There are seemingly few things more quintessentially British than afternoon tea. A staple of British culture, the origins of the ritual are still unclear, though credit has been given to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who would complain of “having that sinking feeling” mid-afternoon in the lead up to dinner. The Duchess is said to have invited friends to her private quarters for a pot of tea and a light snack, which then became widespread practice for the English aristocracy in the 1840s.
Fast-forward almost 180 years and the British appetite for afternoon tea remains strong, though now the custom is generally reserved for special occasions and visiting tourists. With many variations on the traditional spread of sandwiches, cakes and scones, the UK’s pastry chefs are becoming increasingly inventive when it comes to all things baked and this was certainly the case during our recent visit to Balthazar London.
Situated at the junction of Russell and Wellington Street in the heart of Covent Garden, Balthazar London follows hot on the heels of Balthazar New York which opened in 1997. Here in the UK capital, the French-bistro replicates the feel of it’s New York counterpart via an abundance of red leather upholstery, dark wood and large embossed mirrors. Fittingly, the building used to act as a flower storage area for the Covent Garden market and is perfectly suited for Balthazar’s latest afternoon tea offering. A collaboration with online flower delivery company FLOWERBX.
The Balthazar X FLOWERBX afternoon tea has been impeccably design for London’s food and fashion crowd thanks to a bespoke selection of floral cakes conceived by Balthazar’s Pastry Chef Regis Beauregard. Combining these skills with the floral expertise of FLOWERBX CEO Whitney Bromberg Hawking, the traditional loaf cakes generally associated with afternoon tea have been replaced by edible flowers, presented in vibrant FLOWERBX hues – sky blue Hydrangea, violacious Tulips, petal white Anemone, deep red Balthazar Rose and (our personal favourite) the Sunburst Dahlia.
Things begin with a glass of champagne of the Flower Fizz (a beguiling blend of pink peppercorn gin, cocchi rose, pinky vodka and crushed violet petals) before segueing into an aromatic tea selection that includes Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam, Jasmine and Chamomile.
A three tiered stand is home to a number of freshly-prepared savoury finger sandwiches in delightful flavours, including cucumber, mint and homemade hummus; smoked salmon and lemon crème fraîche; cornoation chicken and apricot; and a lobster prawn roll that far surpasses anything else on the selection.
Up top, guests will find four buttermilk scones (two plain, two raisin), with the unassuming baked item representing the make or break factor of many an afternoon tea. At Balthazar the scones are an absolute delight, gloriously light and fluffy and heightened further by the inclusion of Devonshire clotted cream and a sweet strawberry preserve that we gleefully slather across the uneven halves. It must be said that the scones do spark a somewhat controversial debate at our table, over which topping should go first – the cream or the preserve (comments are welcomed below).
Unsurprisingly, it’s the floral cakes that are the real star of this particular show. The immaculate detail in the design of these flower-inspired sweet treats work to surpass the previous Balthazar collaborations with both Bobbi Brown (where the cakes were fashioned around makeup) and Matthew Williamson (featuring bespoke cakes inspired by the prints and colours of the SS15 collection).
Not all of the cakes are a triumph. With the Raspberry Rose and the Coconut and Yuzu Hydrangea coming across a touch too sickly sweet.
The delicate nature of the multi-petalled and Instagram worthy Salted Caramel Anemone can not be faulted. Though admittedly, it was the lighter Lemon and Blueberry Dahlia that truly stole our hearts.
With afternoon tea proving such a staple of the London F&B scene it’s pleasing to see Balthazar doing things a little differently via the use of these intriguing edible blooms. Set within atmospheric surroundings and accompanied by friendly and unobtrusive service, The Balthazar X FLOWERBX Afternoon Tea is one collaboration you do not want to miss this summer if you’re visiting London.
The Balthazar x FLOWERBX Afternoon Tea is served from 3pm to 5.30pm Monday to Friday; 3pm to 5pm on Saturday; and 3pm to 6.30pm on Sunday. Prices start at £29.95 per person.
Out & About UAE were guests of Balthazar All views are our own and photographs are © Out & About UAE.