Towering stain glass windows, lavish dark teal-stained wood and gold painted Elizabethan-style paneling adorn the walls of The Morris Room (formally The Green Room) at the V&A in South Kensington. Pristine white linens are smoothed over small, circular tables topped with four sets of matching myrtle green British Burleigh crockery. It’s intimate but not overcrowded.
To get to the dining room, diners must walk down a brightly lit mirrored corridor, past the equally opulent Gamble and Poynter rooms, and through the clamor of the museum’s modern cafeteria. The contrast here is startling: one step over the threshold takes you from a bustling, touristy atmosphere to a serene, evergreen scene from late-Victorian London.
Designed by Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. (the decoration firm that William Morris established in 1891), the grand dining space forms part of the original V&A Refreshment Rooms, the world’s very first museum café. With many of Morris’ designs also on show here, this room is almost an exhibition in itself – a little slice of history.
Curated by food historian Natasha Marks, in collaboration with Benugo, the V&A’s traditional afternoon tea is everything you’d expect from an historic setting like this. There’s an equal balance of savoury and sweet, and every tiny sandwich and dainty cake follows an original 19th century recipe.
We enjoyed the squares of spiced Indian ham hock and mild chutney on white bread; and the hints of nutmeg and paprika in the crayfish and mayonnaise sandwich. Clearly influenced by Victorian links with India and the Far East, these were the highlight of the savoury platter – leaving less memorable combinations such as Mrs Beeton’s cucumber sandwich (with an overpowering thick layer of cream cheese) and a simple asparagus and parmesan tart by the wayside.
Look out for the Earl-Grey-infused sultana sconelets and fluffy buttermilk Victoria sponges with elderflower fresh cream filling. The sweet, floral notes of these niceties paired perfectly with a dash of milk in a cup of English breakfast tea.
For us, the crowning glory of the tier was the bite-size lemon and seed bundt cake. The zing from the citrus lifted and accentuated the hints of almond in the buttermilk sponge, while the texture of the poppy seeds and earthy anise of the caraway provided a second dimension to a classic pairing.
The tea selection is limited here (there are only six to choose from) and the plasticky brown chairs feel at odds with the room; but these details do little to mar the experience of taking afternoon tea in the V&A’s magnificent Morris Room.
Afternoon tea in the V&A begins on 13th November and will be served every Sunday from 3-5pm.
Star of the show: The Indian ham sandwich, gooseberry tart and the lemon and seed cake.
Scone rating: 7/10
Perfect for: Someone who wants a traditional afternoon tea, in a room to match.
Price: The Benugo Victorian afternoon tea is £30 per person, or £35 with Prosecco.
Header image photo credit: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Written by Jordan Kelly-Linden, October 2016