With Christmas only weeks away, I thought that I would finally get a head-start on my festive afternoon tea round-up, and what better venue to kick off the festive season in style than at The Berkeley, arguably still one of my favourite afternoon teas in London. Bidding goodbye to the Spring/Summer ’21 collection, their new, yet equally stylish Autumn/Winter 2021 Prêt-à-Portea collection has taken over the runway, showcasing a brand new set of couture cakes, inspired by designers from Ganni to Gucci.
Christmas has well and truly arrived at The Berkeley, as we walked under their glittering festoon of ‘Snowfall’ lights, through the main revolving doors, and into the lobby which has been given a festive transformation with Christmas trees and golden baubles by Larry Walshe, award-winning florist & event designers.
The Collins Room, has also been given an elegant festive makeover, the archways lined with Christmas garlands adorned with sparkly baubles and fashion-inspired ornaments. Seated at my favourite corner table in the extended glass pavilion, Champagne glasses were swiftly brought to our table and filled with Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé – often my preferred choice of drink to accompany my afternoon tea experiences. From their extensive selection of loose-leaf teas, we began with a large pot of Darjeeling 2nd flush, a warm and aromatic Indian black tea. Tucked in each of our napkins was the latest edition of ‘The Front Row’ that featured the latest designers that made this season’s ‘cakewalk’ – one more to add to my ever extensive collection of magazines.
The first course to arrive at our table was the selection of perfectly hand-cut sandwiches which looked incredibly appetizing as always, the fillings and ingredients having been given a seasonal changeover:
Roast Norfolk turkey breast, sage and onion stuffing, pickled cranberries, kewpie mayonnaise on onion bread
Home smoked Scottish salmon, horseradish cream, capers, beef tomatoes, marinated shallots on sourdough rye
Peppered pastrami, Boursin blue cheese cream, gherkin, wild rocket on malt brown
Baked Portobello mushroom, celeriac remoulade, pickled walnuts, Montgomery cheddar on granary bread
Hickory smoked Clarence court egg mayonnaise, mustard cress on white bread
My favourites amongst them was the smoked salmon, often a firm favourite of mine, and the turkey sandwich which always screams Christmas, the first of many that I shall be indulging in this festive season. Accompanying our sandwiches were a couple of autumnal savoury treats; a crisp blue cheese tart with poached pear & onion marmalade topped with Macadamia crumble, and a creamy truffle chestnut mousse with wild mushrooms, pickled baby onions, finished with a velvety tarragon chicken velouté.
Having satiated our savoury tastebuds, we had a short interval in between courses as our table and cutlery were refreshed, ready for the main event. In the meantime we also requested some fresh pots of tea – I went for the Jasmine Silver Needle, a delicate and fragrant white tea that was soothing and much more mellow to accompany the sweet patisserie.
This season’s fashionable collection as always featured seasonal flavours, recreated into beautifully intricate edible works of art by the talented Mourad Khiat, Executive Pastry Chef and brainchild of Prêt-à-Portea. We began with the cassis mousse with blackcurrant jelly and a zigzag of Joconde sponge, depicting Stella McCartney’s psychedelic one shoulder jumpsuit, followed by a cinnamon chocolate blondie in the shape of a miniature Fendi handbag, inspired by this season’s IT bag, an oversized, tactile tote. Encased with Ivoire chocolate which mimicked the neutral shade, it was finished with desiccated coconut ‘fur’ and tasted as good as it looked. A striking ensemble from Balenciaga Couture based on Look 17 of the collection has been reimagined as a velvety mandarin cheesecake with orange confit on chocolate sablé, topped with a Dulcey cream and oversized chocolate hat.
Making its Prêt-à-Portea debut was cult Danish brand Ganni, presented in the form of a hazelnut dacquoise with salted caramel, encased with Valrhona chocolate mousse and finished with a passion fruit crème diplomat and chocolate shard. Always partial towards all things pink, I was undeniably a fan of the Pink Lady apple pavlova, a refreshing nod to Giambattista Valli’s pastel pink avant-garde ensemble. Filled with Granny Smith apple compote and topped with apple jam and Chantilly cream, it had much more substance to it than I had expected. Smiling at us on the top tier stood were spiced biscuits intricately decorated with royal icing, an homage to fashion icon Iris Apfel’s 100th birthday – complete with signature red lipstick and oversized glasses. Last but not least was Prêt-à-Portea’s Christmas party hero catwalk look which draws inspiration from Valentino’s dramatic fuchsia cape, made from a pomegranate mousse and fig compote, set on a chocolate sablé and topped with a chocolate frill. As Christmas party season is all about the sparkles, the cape was spritzed with glitter before us at our table which was a nice touch.
With last season’s Halpern’s feather gown showstopper still fresh in my mind, this season’s key catwalk look took an edgier turn, paying tribute to Gucci’s 100th anniversary collection. Designed to be shared, this red velvet and mascarpone mousse was topped with a hand-painted chocolate dome, under which was concealed a citrus marshmallow dipped in white chocolate, finished with a cute chocolate truffle riding hat filled with dark chocolate ganache.
Scones aren’t part of the Prêt-à-Portea menu, but we were lucky enough to sample some of their warm and fluffy scones which are definitely worth ordering – that is if you have an appetite as big as mine and still have space after all the indulgent treats.
A playful and contemporary twist on afternoon tea, this stylish edit which appeals to the eye as much as to the palate, continues to impress season after season.
The Festive Prêt-à-Portea will be exclusively available from 12th November 2021 to 2nd January 2022, priced from £79.00 per person. Further information on bookings can be found on their website.
- My Prêt-à-Portea experience at The Berkeley was complimentary – views and photos are my own.