Saucy Dressing’s tea guru, Domini Hogg describes the selection of teas on offer at the Intercontinental’s Wellington Lounge, and the careful way they are paired with the flavours and scents of the feast which accompanies them. Follow this link for Domini’s guru post on tea.
In an unusual departure from traditional afternoon tea, InterContinental London Park Lane have taken their guest experience that one step further. After reading about Synaesthesia’s multi-sensory dining experiments, I was excited to discover that InterContinental’s new afternoon tea, Scents of Summer, is based on the multi-sensory principle of combining smell with taste. Research suggests that if you spray fragrances related to flavours in the food over guests while dining, it will enhance these flavours as well as their overall dining experience.
Coinciding with the Chelsea Flower Show, Scents of Summer does just that. This innovative afternoon tea aims to bring the beautiful outside into the tranquil Wellington Lounge by surrounding guests with fresh, floral fragrances while they enjoy their tea. Each natural, alcohol-free fragrance has been specially prepared by the historic London perfumery Floris to reflect the flavours of particular courses. With all that before me you can imagine my anticipation.
We were welcomed by the charming and highly-knowledgeable Luigi Vergura, Tea Expert at the Wellington Lounge, who placed us on a table facing the impressive Wellington Arch opposite. Sinking into our seats, we breathed a deep sigh of relief after a frantic morning to be at last able to relax and enjoy a real treat.
We already knew that we wanted to try Scents of Summer, so all that remained was to choose the tea to go with it. With a background in tea this is always one of my favourite parts. The tea menu, carefully selected from family-run Northern Tea Merchants, was impressive even for a tea snob like myself. There were all my favourites – First Flush Darjeeling, Jasmine Silver Needles and Gyokuro as well as a deliciously fresh Ti Quan Yin oolong.
Luigi came sweeping over to help guide us through our choices. (He had even remembered our differing preferences for still and sparkling water from a previous visit a month or so earlier – unbelievable service!). He made three suggestions of tea to complement the palate cleanser and sandwiches: a green tea from Darjeeling, a Japanese Sencha and the Ti Quan Yin oolong.
Naturally I chose the Ti Quan Yin. My companion chose the green Darjeeling. Luigi spoiled us, however, and allowed us to try the Japanese Sencha as well. In the end I came to the conclusion that the Japanese Sencha was the best fit – more refreshing than the green Darjeeling and more intensely herbal than the Ti Quan Yin it was the perfect accompaniment to a delicious gooseberry and wheatgrass shot and the colourful array of sandwiches that followed.
For the scones we made perhaps a surprising choice. Both of us selected a smoky Lapsang Souchong to cut through the sweet tang of the wild strawberry jam and the bright spiciness of the lemon curd while providing a softer background to the Earl Grey butter. That lemon curd was just to die for – I think it was the pink peppercorns that made it or perhaps it was the citrus fragrance sprayed above us that helped to bring out its wonderful flavours.
With the aroma of resinous pinewood still hanging in the air from the Lapsang, we were presented with two of the most elegant flutes of rosé Champagne I have ever seen – a pre-prandial to our desert. These were trumped, however, by the desert plate when it arrived for that was as elaborate and as beautiful as an Ascot hat!
We were assured that everything was edible and after much admiration we decided it would be a sin not to tuck in. I started with the Jasmine cake since I had chosen a white Jasmine Silver Needles to accompany desert and by chance this course’s fragrance was also a heady Jasmine. I made my way slowly around the plate building up to the Peach Melba – a white chocolate bombshell that splits in half to reveal alternate insides. The cakes were a little sweet for my taste, but exquisitely punctuated by fresh berry palate cleansers and crunchy chocolate pebbles.