by Charlotte Johnstone, The Daily Telegraph, December 7, 2017
“It’s a Miró,” mum and I both said in perfect unison, nodding at the platter of art-inspired cakes in front of us. Our waiter shook his head. Wrong. I studied the pastry’s geometric chocolate lines and primary-coloured blobs again. “It’s a Kandinsky,” he told us. “What about that one?” I asked mum, pointing at a shiny, pinkish blob. She looked blankly up at the waiter who saw we were struggling and gave us a clue. “He’s here inside the hotel,” he said. I blinked and looked over my shoulder at some of the other guests in the Mirror Room. He meant the artwork. Eyeing our hopeless expressions the waiter gave in. “Hubert Le Gall,” he announced, and poured our tea .
Art Afternoon Tea at the Rosewood London was turning into an educational affair. The Mirror Room itself was a gallery; a large, dimly lit, ambient space filled with pea-green-yellow Chesterfields and quirky designs, from mirror installations in the ceiling to huge oil paintings on the walls and twisted sculptures made of blown glass – including ‘The Glass Calendar’ by Hubert Le Gall himself. Immaculate staff were tending to elegantly poised guests chatting softy to each other over the quiet lull of classical music and chinking of silver on china.
We were served in courses, starting with a frothy glass of R de Ruinart Brut Champagne and a helping of finger sandwiches; from the traditional egg mayonnaise and chive, to scrumptious chicken and tarragon on green, herby bread. A second helping and a couple of fluffy scones later, and out came the colourful platter full of hyperbole-suturated delights, complemented by a pot of English Breakfast Tea.
I had persuaded my mum – a great lover of art, and painter herself – to come along and guess each little artist-influenced masterpiece on the tiered Limoges-porcelain stand between us. The five pastries looked so perfect, a picture of colour, design and history, that I could hardly bear the thought of breaking into them. And once we’d said that out loud in appreciation, taken photos (discreetly) from every angle, and tried to guess the artists who had inspired each creation by the hotel 's executive pastry chef Mark Perkins (two out of five: not bad), we tucked straight in.
Banksy, one of Britain’s most renowned political street artists, was the easiest one to guess; a grey cuboid with identifiable flicks of graffiti and the iconic ‘Girl with a Balloon’ stencilling on sheet icing. I cracked into the shell of chocolate and out oozed devilishly gooey salted caramel and chocolate cremeux. Inside, a rounded puff of vanilla choux pastry was the proverbial cherry on top.
Mum had managed to guess American artist Jackson Pollock, who was famous for his ‘drip’ paintings during the abstract expressionist movement, by the flick-effect macaron and perfectly poised sheet of white chocolate speckled with red, yellow and blue dots. We learned from our waiter that one of Pollock’s paintings – Number 5, created in 1948 – was said to have sold for a mouth-watering $140m (£106m) in 2006 (although this was practically the price of a loaf of bread compared to the recent sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi painting for US$450m/£338m). A dainty bite confirmed my predilection for macarons and I devoured my share, enjoying the rich blend of chocolate and chewy meringue with tones of cherry from the brownie base.
“Le Gall is good!” I said a bit louder than I had intended after a tentative poke at the sticky oblong in front of me. It tasted a bit like lemon posset, cut with a good layer of zing from the green-apple Bavarois, and had the texture of a moussey marshmallow. I admired the creativity and wondered where one starts imagining such multifarious designs. Long gone are the days of roughly cut cucumber sandwiches and stale scones, Afternoon Tea is now all about the wow-factor; the more intricate the designs, the more pleasing it is for guests, and the wider the word spreads. Perhaps sometimes at the expense of taste. As much as I love a good sponge cake – and the Jeff-Koons-inspired treat was based on a rectangle of superb almond sponge – I have discovered that I am no fan of chestnut cream, which was a major part of this particular pastry’s character.
Mum preferred the Wassily Kandinsky, and with good reason. Its pleasing design matched the mandarin-infused, silky jivara chocolate ganache encased in a delightfully crumbly pastry. But the truth is, Mum had left the game, her gaze had moved on from the artworks on our plates to the artworks on the walls. We agreed that this had been a lovely way to spend a relaxing few hours in a refined setting; bringing the ‘scandal water’ (19th-century slang for afternoons filled with tea and salacious gossiping) to life with a quirky edge. Plus, who knew cakes could be so educational?
Champagne Art Afternoon Tea from £120 for two people.
Read the full review: Rosewood London