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The Sanderson Afternoon Tea Review

Ben Hodgekiss does afternoon tea à la Alice in Wonderland

Published on June 3rd 2011.

The Sanderson Afternoon Tea Review

OUT of the heat and heaving hive of Oxford Street we wander into the lobby of the Sanderson Hotel, which is decorated and styled in a manner that says luxury without having to speak it aloud. Footsteps lead us to the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea, as we walk diligently into another reality behind heavy drapes – no tumbling down a rabbit hole or other elaborate entrance is needed here. Although tradition may dictate that we should be late, late, late, upon our early arrival we are welcomed with a Cheshire cat grin and shown instantly to our reservation. So welcoming is the gentleman who guides our path, it is as though we are taken by the hand as he leads us into the building’s garden heart. There, amongst the other ‘party goers’, and in finalizing our orders, he instructs and puts our concerns at rest.


The tranquil atmosphere lends itself to an afternoon tea environment, where the only characters who appear remotely ‘mad’ are the waiting staff, moving and serving, keeping themselves busy, ferrying refreshments back and forth, attentive and willing to answer any question or request. Settling down, the locale calms and soothes, the clapping of cascading water onto waiting rocks, the inside oasis centre piece, vastly populated in shades of green. It is hard to believe we’re only a few hundred feet away from the hustle and bustle of one of the world busiest shopping streets. 

The tag hanging round the bottle’s neck instructs ‘Drink Me’, which I do at once. So vast, so potent, I try to look as refined as possible sucking through the small straw, experiencing what can only be described as drinking a cake, with flavours changing at every sip taken.

Presented with a cake stand and veritable mountain of sweet and savory, our appetites are set racing and eyes smiling as we concede to having our work cut out for us. It seems a shame to disrupt the equilibrium of the pyramid, yet we make no polite excuses as the ominous task of devouring it falls upon us. In choosing the vegetarian option, we both forgo the opportunity to experience the full spectrum of the rainbow (Yellow saffron bread with ham and English mustard and green spinach bread with smoked salmon and cream cheese), yet I don’t feel as though I have gone without. In taking a bite of the cucumber and black pepper on beetroot sandwich, I am genuinely struck by how cool, crisp and refreshing the slice is. The egg mayonnaise and cress on brown bread is smooth and soft and polished off far too quickly for my liking.


Flavours dancing, lingering long enough to become a pleasant afterthought, and a suitable appetizer to the less sensible and more fun items on the menu. Next, I respond to the beckoning call of the miniature flask sitting before me, containing an apple pie, lemon curd and English toffee flavoured elixir. The tag hanging round the bottle’s neck instructs ‘Drink Me’, which I do at once. So vast, so potent, I try to look as refined as possible sucking through the small straw, experiencing what can only be described as drinking a cake, with flavours changing at every sip taken. And no matter how much I try, the small container never seems to empty, making for an odd adventure in itself.


Our teas arrive just moments before we begin to wonder where they might be (the only hiccup that needs mentioning) and one can only imagine that they had to wrestle them from the hands of the March Hare in order to deliver them to us. Apologies made, we’re left to our own devices; talks of the sublime, books read and tales of family are enjoyed, whilst mouthfuls of scones, rich clotted cream and delicious French strawberry jam sweeten the depth of thoughts and esoteric experiences. After what seems like hours, I finally pluck up enough courage to sink my teeth into our wayward friend, the absent rabbit’s pocket watch. And am I glad I did. Its texture is so fragile and breaks apart so delicately, that the deep, dark, sweet chocolate mouthfuls take me aback speechless, and I just about manage to muster a profound ‘so good’, before resting utterly sold and satisfied at my seat.

IMG_0443.JPGWith every bite, I fear that I am nearing my last, and hope that I can somehow go back in time and constantly relive the first in some kind of perpetual motion or skewed unreality. The same cannot be said of my Queen of Hearts strawberry mouse, with its instructions to ‘Eat Me’. It collapses instantly beneath the light attention of my fork (admittedly, my fault), and leaves more of a melee on my plate rather than a taste on my tongue. Not one to be defeated, I scrap in vein to salvage some kind of pleasure from the shards and shrapnel, the fluffy mouse’s pink clouds, light and floating, ticking and sweet, as it floats down my throat. 

Bombarded by a barrage of flavours, colours, tastes and textures, a much needed rest is taken, sipping more tea and contemplating what curious food artifact to inspect next, having narrowed my choices down with each successive bite. The sensible choice seems to be the hazelnut praline lollipop, but unfortunately, it too suffers the fate of the strawberry mouse and explodes with one single bite. Not quite ready for the treat, which leaves almost as soon as it arrives, I wonder how a bigger portion might allow me to enjoy the tiny explosion fully…


Wrapping up the experience, I take one last look around at the pleasant atmosphere of polite chatters and guests of all ages and dispositions. From the few obvious day-trippers to the ladies that lunch and the seasoned veterans, the garden hums at a subdued pace, just fast enough to be thoroughly enjoyable. Making our way through the foyer, thank you’d and warm wished away, we step from behind the drapes, out of the rabbit’s hole and back in to reality, satisfyingly filled and suitably refreshed.


Rating:           15/20

Breakdown:    8/10 food     

                    3/5 service

                    4/5 ambience


The Sanderson Hotel                         

50 Berners Street                      

London, W1T 3NG

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.



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