Afternoon tea o’clock

Apr 02,2014

Our top chef, based in Mayfair, gives us the low down on the historical and traditional aspects behind the British favourite, afternoon tea.

The simple cup of tea is firmly ingrained into our British culture, yet the act of stewing tea leaves goes way back, and remains a fundamental ingredient of many countries and cultures. Tea ceremonies are deeply rooted in Chinese culture, and similarly, other eastern countries like Japan enjoy the tea ceremony. Using tea to form the basis of a social event isn't an unfamiliar custom for those of us in the West. While those in the East may prefer their Chai untampered with, there's no denying that the British view tea as a conduit to something sugary!

Afternoon tea, traditionally served with scones, lashings of jam, sandwiches and pastries, has been part of our culture since the 19th century, and has increased in popularity over the years. The infamous Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, propelled the occasion into popular culture and many of us enjoy gathering with friends over a spot of tea and cake.

We love the pomp and ceremony that comes with afternoon tea, and Paul Danabie, our Executive Chef at the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair, was on hand to tell us a few facts about this popular British tradition.

Could you tell us a little about your background as a chef? How long have you been working at the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair and has it always been in the same capacity?

I started my career at Inverlochy Castle in Fort William; from there I have worked in some great four and five star hotels in the UK, including Gleneagles and The Goring, each offering a fantastic afternoon tea experience. In 2010, I worked in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the Bank of America Corporate Tower as Executive Chef, where we introduced more European flavours into the menus.I came to the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair in 2012, as Executive Chef, after being part of the opening team at Hilton Heathrow Terminal 5.

Can you give our readers a bit of background on the history of afternoon tea?

Is it true that it used to be reserved exclusively for 'ladies of high society' in the 19th century? It is said that Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, started the tradition of having a pot of tea and a light snack when she was visiting Woburn Abbey. When she returned to London, she continued on the tradition, and invited her friends to join her. Afternoon tea was becoming respected and fashionable enough to move the practice into the Drawing Room. From there, the tea and sandwiches were introduced, to fill the void between luncheon and dinner.

What can guests expect from the afternoon tea menu at the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair?

What classic elements and flavours do you bring to the table? Are there any modern twists? We always offer cucumber sandwiches on white bread and smoked salmon on wholemeal bread, however, our other two flavours change with the seasons. Most establishments offer scones with preserve and clotted cream but at the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair, we also offer lemon curd and two flavours of scone, traditional and fruit. Our modern twists are incorporated into our pastries and mousses, but we add Cambridge burnt cream and Eton mess when our strawberries are in season. We are also looking to introduce some flavoured breads to add depth of flavour to our sandwiches, and offer a Gentleman's Afternoon Tea with more savoury flavours, and a whisky or brandy cocktail instead of a glass of Champagne.

And what about the tea itself, what types do you serve? We use Twinings loose teas for their unique taste, and offer six flavours, including, camomile, Assam, Earl Grey, green tea, mint, Darjeeling and jasmine pearls.

What about the service and afternoon tea experience at the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair? What can guests expect when they arrive?

Afternoon tea is one of the most traditional elements left in our modern world and it would be a shame to tamper with this. We have a variety of offers on our traditional cream tea and our Celebration Tea, all served with a glass of chilled Champagne. We also offer a special afternoon tea, specifically for our junior diners. However, we do not just offer afternoon tea but also an afternoon tea experience where our 'Royal butler' trained team are on hand to cater for your every need.

We all know that when it comes to afternoon tea that it's the details that count; do you cut the sandwiches into fingers as per tradition or into triangles? Always fingers

Finally, the Millennium Hotel London Mayfair hosted an afternoon tea for bloggers on Sunday 30th March for Mother's Day - what is your opinion of food blogging?

Food blogging is key to our success. We are always reviewing social media sites to monitor our guests' experience and to look at ways we can improve, but also to praise our team for their continued hard work and dedication to making our afternoon tea experience a success.

In the words of Dodie Smith, I shouldn't think even millionaires could eat anything nicer than new bread and real butter, and honey for tea.

What's your favourite afternoon tea selection?

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