The Parlour at Great Scotland Yard Hotel in Charing Cross: “Afternoon tea steeped in history”
With a hefty heritage stretching back over a thousand years, The Great Scotland Yard Hotel is the perfect spot for those who like their afternoon tea steeped in history. The building has been home to monarchs, pioneering architects and even the Ministry of Defence, but it’s probably best known as the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, in which some of London’s most notorious cases – including those of the legendary Sherlock Holmes – were investigated. However, much like Conan Doyle’s detective after his smart-is-the-new-sexy Cumberbatch rebirth, Hyatt’s 21st-century renovation gives this British cultural icon a fresh face, devoid of the stuffy tweed trimmings.
Upon entering the lobby, artistically mismatched upholstery and lampshades announce an elegant yet eccentric library-esque space. The walls exhibit an eclectic array of crime-related works, from a timeline of notable policing figures to pieces made by prisoners themselves. In other historical offshoots, nods to royalty and literature speckle the space. The Parlour tearoom itself is full of contextual clues, referencing Britain’s imperial ties with India alongside quirky touches such as books in bell jars and an inverted grandfather clock. This could feel messy if it wasn’t curated carefully; instead, the past and present are blended with playful sophistication.
Easing in amidst the leafy wallpaper, we whet our appetites with a delicate glass of Ruinart Champagne and an even gentler pot of Jasmine tea from the Rare Tea company. We are feeling suitably relaxed by the time the three-tiered savoury stand arrives at the table. It contains two types of your classic, stubbornly crustless yet reliably scrumptious sandwiches – Salmon, Cucumber and Horseradish and Chicken Breast with Tarragon Mayonnaise – but it’s the piquant mixture of crab, lime and chilli crème fraiche, tucked into a milk bun, which kicks our taste buds into gear. The pate en croûte (think pork pie after a gap year in Paris) comes to life alongside seasonal chutney, while the cheddar and Guinness gougère is the most pleasing surprise, the crunchy choux jacket bursting with tangy cheese.
Next up comes the sweet-toothed chapter, a pâtisserie menu designed by the hotel’s head pastry chef Verónica Garrido Martínez in collaboration with London perfumery Floris. The cakes are inspired by Bouquet de la Reine, a perfume created especially for Queen Victoria as a wedding gift in 1840. These fittingly regal cakes would be a crowning centrepiece on any table – but given the temptation, it’s likely to be a very short-lived installation.
We start with the adorable bite-sized scones, which come tucked up in a napkin like babes in a blanket, each beautifully rounded with a golden egg-wash glaze. When it comes to the sacred ordering of cream and jam, I’m a strong believer in a pragmatic approach based on consistency: thickest first. In this case, a less viscous strawberry and elderflower jam is drizzled on top for a heavenly mouthful. Call it a nerdy approach, but I don’t mess around when it comes to afternoon tea.
The pâtisserie itself draws its flavours from the key notes of the fragrance: vanilla, blackcurrant, strawberry, violet and rose. The Blackcurrant, Yoghurt and Frangipane Gateaux is subtly rich, with a light yet luxurious sheen. The vanilla, cherry and dark chocolate is a boozy delight, bringing all the shades of a black forest gateaux into a chocolate choux, which is filled with cream and topped with seasonal cherries and a 66% cocoa Valrhona Alpaco disk.
The real highlight for me, though, is the Strawberry and Jasmine Tartlet, which is reminiscent of a sumptuous British trifle executed with French finesse. Within the crisp pastry shell is a layer of subtly floral jasmine cream, on top of which sits fresh fruit under an elegant veil of transparent jelly. The macarons and salted caramel biscuits make nice bite-sized additions, but the star of the final layer has to be the pistachio and rose drizzle cake. An intensely nutty paste gives incredible depth to the moist sponge, which goes down easily with a pot of oolong.
We leave The Parlour feeling humbled, not only by the skill of the pastry chef but also the wealth of history that one building can contain. Luckily, there’s not much room for feeling small or insignificant after being so spoilt by the service and stuffed full of cake. For £60 per head (or £50 without the bubbly), The Great Scotland Yard Hotel’s afternoon tea is one to add to your London list.
Photos: Rosamund Kelby
To book a table at The Parlour at Great Scotland Yard Hotel, 3-5 Great Scotland Yard London SW1A 2HN, call 020 7925 4744 or visit their website here.