12 Oct 2008

Tea Cures

'Gwendolyn: You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar, and though I asked most distinctly for bread and butter, you have given me cake. I am known for the gentleness of my disposition, and the extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I warn you, Miss. Cardew, you may go too far...'
[Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest]
I AM old for my years. Whilst aspects of my generation might prefer to immerse themselves in clammy thump-pit discotheques, the lure of a linen clothed oasis, wander round a wine shop or even a vigorous tour around a darn good castle are experiences that have always held greater allure. It made perfect sense, therefore to while away Sunday afternoon ‘taking’ tea in dignified conditions. Remembering ‘Cheese ‘n’ Biscuits’ review of ‘The Cadogan’ (pronounced ‘Cadugen’, apparently), I phoned up, securing a space on the day.
The tea ritual occurs, as it has for 120 years, in a sophoriphic setting: snug wood panels, a gloriously cheeky oil, painted vases adapted into lamps and deeply comfortable sofas. Our silvery waiter looked like he might moonlight at Fortnum & Mason. I responded so positively when he brought tall flutes of Champagne that he shared with me his story of temperance. He had been off the juice for almost twelve months, although he was looking forward to breaking the ban for his birthday the following week. I hope he enjoys the reunion.
Champagne has wondrous powers. A young lady close by who was talking so ceaselessly that I thought she had mastered the Aboriginal art of circular breathing, swiftly settled after a flute.
A symmetrically arranged plate of his and hers crustless sandwiches proved delightful. The protagonists: smoked salmon, cucumber, egg, chicken and beef. A two-tiered Wedgewood carriage designed by Conran featured warm, crumbly scones with near fluid, buttery cream. Surprisingly, jam was bought in. Éclairs were cool centred. Strawberry tarts were composed with brittle pastry. Little coffee cakes were indescribably indulgent.
Rare, organic Silver Needle White Tea was light and fine and tasted of flour, although being almost free from caffeine, I found my eyelids becoming ever heavier. Hot water was refreshed without the need to ask.
Overall it was a more peaceful experience than tea at the Ritz, where sittings are orchestrated with traffic control like precision. There, visitors are filmed from every angle, to ensure sugar tongs remain in situ (rather than Ebay).
As the staff are keen to tell you, this boutiquey hotel encompasses royal strumpet, Lillie Langtry’s house. The ‘Jersey Lily’ even chose to live within these walls after she had sold her house. And Oscar Wilde was arrested in room 118. I rather like the fact that the Cadogan clings to these clandestine snippets, almost like a wholesome granddad trying to prove he once had a wicked side.
The Cadogan Hotel - 75 Sloane Street, London. SW1X 9SG. T 020 7235 7141
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge
Drawing Room at the Cadogan Hotel on Urbanspoon