Afternoon tea, first conceived in the 1830s as stop-gap between luncheon and dinner, is an indulgent tradition that is still very much alive today. Indeed, there is nothing more Instagrammable than exquisite teas served in the finest china, accompanied by a beautifully-presented selection of dainty finger sandwiches and fluffy scones. Under the roof of a white stucco townhouse in Paddington, The Sybarite found a unique take on this quintessentially British pastime…
Sophistication is the order of the day at The Chilworth; a boutique hotel sitting on the edge of Hyde Park. Having only just opened in July 2018, this new addition to the Montcalm Townhouse Collection is already causing quite a stir with an afternoon tea menu that champions fresh local produce and the finest Indian flavours. The general manager explains that “we do lots of themed afternoon teas, like ice cream in the summer, and lots of guests staying at the hotel asked for Indian cuisine.” In response, head chef Vijay has curated an alluring menu that subtly infuses tea-time favourites with the spices of the sub-continent. Intrigued? So were we.
Upon arrival in the lobby we are handed hot towels to freshen up – a nice touch, especially after the long tube ride across London – before being seated in the relaxed bar area. After making ourselves comfortable we peruse the extensive menu of JING teas, which includes Assam Breakfast, Rooibos and Whole Chamomile. Sensing our indecision, the waitress brings over some samples for us to smell. As we pick up each jar, a waft of fragrant aroma reaches our noses, making it tantalisingly difficult to settle on just one! After much deliberation, we decide on a pot of Jasmine Pearls; a lovely green tea scented with summery jasmine blossom. If tea just isn’t your cuppa or you need a little pick-me-up, you can also order a freshly made coffee.
Leaving our tea to steep, we pause to take in our surroundings. Defined by dark wood, white marble-topped tables and crushed velvet in stylish hues of silver and orange, the restaurant’s inviting décor blends period charm with contemporary finesse. As an added bonus, the deep arm chairs are extremely comfortable; the kind you can happily sink into for a whole afternoon. Sipping on our chilled glass of champagne, we await the food with great anticipation…
From the moment we set eyes on the spread, we know we’re in for a treat. Cascading down a three-tiered cake stand is a splendid assortment of mouthwatering treats, with scones and cakes on the lowest tier, and savoury snacks on the second and uppermost. We start by tucking into bite-size samosas, battered pakoda and, the stand-out starter, papdi chaat; a moreish mouthful of spiced chickpea and potato, cooled down with tangy mint yoghurt and topped with crunchy sev (a thin, crispy noodle made from chickpea flour).
The sandwich course is bursting with Indian flavour, each component so delicious we could have eaten an entire plate. The chutney sandwich comprised of beetroot-dyed bread and sweet chutneys adds a vibrant splash of pink to the display, and tastes as good as it looks. Light and airy rye bread filled with buttery chicken tikka is a surprisingly sophisticated pairing, and a far cry from the classic crustless egg mayo sandwiches. But it’s the Bombay aloo bonda pav, a popular tea time snack from South India, that steals the show. This crushed potato croquette, enveloped in a slider-style brioche bun, and flavoured with layers of sweet and spicy chutneys, packs a mighty punch.
After devouring the top two layers we move onto dessert. Sugar and spice and everything nice may be what little girls are made of, but they’re also essential ingredients of an afternoon tea. My concern that scones would be left off the menu was thankfully misguided. We tuck into just-baked sultana scones served with strawberry jam and Devonshire clotted cream, which is wonderfully complemented by the jasmine tea. Next up is nan khatai; an authentic Indian cookie that, just like shortbread, crumbles on the tongue in an oh-so-familiar way… until an unexpected salty sweetness pops in your mouth, sending your taste buds into blissful disarray. We finish with a culinary masterpiece, and my personal favourite, a special trio of sweet pots. Featuring three layers of Indian mithai – a traditional Indian dessert – this decadent dish combines the delicate flavours of cardamom-infused rice pudding with sweet fruit coulis. Hats off to the chef for this one. We round off the afternoon by sinking further and further into our armchairs, freshly-brewed Indian masala chai in hand.
Everything about afternoon tea at The Chilworth was wonderful, from the quietly attentive service to the food itself. The Indian-inspired menu is the perfect balance of familiar and new, brimming with distinctive flavours that have you wolfing down every last crumb.
Afternoon tea is served Monday – Sunday: 2:30pm – 5:30pm