I didn't think I was going to like this.
Quietly, afternoon tea has very much become A Thing recently and most hotels now have their own slice of a lucrative market. Not my kind of Thing, though: in my mind it's musty and prissy. It's dainty-for-the-sake-of-it, finicky food. It's what my old Prof (he was describing Jane Austen, but it'll suffice) would term mimsy-pimsy. It's fussy little just-so portions: in short, many of the things I heartily dislike. One of my tea companions said she was surprised I was there- "Well, you're just such a bloke, aren't you?" she sighed, resignedly.
Nevertheless, my interest was piqued. The lure of gin lends it a welcomely raffish air: and daytime drinking beats nighttime hands down, in the decadence stakes, as any fule kno. Macbeth might well have praised sleep as the thing that 'knits up the ravelled sleave of care...sore labour's bath, balm of hurt minds', but gin does pretty much the same thing. And this is Scottish gin, no less: Hendrick's, which is never far away when the very best gins are discussed. Channelling the spirit of Withnail rather than my inner Aunt Mildred, I got stuck in. ("We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here. And we want them now!")
It's emblematically English, afternoon tea.
But this is afternoon tea with a difference. The china sets out its stall with quotations from Bram Stoker's Dracula, or Washington Irving's Sleepy Hollow, or Robert Louis Stevenson. Mine had Satan's defiant boast, "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven." (Paradise Lost book one, culture vultures), and is your remedy if your afternoons currently lack a literary frisson. The 'tea'pot is full of a Hendrick's cocktail- St. Germain elderflower and maraschino cherry liqueurs, all rounded off with soda and lemon juice. Hendrick's recommend you drink their gin with cucumber, and there are hints aplenty on the table.
There's a sepia-tinted broadsheet newspaper on hand which introduces you to Hendricks' chief 'Cucumberists' (''We are baffled why we are not consulted on matters of national cucumber policy'); in short, the branding is brilliant.
The overall effect is quirky- whimsical, without any molar/grinding 'wackiness'; offbeat, without that air of forced zaniness which renders charity telethons unwatchable and makes you want to punch someone in the throat. And not in a good way.
All of which means precisely nada if the food and drink itself itself isn't up to scratch. This passes muster with flags flying and metaphors mixed. The sandwiches are the usual smoked salmon and cream cheese/egg mayo/ham/cucumber suspects, all done faultlessly.
There's a petite lime jelly which has a smack of mojito about it. The scones are fresh and light and at their best slathered and anointed, though the precise protocol for the jam and clotted cream application could be discussed at length.
Pistachio macarons are delicate and are gone in a blink: a chocolate opera cake does its 'French spin on tiramisu' thing very well too. But really, it's all about the gin.
Last time I was here it was to try the Chef's Table tasting menu, which had some superb peaks
: the beef in that 'deconstructed' Wellington haunts me still. In the best possible way, naturally.
The advent of the Hendrick's G'n'Tea makes the Park Plaza one to watch: it has enough sly, eccentric wit- and damn tasty food- to make this well worth recommending.
Consider me a convert.