a shot glass of saffron rice pudding with chandni foam to indulge in.
I couldn't finish the delights served, but was offered a box to take back to my rooms, however, I did leave room for the guiltily decadent Gold Leaf Gulab Jamun and Cheesecake and yes, disappointingly, gold has no taste whatsoever. I washed it all down with a shot of salty caramel lassi with a chikki toffee crunch. Perfect. A limited edition The Queen's Platinum Jubilee Afternoon Tea is also currently available.
Budget or Boutique
There's nothing budget here, this is top-end luxury, the choice of visiting royalty, film stars, politicians and those looking to treat themselves for a special occasion.
Split into three houses – Falconers, Ministers and Kings – my butler, Matthew, showed me to Suite 1022 in Kings, proudly regaling colourful tales of the history of the Victorian townhouses, the fountain in the centre of the courtyard (believed to have been a gift from the monarch of the time), before highlighting the facilities of my accommodation. I say butler, but there's nothing stuffy about Matthew; he is welcoming and informed, as are all the staff I meet.
My 'urban chic' One Bedroom Deluxe Solo Suite comprise a living room with dining area, fully equipped kitchen, toilet, spacious bathroom with deep bath, shower room and intelligent toilet that scared me half to death – sensor activated, the seat lifts of its own accord on approach – just make sure you set the water and warm jets to your preference before being seated.
With a large bedroom housing a small desk area, I could happily live here on a permanent basis. The Kings Townhouse hosts Junior and one bedroom suites, with a floor of residences of three to seven-bedroom suites.
Worth Getting Out of Bed ForLook up as you bask in the verdant St James Court on the doorstep of the Kings Townhouse and you will see what Matthew assured me is the world's longest fresco, depicting William Shakespeare's pastoral comedy, As You Like It. The craftsmanship is stunning, the detail mesmerising.Wining and DiningStart the day with a traditional Indian breakfast. There's a different selection available each morning with everything from Mixed Vegetable Pongal, a porridge-style rice with lentils and vegetables, to Punjabi Choley, a spicy chickpea curry. There's also an a la carte breakfast menu.
For lunch and dinner, visitors have access to the nearby contemporary [email protected] restaurant where signature dishes 'pair popular flavours from around the globe together to spark curiosity', and the Michelin-starred Quilon, where Chef Sriram Aylur shares his passion for South-West coastal Indian cuisine.Little ExtrasRefresh body and mind at the award-winning spa where traditional Indian treatments meet contemporary Mediterranean wellness philosophy.
Relax in the luxury enjoyed by the jet set.
Prices start from £400 a night
Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, London SW1E 6AF, (+44 20 7769 7766, www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk)