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:
Second, the tea:
Next, the crumpets with blueberry butter (not jam, note):
And then, the grand finale - the éclairs (from l-r: Amalfi lemon and biscotti; chocolate and green tea; and crab and crème fraiche):
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.