As we arrive a capped doorman stands back to allow a smartly-dressed young couple to leave, followed by their designer suitcases both the size of a small yacht. Knightsbridge’s Bulgari hotel attracts a very rich and very glamorous clientele.
Afternoon tea is taken in the lobby lounge, a slick modern space with a check-in desk that doubles as a display of gold-leaf topped pastries and Alain Ducasse chocolate. The room oozes luxury, heavily scented with Bulgari fragrance. We’re shown to a seat by a huge, low, coffee table in front of the fireplace, beneath a huge black and white poster of an Italian film star (though there are tables and chairs set up if you prefer to sit up straight).
Classic afternoon tea and the signature afternoon tea are offered. The former includes sandwiches, scones and three pastries per person. The signature tea is very special: along with dainty cucumber and egg mayo sandwiches there are beautiful tartines – with toppings such as confit tuna and taggiasca olives, a nod towards chef Alain Ducasse’s love of Provencal – the renowned French chef opened the London outpost of his Saint Tropez restaurant Rivea in the hotel last year.
Tiny warm tartlets of broccoli and goat’s cheese and feta and tomato threaten to fill us up before the cakes arrive so we take a breather to discuss our tea choices. Bulgari Caramel and Chocolate is a light black China tea infused with caramel and chocolate, beautifully smooth and round. There are green and black teas, as well as rare varieties in the luxury collection such as Hu Shan Yellow Buds which has a slight honey corn sweetness, and the malty, well-balanced Bulgari 1884 Royal English assam.
Warm madeleines, in place of scones, are a revelation; buttery but light and delicious on their own, or with spoonfuls of crème fraiche and homemade jam. These come on a silver cake dome along with three exquisite cakes: the rich and decadent Le Louis XV chocolate bar, a cute, fat Tart tatin and a pillowy vanilla choux. Each one is topped with gold leaf, which has a tendency to get stuck on your lip – a very Knightbridge-specific problem, indeed!
Our waitress kept our tea topped up regularly, offered us seconds of each savoury and happily boxed up the cakes we couldn’t manage to take home.
There is also a sweet table with little bags provided for guests to help themselves to jelly beans and marshmallows, an extra-generous touch.
Star of the show: ‘Le Louis XV’chocolate bar is a version of the dessert served at Ducasse’s Monaco restaurant, a shiny bar of dark chocolate mixed with a lighter ganache and hazelnuts.
Scone rating: 10/10 for the madeleines
Perfect for: A special birthday treat or anniversary.
For more information, visit The Bulgari
Price: served every afternoon, classic afternoon tea £35 per person or £47-52 per person with a glass of champagne.