David Gerrie enjoys his own Mad Hatter’s tea party at The Franklin Hotel
With its black-and-white chessboard interior decor, warren-like array of corridors off corridors and spaces leading quite curiously into other spaces, Lewis Carroll would no doubt have thoroughly approved of Kensington’s Franklin Hotel as the venue for an Alice in Wonderland high tea offering to coincide with the exhibition currently running at the V&A.
But fear not. There is no Heston Blumenthal-try going on here. No petite marmite of mome raths or borogove butties. The kitchen here has long had a rather fine way with all things Italianate (the best grilled octopus I’ve ever eaten) and they’ve come up with a number of good ways to segue from that to some rather nifty mini-courses – sort of “Alice Goes Dolce Vita,” if you like.
As you’ll know should you have already visited the superb V&A exhibition, the institution of high tea was invented by The Duchess of Bedford in the mid-1800s and, together with brunch, that other strangely-mistimed mealtime diffusion, always struck me as never quite knowing what it wants to be. You surely will not be wanting dinner after your Franklin feast, but there’s just never the satisfaction of having a major protein to carry your gastric cravings through to the nine o’clock news.
So, the tableware is suitably decorative while the service, unlike Alice’s experience, most unsuitably impeccable. There are six teas to consider, from classics such as Earl Grey and Darjeeling to more exotic samplings including a white tea and Jasmine Pearls (my choice), a gentle, none-too-tannic green tea conjured from blending jasmine flowers with tea leaves.
There’s a “Drink Me” bottle with a shot of pomegranate, mango and lime smoothy, then all the other bits arrive variously placed on the traditional tiered serving tower as well as other more current surfaces. There’s a lovely little nod, too, to the kitchen’s origins in the placing of some cakes on reflective mini-pizza shovels.
For the saltier of palate – and let’s face it, none but the maddest would head straight for the sugary stuff – there are four to sample: sandwiches of smoked ham, oak-smoked cheddar and grain mustard or grilled tomatoes, aubergine hummus and aged buffalo mozzarella; a crab-salad filled bun with soya mayo’, avocado and lime; and, best of all, a vivid beetroot pita pocket stuffed with burrata and bresaola.
You’ve had the sensible bit – now it’s down the patisserie rabbit hole. And there’s enough here to sustain the grin on any Cheshire Cat’s face. There’s a lovely fennel cheesecake with a base of grapefruit shortbread; a heart-shaped cake of red velvet sponge, vanilla butter cream and raspberry compote; a chocolate brownie top hat swathed in kataifi pastry and filled with soft pecan cream on a pecan sable base; and the visual showstopper, a carrot caramel cupcake with orange sable, caramel mousse and meringue, all topped with the sweetest snail you’ll ever encounter.
By now, you’ll be ready to sit back and contemplate the Mad Hatter’s riddle and exactly why the dormouse is always asleep. But no! There are now two different types of scone to consider – perfect traditional ones and a blueberry variant with blueberry compote and a pink meringue topping.
All in all, absolutely brillig!
Tell Me More About Alice’s Tea Party At The Franklin
Alice at The Franklin London, 24 Egerton Gardens, London SW3 2DB
Monday to Sunday: 14:30-17.00hrs. Bookings must be made 24 hours in advance and pre-paid
Phone: 020 7584 5533/email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Afternoon tea: £45.00
Afternoon tea with V&A exhibition ticket: £55.00 (with one glass of Champagne: £65.00)