Fika at the Harcourt: Swedish afternoon tea in Marylebone
At first glance, the Harcourt seems much the same as ever: still bare red bricks, still tucked away right on the corner of the entrance to Marylebone, still proud of its Swedish roots. The green signage has given way to a more stylish black, and the “Arms” part of the previous name has been dropped, but other than that it’s still the same old Georgian townhouse pub. That is, until you step inside. Something is different here, though it’s hard to pinpoint what. Maybe it’s the fine range of wine being served on fashionable tables, maybe the walls have seen a lick of paint, but there’s a newfound touch of elegance that sits well with its esteemed location.
Whilst the changes to the ground floor are subtle, those made to the function room upstairs are not. It’s undergone less of a makeover than a full on metamorphosis. Ivory walls and long sash windows pour light into a room dominated by the sweeping dark wood table and chairs at its heart. It’s the type of dining room that will lend a sense of grandeur to any event or dinner held here, without ever seeming stuffy or overly formal – as do the beautifully plated dishes. The collection of Melody Rose fine chinaware only accentuates the effortless style the Harcourt is striving for, a seamless melding of British tradition and Scandinavian cool. So it’s of little surprise to find those same influences dominating the Fika, a Swedish version of afternoon tea.
Thick slices of rye bread, enriched with nuts and seeds, have a wonderful depth of flavour and a close crumb that brings to mind the idea of a savoury tea loaf as much as it does the traditional Scandinavian staple. It’s the perfect foil for thin slices of gravlax, replacing the sandwiches normally found at an English afternoon tea. Pickled herring is surprisingly mild, eschewing pungency to play with the contrast of sweet flesh and tart vinegar. A selection of cheeses from esteemed monger Androuet is well balanced, if not especially remarkable. and served with quince paste and rye crackers. Reindeer scotch eggs are cooked to perfection, the liquid gold of their yolks oozing out to coat a deliciously crisp crumb. The reindeer meat itself is tender and delicious, although a little lacking in gaminess.
Any good afternoon tea wouldn’t be complete without pastries of course. Boards piled with danishes litter the table, their rich golden pastry contrasting beautifully with the tang of the fruit at their centre. The stars of the show, though, are the traditional cinnamon buns. A Swedish classic, their crisp outer shells give way to pillowy rings of pastry lined with a sweet cinnamon paste. They make the humble Chelsea bun look like a mere pretender by comparison.
The tea itself comes in a number of different variations – Assam, English breakfast, camomile and various other floral flavours all make an appearance. The real drink to watch though is the High Garden, a mixture of gin, rose and violet. It might read like an especially fine bar of soap, but the taste is excellent, starting off with the kick of juniper, fading into the softness of rose then perking back up for a lingering zing of violet. It’s a drink that revels in its own simplicity, emblematic of the overall style of the Harcourt. No need for thrills or tricks, just a few excellent ingredients and a reliance on nothing more or less than minimalistic elegance.
To book a table for Fika at the Harcourt, 32 Harcourt Street London W1H 4HX call 020 3771 8660 or visit here.