Sunday, 9 June 2013

A decadent afternoon in London

For my birthday this year, my dad and stepmum bought me a marvellous present: Chocoholics Champagne Afternoon Tea for Two in the Podium Restaurant at The Hilton, Park Lane! Wow. 

Cathy was the lucky recipient of the "Plus One"and we eagerly anticipated May 20th. As it was up in London, we decided to make a day of it and headed up on the first reasonably priced train, arriving about 11.30am. We'd spotted a couple of things we fancied doing and which also fell into the "2-For-1" Offer where, if you produce your train tickets to London, you get (unsurprisingly) two entries for the price of one. 

Our first port of call was the Old Operating Theatre in the Herb Garrett of a Baroque Church in St Thomas' Street. It looked fascinating even on the net and in reality it was even better. The entrance is a tiny door in the wall of the building (from where you can see the almost-finished Shard) and you are immediately faced with a very tight winding wooden spiral staircase. After creaking your way up the 36 steps, you reach another tiny door leading to the ticket office and rather incongruous gift shop. The 2-For-1 system worked perfectly, we paid the grand total of £6.75 between us to get in, and headed up the next flight of stairs.

We entered a relatively small, quite dark attic, absolutely crammed with artefacts. It was a real mixture of old surgical tools, operating tables, early stethoscopes etc and the Culpeper Herb Museum. Both areas were fascinating in slightly different ways - the tools and tables looked incredibly primitive and it was amazing to think that these were once the height of modern medicine! The herbal section was great too - especially given our interest in complementary/holistic health. Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654) was an amazing herbalist (amongst other things) and much of the information held in his "Complete Herbal" is still used today in herbal medicine. 

After the delights of the garrett, we moved into the actual operating theatre. This was where operations were carried out on patients from St Thomas' Hospital between 1822 and 1862 when it was partially dismantled and the entrances were bricked up. It was basically forgotten about until 1956 when a man investigating the history of St Thomas' Hospital found some records of it and decided to take a look. What a surprise he must have got once he'd negotiated the 15ft of ladder up to the trapdoor entrance that was now the only way in. Since then, it has been restored somewhat and filled with the paraphernalia held there today. 
Although the website recommends a 45-minute visit to the museum, we spent well over an hour there and consequently realised that we didn't have time to go to The London Film Museum and still get to The Hilton on time. 

It was a lovely day so we decided to walk right along the river from London Bridge to Westminster Bridge and then hop on the Tube to get to Park Lane. Our journey took us past Southwark Cathedral, Millenium Bridge, the Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern, Blackfriars Bridge, a replica of the Golden Hind, St Paul's Cathedral (on the other side of the river), the South Bank, Gabriel's Wharf, Waterloo Bridge, Jubilee Gardens, London Film Museum, London Aquarium, the London Eye, opposite the Houses of Parliament and finally to Westminster Bridge. 

On the way we stopped off for a drink at the very marvellous "Propstore" bar, a summer pop-up bar, filled with sets and scenery from National Theatre productions. 

And then it was time for the main event - 3pm had rolled around and we were heading into the Podium Restaurant at The Hilton. I'll be honest, once upon a time, "The Hilton" conjured up images of very posh, swanky hotels with chandeliers and marble floors. These days, many of them are, as someone put it the other day, slightly upmarket Travelodges! However, we weren't there to gawp at the surroundings, we were there for our Chocoholics Champagne Afternoon Tea. 

Having been shown to our table, we were handed the menu or, rather, the explanation! A flute of champagne was brought fairly swiftly, along with a small wooden box which contained six tiny glass screw-top containers, each containing a different tea. There were probably twenty different teas on the menu and these were just six interesting ones they thought we might like to sniff. Cathy opted for a white tea and I went for the Hilton Afternoon blend. The champagne was rather nice - Pommery - and went down far too easily. Once that had gone, we were brought our individual pots of tea and the first round of food - sandwiches. They were dainty open sandwiches but absolutely delicious. I had the vegetarian option (of course) - one egg and cress, one cream cheese and cucumber, one cheddar and grape, one mozzarella and tomato and one asparagus with parmesan shavings. 

Then it was time for cake. Cakes. Lots of them. A three-tier metal and glass cake stand arrived, laden down with cakey chocolatey goodness! 

Level One - Scones. Two chocolate chip scones, one fruit scone and a plain scone. A pot of strawberry jam. A pot of clotted cream. A pot of chocolate praline. Heaven.

Level Two - Pastries. Battenberg. Sacher Torte. Raspberry and Elderflower cupcake. Red velvet cupcake. Mmmmmmmmmm.

Level Three - Miniature Fancies. White chocolate and cherry cheesecake with red velvet and orange tuile. Milk chocolate cremeux. Pistachio macaroon with manjari chocolate filling. Iced shortbread butterfly on an orange and chocolate profiterole. Lemon and raspberry marshmallow lolly. Meringue lolly. Yummity yum. 

Oh, and the top level cakes were sitting on a gigantic, half-inch thick patterned plate made of solid chocolate. Everything was beautifully made and presented and, of course, absolutely delicious. We tried to finish it all, we really did but we were beaten by a couple of cakes and the chocolate plate. Needless to say, we were not the first people to ask for a box to take the rest away in. We asked our waitress if anyone had ever finished the whole lot. No. A few people managed all the cakes but no-one had ever actually eaten the plate on the premises! 

So after nearly three hours we headed back out into London with a couple of hours to kill before our train home. Cathy found an internet-based guided walking tour of Jack the Ripper's murder locations on the net so we headed off to Whitechapel and followed most of the grisly tour, ending at The Hoop and Grapes, one of the oldest pubs in London and the only timber-framed building to survive the Great Fire of London in 1666.

And then it was back to Victoria and home. It had been a lovely, interesting and decadent day! Thanks Dad and Ann! 

For all my photos of the day, click HERE

For the actual website and their own photos, click HERE