High Tea at Harvey Nichols Fifth Floor Restaurant
The Fifth Floor Restaurant inside the high end department store, Harvey Nichols or Harvey Nicks as Britney Spears used to call it hosts a lovely high tea service and no reservations are required. I must admit that I had hopes of having high tea at the famed Berkeley Hotel where the tea biscuits are in the shapes of designer bags, dresses and shoes but when we arrived we found out that reservations must be made two months in advance. I’m still not sure if this is true. Maybe it was what we were wearing? Just kidding.
We asked around at some of the nearby Knightsbridge hotels and found that it is common practice in London to make reservations for high tea. It really never occurred to me to do so, even though I’m from Vancouver and have the Open Table app on my phone. At home, sometimes I even make reservations for dessert. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to do this for high tea. Maybe because I just thought of high tea as a snack. This is not the case.
High tea or afternoon tea as it is also known as has a long history in England. During the mid 18th century, there were only two main meals served each day for the upper and middle class: breakfast and dinner. Dinner was served very late at night. It was rumored that Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, the Duchess of Bedford snuck her pots of tea and bits of bread in the afternoon to curb her hunger. Thus the high tea tradition was born! The Duchess of Bedford continued the tradition by inviting all of the Queen’s friends to high tea where small cakes, mini tea sandwiches and tiny sweets were served with tea. These high tea parties became quite the social gatherings, the women would come dressed in pretty day dresses with dainty gloves and elegant hats, ready to chat and nibble on small treats.
Playing tea party is also still one of the most popular games amongst little girls. I, myself still remember the numerous tea parties that I’ve had with my Cabbage Patch kid, Carebear and Rainbow Brite. It was the best of all worlds, the pouring of tea made me feel like a grown-up but the little cakes and sandwiches looked like they were made for children.
The Fifth Floor Restaurant in Harvey Nicks gives the traditional high tea ceremony a contemporary twist. This is a place where Kate Middleton, and maybe even Princess Diana would have hung out. I can definitely picture Kate Middleton having tea by the window wearing one of her understated but fashionable wrap dresses accented by one of her trademark classy and funky hats perched on that head of perfect hair. No, I am not jealous.
Housed in a large, white, spacious and elegant dining room, the Fifth Floor Restaurant creates both an enchanting but modern ambiance. I still felt like I was in a fairytale but one where my prince would be wearing ripped jeans and leather and would ride in on a Harley Davidson, not a boring white horse.
The way that high tea service works is that all you have to do is pick what kind of tea you would like and the sandwiches and sweets are served according to a preset menu. Usually high tea consists of a savoury course followed by sweet treats, everything in miniature proportions. You can also pick Champagne to be served instead of tea.
Our first course consisted of some pretty scrumptious little sandwiches. My favourite was of course the bagel with cream cheese and salmon. The little toasted poppy seed bagel with a ribbon of smoked salmon was the perfect two bites.
To balance out the saltiness from the cheese and fish, I decided to try the egg salad sandwich next. The light mayo mixed in with fresh watercress on the soft, pillowy bread was a great contrast to the toasted bagel. The egg salad was creamy but also light, an appropriate afternoon nibble. Next was the Saint Agur cheese and cherry tomatoes on toasted Poilane. The cheese was strong and pungent but the sweet juice from the tomato balanced that out. The toasted Poilane was much more like the harder, more rustic and traditional British bread, as opposed to the soft roll that the egg salad was sandwiched in.
The black olive tapenade with ortiz tuna focaccia round was so rich and tasty that I could have eaten at least ten of them. I could have used more tapenade though, only a dot of it comes with a mound of the tuna salad on the fluffy little focaccia round.
Next was the treats course. Also served on a contemporary square slab of plastic, these little treats were so gorgeous on the platter that it was a shame to eat them. First up was the lemon and mascarpone tart. Encased in a shortbread crust, the rich lemon curd that oozed out upon my first bite was indescribably delicious, it was sweet but tart, smooth and creamy and adding to the richness was the velvety layer of mascarpone at the bottom of the tart.
My favourite treat was the Sicilian pistachio slice even though it was the least prettiest, as a lumpy, crumbly green triangle on the platter. It was so moist and sweet though, with hints of almond and the deep nuttiness of pistachio hitting the back of my throat, it was delicious.
The pretty little chocolate tea cake drizzled with white chocolate turned out to be a chocolate covered marshmallow on top of a chocolate biscuit or what we call a mallowmar in North America. It was tasty all the same. The chocolate was not as sweet as North American chocolate but for the most part the marshmallow was just as soft and fluffy.
I found it pretty humourous that macarons was misspelled on the menu. They made the common mistake of spelling it macaroon with two ‘o’s, which is the American cookie of mounds of coconut shreds and egg white not the little meringue burgers that French macarons are. Nonetheless, the orange and vanilla macaron was sweet, chewy, soft and tasty.
The most traditional treat we had was the Battenburg, the beautiful little checkerboard cake covered in sweet marzipan. The cake was created in 1884 to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenburg. The four sections in the sponge cake represent the four princes of Battenburg, Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis Joseph. The cake was incredible. It was hard not to stuff the whole thing in my mouth. The cake was sweet and fluffy and the marzipan melted on my tongue.
The scones served with our treats were also very light and delectable. Their delicate texture crumbling at the slice of my butter knife.
To fit with the modern decor, the tea cups and saucers were also very contemporary chic, with stylish asymmetrical saucers and neat stand-alone tea strainers. I’m pretty sure that a cosmopolitan girl like Kate Middleton would love it here.
Although, unlike me, she probably would not be so amused by the sugar lumps. This is literally what they are, bumpy lumps of sugar with both white and brown sugar mixed in the sugar cup. Is this really why they call them lumps? I noticed this also at the Orangery at Kensington Palace. I am clearly spoiled by uniform Canadian sugar cubes, which literally are, perfect, 90 degree angle cubes.
And last but not least, I ordered Darjeeling tea to go with my treats. It’s known as the ‘Champagne of teas,’ due to its light and airy flavour and delicate floral notes. It was the perfect compliment to such a variety of little snacks.