I love a good afternoon tea, but the truth is, most of them follow a fairly predictable – yet still delightful! – formula. Some teas, however, are just special – and The Berkeley’s Prêt-à-Portea is just such a one.
What sets Prêt-à-Portea apart is dedication to a theme; in this case, high fashion. Every six months, the afternoon tea menu at The Berkeley changes, and a new crop of pastries inspired by that season’s couture looks arrives. When I visited in early October, I dined from the Spring/Summer Collection; looking at The Berkeley’s website now, I see they have switched to Autumn/Winter – and it makes me want to catch the next Eurostar to London and try it all again!
The Berkeley nails all the details, chief among them the china: I loved the pink, green, and yellow patterned cups and plates. As for what was poured into the cups, I chose Phoenix Honey Orchid tea to go with my savories and the Caramel Indulgence Infusion to go with my sweets. Both were lovely, but I have to give an edge to the Caramel Indulgence because…I really, really love caramel in all its forms. I also splurged on a glass of champagne to go with my tea.
^^ This is the caramel infusion, which looks a bit questionable but was, most assuredly, actually quite delicious!
While you won’t find scones included in The Berkeley’s afternoon tea – a fact that did disappoint me a bit – they make up for it with an abundance of savories. There were five tea sandwiches: traditional egg salad on a brioche bun, chicken with coriander and celery on white bread, Scottish smoked salmon on dill bread, angus beef with arugula on wheat bread, and pickled beetroot and cheddar on beet bread.
The Berkeley also serves a plateful of more experimental amuse-bouches, something I hadn’t seen at an afternoon tea before. A few of these bites were a bit too daring for my palate (hello, beet gazpacho!), but they were all quite interesting. These included the aforementioned beetroot gazpacho, a bite-sized piece of tuna, crab and watermelon, smoked duck and goat cheese, and mixed vegetables with tomato mousse.
Then, it was time for the real stars of the show: the nine (!!!) pastries, each modeled off a high fashion look. The Berkeley gives you a little card showing the actual fashions themselves, and it was fun to see just how well the pastries captured the spirit of the designs!
First up, the Giambattissta Valli mini tower of light pink joconde sponge ruffled with raspberry cream, topped with pink spun sugar:
Second was the Oscar de la Renta princess gown of coconut and lime mousse set atop a sablé Breton with green leaf icing. This was one of my absolute favorites, as it was both a gorgeous shade of green and truly delicious.
Third came the Jean Paul Gaultier crème de menthe cremeux with dark chocolate ribbon and mint jelly, topped with a white orchid meringue, rhubarb crisp, and edible purple petal. This was another favorite of mine, though if you aren’t a fan of mint, it might not be for you, as it was quite minty.
Fourth was the Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen butterfly hat with chocolate-glazed gianduja mousse:
Fifth up was Emilio Pucci’s summer coat of light cheesecake and apricot Emanuel sponge, topped with bold dark chocolate buttons. This was another favorite, as the cheesecake was quite tasty:
Sixth was Elie Saab’s red degrade silk georgette dress duo of blended strawberry and mango bavarois with mango compote, topped with a flame-like sugar frill. This was the only dessert I didn’t truly enjoy, as mango compote just ain’t my thang. Still, it was undeniably beautiful:
Seventh was Alexander McQueen’s “Armadillo” vanilla shortbread shoe with cream icing and edible sparkles. Isn’t this adorable?
Eighth up was Anya Hindmarch’s “Big Eye” collection handbag of blueberry victoria sponge cake wrapped in light blue chocolate with candied cartoon eyes. This was another treat that was almost too cute to eat. Almost.
And ninth came Lisa Marie Fernandez’s chocolate shortbread “Alexa” bikini with green icing and cream ribbon. Cheeky!
As if that were not enough, my waitress brought over a cute little to-go “purse” filled with a few extra sweets (and room for all the leftovers from the sweets I simply couldn’t finish):
I seek out afternoon teas most everywhere I go, but The Berkeley’s Prêt-à-Portea is one that truly stands apart from the rest. Packed full of edible works of art, I won’t soon forget this elegant and oh-so-fashionable afternoon tea extravaganza.