We recently celebrated a significant wedding anniversary with a few friends who were present on the original auspicious day. Since there were only a few of us, we thought that afternoon tea in London would be a suitable way to celebrate.
The venue was Refuel at the Soho Hotel, which the Scribblaire had twice visited for afternoon tea before. It’s the perfect venue for meeting up in central London. It’s very easy to find, smack bang in the middle of town around the corner from Piccadilly Circus underground.
There are two entrances to the hotel; the one we use is via Wardour Street, and the main entrance is via Dean Street. The Wardour Street entrance leads straight into the bar and restaurant area which, like the rest of the hotel, has a traditional feel but is at the same time modern and vibrant. The bar is separated from the main eating area by a screen with seats and tables lined up in front of the bar. Behind the bar is a huge colourful mural which we discussed whilst waiting for our guests.
The mix of modern and traditional is what I particularly like about the hotel, which is one of eight hotels in the Firmdale Hotel collection. Most of these are in London and there is one in New York. The owners and designers are Tim and Kit Kemp, winners of awards and much praise for their individual and extremely classy hotels. The artwork and furniture around the hotel is eclectic and works very well in the way it is combined. According to our very friendly and knowledgeable waiter, Kit moves pieces around regularly, within the hotel and between the different locations. I have also visited the Haymarket Hotel, which is similarly original. As well as being a very pleasant venue in general, the mix of styles and art generates plenty of conversation. There is a 10 ft bronze statue of a cat by Fernando Botero in the reception area which provides instant impact on entering the hotel from Dean Street.
We were seated in the Drawing Room as I had informed the hotel in advance that it was a special occasion. They try where possible to accommodate special requests. Having taken tea in the Drawing Room and the main dining room on different occasions though, I would have been equally happy wherever we were.
The Drawing Room is dominated at one end by a huge dresser which fills the wall and at the other by a bronze statue of a beautiful buxom lady. In between, there’s a mix of chairs and sofas around low tables to allow guests to relax and enjoy tea.
So, to the tea itself! Place settings of Wedgewood plates, cups and saucers were laid out on the central coffee table as we entered. Of the five of us, three ordered the Soho Tea and the other two the traditional tea. We all shared when they arrived. A variety of teas were selected to accompany the food. When the tea arrived, each in individual small glass tea pots, the waiter explained that this was to ensure that the tea was fresh. Pots of hot water were provided for us to top up if required. We also ordered bellinis from the cocktail menu. I had ‘Flower Apple’, which was delicious. The selection of sandwiches and canapés was scrumptious. These are topped up as many times as required. My personal favourite were the cucumber and basil sandwiches! A combination I hadn’t tried before. The cakes and warm scones were delicious, as were the panacotta and lemon possets served in shot glasses.
We sat for hours in the Drawing Room and polished off several more bellinis, a bottle of champagne and all the cakes! The staff were sufficiently attentive throughout. After a while the waiter bought out a plate of chocolate with a ‘happy anniversary’ message piped around the edge of the plate. A nice touch.
After the bill had been paid and we were getting ready to go, one of our guests found a long blond hair in an asparagus canapé. This was pointed out to the waiter, who took it away to the kitchen. Soon after, the supervisor came to us, apologising profusely and offered us another round of bellinis – which we of course accepted.
This was a very slight hiccup in what was a very enjoyable day. If you’re in London, looking for a venue for afternoon tea, I’d recommend it highly. A definite four and a half stars….