Taj 51 Buckingham Gate

Served daily from 12.30pm–6pm

The blurb:

The (already luxurious) Taj 51 Suites and Residences invites you to take afternoon tea with a difference; a perfect East meets West blend of Indian dining culture set in the heart of west London. Expect to find your sandwiches packed with delicately spiced fillings, crispy spring rolls nestled between your sarnies, and as much kulfi as cake on Taj 51’s delicately arranged plates. Not to mention there is an excellently curated selection of loose leaf teas to go with it all!

Drawing inspiration from some of India’s most prominent culinary characters – from the tea-selling, roadside-dwelling Chai wallah to the gilded splendour of the dining rooms of the Maharajas – this is an inspiring reinvention of an English classic.

The style

The dining space, otherwise known as the Kona restaurant, is everything you’d expect from the Taj brand; the front smaller room in accents of rose and gold is pared back and elegant, while the jewel-coloured back room is more exotic and opulent, but without a hint of gaudiness. Peacocks adorn both the wallpaper and the art work throughout.

While the other tables were decorated with various afternoon-tea-themed props (the Taj also offers ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’ themed teas, with matching top hats and deer stalkers), for the Jasmine tea the only ‘prop’ is two beautifully mirrored and gold embossed place settings.

The crowd

It’s almost impossible to say for certain, as the dining room was incredibly quiet on the day we visited. But if our few fellow diners are anything to go by, this is actually a very family-friendly spot (there was a father/son couple opposite us and a mother with two small children). But I can also imagine it as a wonderful fit for well-heeled mothers and daughters looking for an intimate treat, or small groups of friends on the lookout for something opulent to eat over a catch-up.

The food

Served on filigree gold platters, executive chef Sheroy Kermani has created plates so precise and delicate they do look fit for a maharaja’s banquet.

The first thing to arrive at the table may well have been one of my favourites; a moreish and perfectly balanced shot of salty caramel lassi served with a chikki toffee crunch, to perfectly whet the appetite. The savoury platter that followed was an inventive and enjoyable journey through Britain via India, including two spicy twists on the British sandwich; curried egg mayo on sun-dried tomato bread (a revelation for this critic, who never eats egg in any form but happily wolfed down this tasty morsel) and spiced cream cheese and kachumbar on beetroot bread. The witty and well-judged culinary fusion continues with chicken tikka pantheras, creamy fish masala choux rolls, spiced paneer bhurjee puffs, and mini aloo bonda and fig chutney in brioche buns. The crispy textures and rich flavours in each and every one makes this round a tasty delight (though be warned, it’s more filling than you’d think).

The sweet platter is pretty as a picture, and almost too pristine to pick up. It includes gold leaf gulab jamun and cheesecake, gajar halwa macaroons (the tastiest macaroon I’ve eaten in some time), pistachio crusted fruit and srikhand cardamom tarts, shot glasses of saffron rice pudding and Chandni foam, chocolate rasmalai cups, and crispy Anglo Indian rose de cookies.

But for me the highlight came in their far humbler-looking take on scones with jam and cream; flavoured with rose, kismis and almond, served with a gorgeous alphonso mango compote and cinnamon clotted cream. I could have eaten a whole stack of those scones and happily taken pots of the compote home for Christmas presents!

If I must complain about anything when reviewing such a beautifully put together platter, it is merely that this sweet plate is very sweet. There is a lot of chocolate and a lot of cream, but a touch more contrasting spice, cardamom (my favourite flavour) and possibly even citrus would have helped us finish everything. If you have a sweet tooth you may disagree, but for me it was maybe one or two sweets too far.

The drink

The Taj has an excellent selection of loose leaf teas to go with this Eastern opulence (their menu almost resembles a fine wine list). Although it could seem intimidating if your adventures into tea have only gone as far as a cup of Twinings, their evocative flavour descriptions should help you along.

From fresh and delicate white teas and grassy greens, right through to earthy oolongs, there should be something for every palate. Certainly, my pot of genmaicha (otherwise known as popcorn tea) was a toasty, tasty delight and my companion’s caffeine-free rooibos was rich and rounded, and endless refills of our pots were a welcome inclusion to the meal. The only shame was that the tea pots didn’t include removeable tea diffusers; left to stew the tea inevitably became bitter by the end of each pot.

Or if you decide to take your afternoon tea with something a little stronger and less eponymous, there are both coffee and bubbles on offer as well.

In a nutshell

Something this inventive certainly deserves a more bustling dining room! The venue is intimate and elegant, and the food is creative and accomplished. If you’re going to grab an afternoon tea in London I would certainly advise you to ‘head east’ and try this inventive take on a classic.

The details:

£40 per person for the Jasmine Afternoon Tea

Taj 51 Residences and Suites, 51 Buckingham Gate, Westminster, London SW1E 6AF; www.taj51buckinghamgate.co.uk

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