For my last days in the UK, I decided to make my ultimate Sunday in London extra special by grabbing one of the most luxurious afternoon teas in the city. My choice fell on The Mandarin Oriental London, as I was curious about their Saké and Teamaster’s choice afternoon teas:
The Mandarin Oriental London Hotel Setting ★★★★★
The hotel is located in Knightsbridge, just one street away from Hyde Park. It sits in a historic Edwardian style building and was originally opened up as the “Hyde Park hotel” in 1902.
Now a Mandarin Oriental property, it is undergoing some extensive renovations which started last year. The hotel is gorgeous but does not look much from the outside now: the Knightsbridge street façade is being renovated and the Hyde Park façade will soon follow.
The Rosebery Lounge
The afternoon tea is served in the Rosebery Lounge, one of the best hotel venues I ever had the pleasure to visit. The lounge opened up in 2014 so it’s not currently undergoing renovation. It is very tastefully decorated, with designer metal trees decorated with amber mandarines (see pictures below) and gorgeous pieces of contemporary art by Orlanda Broom.
There are plenty of mirrors and chandeliers that contribute to the brilliant atmosphere and you will barely notice the absence of natural light (due to the renovations, which should be completed by July 2017). I’m especially fond of the smell: the combination of precious teas, the infused oshibori towels and the many flowers blend together for a true olfactory delight.
On a downside, there is no live music and it is quite a stroll to the lavatories, so I hope you don’t mind taking a little walk during your afternoon tea. Parties can stay at their table for 2-3 hours and may be required to vacate their table on busy days, which is pretty standard in London.
The Tea & Beverage Selection ★★★★★
Whether it’s for the tea or the saké, the team has been very thorough when it comes to pairing each drink with a stage of the afternoon tea (savouries, scones & sweets). The tea sommelier will happily recommend the right drink depending on what you’re eating, and each saké will be brought to you to at a specific time.
The Teas & Hot Drinks ★★★★★
Now this is where the Mandarin Oriental London hotel truly shines, with the beverages. The Rosebery Lounge’s hot drinks selection is among the best I have ever seen, with 23 fine teas, 10 infusions, 3 lattes and 10 coffees to choose from (all of which are included with the standard £53 afternoon tea).
On top of this, there are 6 rare & limited teas to choose from, for which guests can pay a £3-9 supplement (all rare & limited teas are included with the teamaster’s choice £73 afternoon tea). These teas are quite extraordinary, from the famous “Da Hong Pao” (Oolong tea) to the England grown “Tregothnan Estate” (Cornish black tea).
The quality and attention to detail are on par with the Ritz Paris, if not better. Most fine teas are from the very reputable “East India Company”, while rare & limited teas are sourced individually from independent suppliers such as “Canton Tea”.
Each table gets a visit from Chiara, the Rosebery Lounge tea sommelier. I haven’t seen that level of passion for tea since visiting the Fairmont Hamburg and the tea drinker is me is really pleased to meet people who go the extra mile to educate their guests on the art of tea drinking.
I’d say that my favourite of the lot was the “Eight Immortals Dan Cong”, which may even be the best Oolong tea I ever had. Otherwise, there is no point in me issuing any further recommendations on this aspect. Simply trust the in-house expert as each of her pairing choices were spot-on.
You may give a chance to the Barista lattes, such as the nice and flavourful “Chai latte”. Do stay away from the hot chocolate though, it’s not good enough to risk losing your appetite over it.
The Saké & Champagne ★★★★★
Aside from the traditional Champagne afternoon tea, non-teetotalers may also choose to sample three different sakés, raising the price of the afternoon tea to £84 per person.
Even the lightweight in me couldn’t resist the temptation to try out the Sakés, it would have been criminal to miss on such an unusual opportunity. Each saké is brought with its own course for pairing purposes:
Masakura Saké 真桜 (True Cherry Blossom): A premium saké served with the savouries. Its creamy flavour pairs really well with the sandwiches and it may also serve as a transition towards the sweets.
- Urakasumi Saké 浦霞 (Misty Bay): A classic style saké served cold or warm with the scones. Both choices are equally valid and it’s mostly a matter of preference (If cold: fruity/mango flavour; If warm: nutty/chocolatey flavour)
- Shiraume Umeshu Saké 浦霞梅酒 (Plum Liqueur): This luxurious plum liqueur is served with the cakes and sweets. Since it’s not saké per se, it is quite sweet and thick compared to the other two. The Umeshu is poured on the rocks to balance the flavours and reduce its sweetness.
People who prefer something a bit more traditional can choose to have a glass of Ruinart Champagne with their afternoon tea (£63/person). It’s the oldest established Champagne house in the world and it is bound to please even the most demanding Champagne drinkers.
I’m a profane when it comes to anything even barely alcoholic, but both the Champagne and the Sakés were marvellous. The effort that was put into pairing each saké with a specific course is palpable and that alone makes the Saké option well worth a try.
The Savouries ★★★★★
The sandwiches are magnificent; each of the six savouries is delicious and light. The most memorable sandwich is marked with a heart (♥):
- Slow roasted organic chicken and buttered corn
- Smoked salmon tartare, dill and crème fraîche
- Cotswold egg, white asparagus and black truffle ♥
- Compressed cucumber, spring peas pannacotta and mint
- Portland crab, baby prawns, palm heart and tobiko
- Wiltshire cured ham and heritage tomatoes
I’ll get straight to the point, this is hands down the best egg sandwich I ever had. The asparagus is really a nice touch and it adds a distinctive flavour, while the truffle adds subtlety to the equation.
The cucumber & mint sandwich is the strongest taste so I recommend keeping it for the end. The sandwiches are light and scrummy and this afternoon tea does offer refills, so do not hesitate to ask for an extra plate of these lovely savouries.
Reminder for Saké afternoon tea, the savouries are paired with Masakura Saké 真桜 (True Cherry Blossom) and its creamy flavour combines really well with the sandwiches.
The Scones ★★★★☆
The Rosebery lounge staff will serve the scones last unless you ask otherwise. Old habits die hard so I asked for them after the savouries, but that is up to you.
The plain and raisin scones are served warm and on request, which is usually a very good sign. There are four toppings to choose from: clotted cream, lemon curd, rose jelly and strawberry jam.
It’s a bit odd but the first batch was undercooked, which resulted in an unpleasant aftertaste. I ordered a second batch which tasted fine, I’m going to assume that it was a one off but do keep it in mind if yours are undercooked and order another plate straight away.
Reminder for Saké afternoon tea, the scones are paired with Urakasumi Saké 浦霞 (Misty Bay). It is a classic style saké which may be served cold or warm. Both choices are equally valid and it’s mostly a matter of preference (If cold: fruity/mango flavour; If warm: nutty/chocolatey flavour).
The Cakes & Sweets ★★★★★
There are 7 cakes & pastries, more than enough to satisfy any respectable sweet tooth.
- Cherry sphere, pistachio mousse and kirsch baba ♥
- Strawberry and vanilla chiffon roll
- Cheesecake, Yorkshire rhubarb and raspberry
- Pina colada choux, roasted pineapple and fresh coconut
- Hazelnut praline snack bar and chocolate chantilly
- Confit lemon cake
- Almond and chocolate cake
It’s obvious that a lot of effort was put into designing and imagining these sweets, as this selection is a tribute to originality and imagination. No macarons, no cupcakes, no éclairs… Just creativity at its best.
Each cake is a delight for the senses: they are all as beautiful as they are tasty. I actually find it difficult to express a preference based on taste, so I’ll give my vote to the “Cherry Sphere” which is the most beautiful sweet of the lot (below).
Reminder for Saké afternoon tea the cakes and sweets are paired with Shiraume Umeshu Saké 浦霞梅酒 (Plum Liqueur). Since it’s not saké per se, it is quite sweet and thick. The Umeshu is poured on the rocks to balance the flavours and reduce its sweetness.
The Service ★★★★★
This is probably the best service I have ever experienced in England. The team is polite, efficient and passionate. They’ll happily share their expertise about saké, tea or the afternoon tea itself.
Whether it’s Chiara (the tea sommelier), Dominique (the waiter who served the Saké) or Siegfried (the Lounge manager), everyone was at their best and took great pride into their work. The staff is also very proactive and took the initiative to sit me close to a power outlet and gave the Wi-fi code straight away, as I mentioned I’d be on my own and work at the table.
The booking policy is the only downside, guests are required to book with a credit card and guests may be charged if they cancel less than 24-72 hours in advance. Booking online is easy and the reservation team is highly responsive via email.
Below is a video of Dominique detailing the contents of the afternoon tea. Bon appétit!
Conclusion & Overall Mark ★★★★★
As of now (May 2017), this is the best afternoon tea I ever had, all criteria and countries considered. Not only is it on par with the Bristol Paris tea time, it also surpasses the Lanesborough London, which up to now had been my favourite in the UK on the luxury segment.
It’s not just the excellent quality of the food and beverages. There is a feeling of passion and expertise that resonates among the whole team and this makes the overall experience feel extraordinary. Therefore, I’m awarding the Mandarin Oriental London with this website’s very first “Golden Teapot”, an award only meant for the best afternoon teas in the world!
The Mandarin Oriental London afternoon tea is a must-try for any tea lover who’s willing to spare £53 and bear with the slightly restrictive booking policy. Let me assure you it’ll be worth every penny!
+: The Rosebery lounge atmosphere
+: Excellent tea & beverages selection
+: Choice of Saké & rare teas
+: Delicious food
+: Gorgeous cakes
+: Brilliant service
+: Value for money
+: Long service hours (12 to 10:30 pm)
+: Best luxury afternoon tea in London
-: The hotel façade is being renovated (no natural light)
-: The undercooked first batch of Scones
-: Restrictive booking policy
-: Premium price (£53 – £84)
Phone number: +44 (0)20 7201 3828