One of the best things about having my Tuesdays off for writing is that for a few hours in the middle of the week I get to be a ‘lady who lunches’, complete with pearls and handbag. Swanning around trying out new eateries and chuckling away with friendly restaurateurs over a glass of wine is the ideal life of little responsibility and excess luxury. A few Tuesdays ago I visited the super posh Sanderson hotel to experience the eccentric Mad Hatter’s tea with a fellow foodie who was equally intrigued by the titillating menu.
The Alice in Wonderland theme is particularly hot at the moment with the Royal Ballet’s wacky production and the recent hit film still fresh in our minds. It seems logical to use this fantastical story as the focus for a tea party and the Sanderson’s take is charming and fun, not to mention delicious. I mean who wants normal sandwiches when you can have rainbow sandwiches with pink beetroot flavoured bread?
We were led into a glorious courtyard, with fountains and plants and beautifully set tables with glistening cutlery and teacups. Groups of girls giggled and sipped tea at every table. Our waitress was extremely attentive, on hand at any moment to assist us. We ordered a fruity cocktail each, from the list of three concoctions on the menu: Lucid Spark (Camomile infused Cariel vanilla vodka shaken with fresh apple juice & elderflower cordial) for me, and the Vivid Hour (Earl Grey infused Absolut raspberry vodka & Framboise liqueur shaken with fresh raspberries & grapefruit) for my companion. Mine was delicious, an intriguing mix of flavours, very unconventional and beautifully balanced, the Vivid Hour tasted much stronger, rich flavours with a bitter kick from the grapefruit.
The food arrived shortly after, a stupendous tower of treats, we didn’t know where to start… here is the curious menu for your amusement:
Rainbow Coloured Finger Sandwiches
Ham and English Mustard on yellow saffron bread
Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese on green spinach bread
Cucumber and Black Pepper on Beetroot bread
Egg Mayonnaise and Cress on brown bread
Queen of Hearts Strawberries and Cream Mousse
Apple Pie, Lemon Curd and English Toffee
Chocolate Opera Rabbit’s Clock
Chocolate and Coffee Layered Sponge Cake
(Will turn your mouth from hot to cold)
Hazelnut Praline Ice-Cream Lollipop
(Explodes with a single bite)
Served with strawberry preserve and clotted cream
So, as you can see it is a gastronomic adventure, Lewis Carroll’s twist on the traditional English tea. I found the sandwiches to be a little dry, though they were incredibly pretty, the flavoured bread was an inspired idea making them look extra special and exciting. The cakes were exceptional like the very best from a Parisian cake shop, and the scones were very fresh and light. A little ‘drink me’ bottle sits on the bottom shelf, very enticing… a mini straw pokes out the top, the layers of sweet liquid, mousse, sugary but unique and I could taste every contrasting flavour. The lollipops were not quite as described (!) the hot/cold is perhaps a little bit of an exaggerated claim but they are still wonderfully creative and interesting, and taste good too.
Finally we were offered coffee and tea from a list of unusual blends. We both chose the sweet custard and rhubarb tea that was a beautiful orange colour and surprisingly yummy. Our waitress came to say goodbye with a weathered old top hat, each guest is encouraged to pick a key from the jangling group which we were then invited to try in the shop, to see if our key unlocks the mysterious chest… one key will uncover a prize, disappointingly not ours, but I adored the idea.
The Mad Hatter’s tea is magical and magnificent and unlike anything else you have experienced before.
Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea £35 per guest, visit the Sanderson Hotel website for more information and to book here.