Do you remember when you were a child and you had one favourite treat that never lost its allure no matter how many times over you experienced it?
For me, living through the scorching dry heat of the Middle Eastern summers, nothing was more sought after than a flawless cold sphere of Baskin Robbins’ pistachio almond ice cream, which we found at a mall a short drive away from the apartment we lived in.
Like most good parents though, mine taught me that treats were for special occasions, as rewards or as gifts and not just part of a daily routine. Indeed, treat yourself to the treat too often and it no longer feels like a treat – which is exactly what (I thought) had happened to me with afternoon tea.
After years of indulging in this decadent dining experience during my London escapades, I was feeling a little clotted creamed out and had a recent (almost) year long hiatus from my afternoon tea habit.
It was inevitable, I suppose, but last week, I finally fell off the wagon with an afternoon tea invitation that promised Michelin Star dining, Chelsea Flower Show inspired floral cocktails (and mocktails) and a crater sized berth from the norm. My inner afternoon-tea addict never stood a chance.
Afternoon Tea at Ametsa with Arzak Instruction at the Halkin Hotel
Gone were the stacks of pillowy but predictable sandwiches and even a police sniffer dog would have failed to find any traces of scones. Now before the afternoon tea purists out there get on their high horses, I appreciate a cucumber sarnie and a blob of jam on a scone as much as the next person but I have never managed to leave a conventional afternoon tea without feeling dense and heavy in the pit of my stomach.
At Ametsa’s Spanish Afternoon Tea, with a selection of hot tapas style savoury bites replacing the sandwich tier and a plate of delicate petits fours substituting the scones, I walked out of the hotel, commenting on the delicacy of the flavours rather than musings about which cupboard I need to raid at home to find my strip of antacids.
Ametsa by Arzak Instruction at the Halkin Hotel, Belgravia has earned itself a Michelin star for its contemporary take on classic Basque cuisine and they are not afraid to break all the rules when it comes to tea. We settled into the relaxed and relatively informal interiors of the Halkin Bar and Pumpkin seemed a little unimpressed that I had suggested he dress up when the environment in the bar is mellow enough to welcome you without needing crisp collars and leather loafers.
Although we were offered a glass of Cava, both of us were taken by the description of the floral cocktails, which have been launched as a limited edition special to celebrate the Chelsea Flower Show. My man is first and foremost a beer drinker so any cocktail menu that has him glancing elsewhere earns itself a nice little pat on the back as far as I’m concerned.
My passion fruit mocktail was so refreshing that I finished it within about two minutes and when no staff were around to judge me, I could be found poking the straw into the passion fruit trying to inhale the summer tang of the few remaining seeds. To me, passion fruit is a gift from the Gods and leaving it festering in a food waste bin was unthinkable.
My mission to become a little bit more decisive when I’m out and about was quashed royally by the seemingly never-ending tea menu but I started off with a rose-flavoured black tea (I couldn’t let the floral thing go) before ending our afternoon with the light Jasmine Pearls.
A Spanish Take on Afternoon Tea
A shot glass filled with hot pea soup gave us our first taste of Michelin starred afternoon tea with our rapidly-formed, green moustaches speaking for themselves.
With a plate of tapas each to follow, this afternoon tea works really well as a light lunch (with the added bonus of a guaranteed sugar rush to follow.) The exsanguinating interiors of the comfort food croquettes were balanced out nicely by the wholesome lightness of the avocado and pepper sandwich. (Amazing how much of a difference toasting the bread can make!)
Having recently returned from Japan, anything with the word tempura attached found a welcome spot on our palates but the anchovy addition to the skewer was a little too fishy for my liking but that’s a personal preference as I have never really found myself taking to anchovies – and I have tried many times!
Ametsa’s Afternoon Tea laughs in the face of the notion that afternoon tea needs to be considered a British phenomenon. Perhaps it once was but this is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and whichever Brexit camp you fall into, I would argue this Spanish take on afternoon tea is most definitely welcome to remain in our homeland. 😀
These desserts were quintessentially Spanish starting from the churros dipped in an artisan chocolate lava, the Crema Catalana with cinnamon and the Sangria with passion fruit and lemon sorbet (which I loved when all the ingredients were combined on a spoon but I found became too alcoholic in taste towards the bottom for someone of my teetotal disposition).
And running with the flower show theme, once again, was the Elderflower Trifle, which was exactly the kind of refreshing, summer flavour I needed to cleanse my palate in between the richer creamy desserts.
For those of you more drawn to the visual than the verbal, you may question why I took so many photographs of black rocks. Both in images and in person, these sleek black “rocks” had an illustrious sheen to their surface and seemed to me to be the kind of soft furnishing that someone with an eye for interior design would scatter around in vases or some such in their model-home-esque urban pads.
As it turns out, these handcrafted charcoal pebbles, scattered on a garden of sweet beetroot crumble, are actually charred sweets and are rather a labour of love for the Ametsa Chefs. Taking 24 hours to prepare and vastly in contrast to what appearances would have you believe, the surface of these sweets are delicate and flake apart gracefully with just a gentle push of the spoon, revealing a velvety vanilla interior.
If you enjoy langurously grazing over the flavours of Spain over plates of tapas, if you enjoy dining experiences that break from convention or if you simply know (or are!) the afternoon tea snob who has been there and done it so many times over that no scone will ever stand a chance again – this Spanish Afternoon Tea is the one to catch.
What are your favourite spots for afternoon tea?
Disclaimer: We were guests of Ametsa by Arzak Instruction and Como Hotels but opinions, as ever, remain my own. I have done my fair share of afternoon tea *research* over the years and I can honestly say that this is one of the most creative, unconventional and unique teas I have come across.