Thursday, 4 March 2010

afternoon tea with a difference: éclairs at The Arch

New hotel, in London, good early reviews - I'm there.

Actually, I'm not usually. But the Arch hotel caught my eye after a couple of fellow food bloggers visited and reviewed its afternoon tea offering.

Because it wasn't just any old tea. Not a scone or dollop of clotted cream in sight. No, it was a tea with a difference. A tea with éclairs. And, more to the point, a tea with savoury éclairs. Oh, and some rather good Jing tea, too.

Neat idea, I thought. Must go try for myself.

And so I did.

First, the menu. Or the most relevant part, for the purposes of this little exercise:

tea menu at the Arch

Second, the tea:

tea at the Arch 2

Next, the crumpets with blueberry butter (not jam, note):

tea at the Arch 4

And then, the grand finale - the éclairs (from l-r: Amalfi lemon and biscotti; chocolate and green tea; and crab and crème fraiche):

tea at the Arch 3

The verdict?

Lots of positives.

The place itself is beautifully furnished and blessedly quiet, in a good way (not in a 'we're quiet because we're deserted' way) which helps hugely in making it a great spot to have tea and while away a couple of hours.

Service is keen, friendly, and attentive, without being overbearing. In other words, it's the kind of service I like.

The menu? The éclairs aside, there are plenty of scrumptious options. Check out the full version here. And if you don't want an option in its entirety, you can simply pick and choose individual items, as we did.

The tea? Perhaps rather boringly, we opted for English Breakfast tea. But this, to my mind - not least because it's the tea I drink most frequently - is a good benchmark for the general quality of teas a place serves. This was clean, punchy, refreshing, with just a hint of tannin. My only quibble lay with the strainer - a rather Heath Robinson-like contraption, whose irritation factor was exacerbated by the fact that there was nowhere to put it after you'd poured your tea.

The shortbread biscuit accompanying the tea was perfectly pleasant, and evidently made on the premises. Living up to its billing, it was certainly 'short' - so light and crumbly, in fact, that it almost disintegrated into nothingness in my (not knowingly strong) grasp before making it into my mouth. But what was its point? I can understand serving a biscuit with tea if tea is all the customer is having - but we had also ordered crumpets and éclairs... In our case, then, while the biscuit was arguably a 'nice touch', it was also wholly superfluous to requirements.

Crumpets. Well, they were certainly recognisably 'crumpety'. Light, soft, and doughy, with a decent crisp outer. But the real revelation was the blueberry butter. This, my friends, is the 'jam' of the future. If, like me, you like jam, but can rarely face its uber-sugariness, then do give this stuff a try. You get a decent hint of the fruit, but without all the, well, jamminess of jam. It was subtle, tasty, and very moreish, and a good foil for the richness of the butter and the crumpet dough.

And the éclairs? You can see from the pics (ok, not-so-great pics - blame the low artificial light, as ever - but I think you get the idea) that these are not your standard eclairs. I must admit, I had feared they might fall foul of the usual éclair errors: over filling, too little filling, dry or heavy pastry, etc... There is, after all, a multitude of ways in which an eclair can go wrong. But not these. Maybe we got lucky, but each of those that we tried was perfectly judged.

Perhaps my marginal preference would be for the crab and crème fraiche combo, if only because it had the added novelty factor. The filling was delightful - distinctly charged with crab, but prevented from being too much of a good thing by the lemony crème fraiche. But the sweet éclairs were no less enjoyable - the addition of green tea in the chocolate and green tea version helped cut through the chocolate to produce a mellow and low-level chocolate hit, while the Amalfi lemon éclair was fresh and zingy without going so far as to induce any lip-puckering or teeth-sucking. Like Fiona and Sig, however, I'd agree that the biscotti on top - while undoubtedly fine and dandy for decorative purposes - did nothing to improve the éclair.

All in all, then, a thumbs-up. It made an interesting change, and is certainly a little different from the other afternoon tea offerings out there at the moment. I liked the idea, and the execution was pretty good. Only a dinner engagement, just a couple of hours later, prevented me from sampling more.

I hope they keep up the good work, because I, for one, hope to be back to try the other éclairs and, indeed, the rest of the tea menu.


BribedwithFood said...

You had me at "it's quiet" (and at "savoury eclairs" too actually)

Jacqueline said...

Lucky you, sounds great!

Beth said...

what a delightful way to spend an afternoon

Choclette said...

It all looks very sophisticated but what an interesting touch with eclairs. I've been meaning to try the green tea and chocolate combination as I've heard they go together well but find it a bit hard to imagine.

Cakelaw said...

Savoury eclairs - now that's a new one for me, but they look devine. Although old sweet tooth here would be going for the sweet ones ...

Kavey said...

I read that same blog post and would love to try some of those eclairs... the foie gras and sauternes one appeals!

Chow and Chatter said...

oh such a fun thing to do love this

Manggy said...

My initial reaction:
1. mm, crab and creme fraiche
2. chocolate is a classic...
3. wtf is that biscotti doing there?
IMO, ruins the experience. Thanks for sharing! (Am a jam fan though :)

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

BribedwithFood - personally, I think they should do more savoury eclairs. I'm certainly going back for the foie gras and sauternes one

Jacqueline, Beth - it was!

Choclette - you really must try chocolate and green tea. It's a combination that works very well

Cakelaw - hee hee. I think you'd like both, but I know what you mean ;)

Kavey - yep, me too!

ChowandChatter - yes, it was. I liked the added novelty factor of no scones and no cream, much as I love them

Manggy - heh. I'm hoping they'll ditch the biscotti after reading a few reviews... ;)

Graphic Foodie said...

VERY interesting and a great twist on AT. Will have to pop along at some point. Thanks!

Mediterranean kiwi said...

the blueberry butter sounds like a nice difference - i love red/black/purple berry fruits, so i cant wait to go come over. we are serioulsy deficient in this food sector

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I'll take the foie gras and sauterenes please, sounds amazing.

Tom said...

Certainly an interesting concept, I've not heard of savory eclairs before... I am curious now though, but I'm sure nothing beats the chocolate variety!

Jennifer said...

I'm glad you felt better enough to go! It looks totally delicious. Thanks for sharing! :-)

Helen T said...

Sounds incredible, I love a good afternoon tea. In fact this sounds more than good, I love that they are doing something different. The foie gras eclair is on my to try list, most definitely!

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Graphic Foodie - can thoroughly recommend a long 'popping in' stop ;)

Med kiwi - you'll love it. A great way to eat berry fruits

Sarah - I know. I'm going back for that!

Tom - I think these might just challenge your assumption...

Jennifer - thanks, and you're most welcome!

Helen T - glad to hear it. I'm sure you won't be disappointed

Pia K said...

sounds/looks lovely! but i'm a scones (no clotted cream) gal and i would probably miss that bit. but ok, i might feel daring and adventerous and try it out anyway, would i be in the neighbourhood...:)

Foodycat said...

Tell more about the blueberry butter please! Was it blueberries mashed into whipped butter, or a sort of blueberry curd affair? The crumpets look homemade too.

The Caked Crusader said...

HOw interesting - it seems so obvious as choux pastry has been filled with savoury ingredients for years but never in the eclair format. I love it!

Angry birds clone said...

Nice post. Great blog. Thanks for sharing.
Groupon Clone| Groupon Clone Script| groupon clone| Angry birds clone|

Register website domain said...

You always come up with delicious food recipes..

Buy domain names

duko said...

Quite effective material, lots of thanks for the article.