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The Capital Hotel

Tea at The Capital

by Izzy Burton Monday, August 17, 2015

In September The Capital Hotel launches its new classic tea menu, a confident nod towards the traditional aspects of afternoon tea. We spoke to the chef behind the menu's development to discover a little more about his thought process, and the challenges involved in delivering the perfect afternoon tea.

Izzy writes for Great British Chefs where she combines a lifetime love of food and tricolons.

The ritual of afternoon tea has always been strongly upheld in London, with hotel teas in particular a tradition in their own right. It is, the internet seems to agree, very much an exciting time for afternoon tea. With home baking more popular than ever, every aspect of a menu must be perfected and chefs are able to experiment more freely to cater for an increasingly discerning crowd. With this in mind, I was excited to get amongst the dainty plates and china trios to try the new tea menu at The Capital Hotel.

Behind the development of the tea is senior sous chef Dennis Easton, who boldly waded through the sea of people popping Bakewell tarts into their mouths to tell me a little more about the thought process behind it. Easton grew up in Kent before moving to Cornwall to train under Rick Stein – a story which, standing next door to Outlaw's at the Capital, sounds awfully familiar. ‘It is a similar path to Nathan Outlaw, yeah,’ he said. ‘But that’s not surprising . . . We actually grew up together – I've known him since I was three, he’s a fantastic mentor.’

Unlike Nathan Outlaw, however, Easton ‘never really went near the fish’ at Stein’s restaurant, instead training on the bread and pastry section. This experience perfectly equipped the chef for developing the hotel’s afternoon tea: ‘other places, especially the bigger hotels, will have a full team just to do the tea. At The Capital we’re a lot smaller – it’s family run, still – so there’s just us here and we all chip in.’

Rows upon rows of delicious miniature cakes
Rows upon rows of delicious miniature cakes
Basket of glorious, golden scones not pictured
The three tiered tea, in all its glory
There are whisperings in the air about the lemon drizzle cake, with one enthusiastic guest declaring it the best they had ever had.

That the full afternoon tea is the work of just a small team of chefs seems an even more impressive feat when tray upon tray of identical miniature cakes and sandwiches are presented to us. In terms of size the portions are perfectly pitched, and while juggling a dainty bacon and mushroom quiche in one hand and a dangerously drinkable hibiscus gin cocktail in the other was difficult work standing up (let’s face it, after a couple of those cocktails standing up at all was difficult work) the hotel’s usual seated tea environment would incur none of these problems.

As the trays circulate it isn’t long before there are whisperings in the air about the lemon drizzle cake, with one enthusiastic guest declaring it the best they had ever had. It is good – simultaneously dense and moist, with a stunning citrusy tang – but for me the real winners of the afternoon are the warm crumpets. Topped with cream cheese and generous folds of smoked salmon, these were good enough for me to break an afternoon tea taboo and dip back into savoury after firmly establishing myself in the sweet course.

The selection was a noticeable departure from the French pâtisserie items so commonly found on the tea menus of London hotels. Instead, the items were distinctly British – think egg sandwiches on brown bread, smoked mackerel pâté, Victoria sponge cakes. The move back towards the traditional was a conscious decision on Easton’s part: ‘for a while we had seasonally changing menus with lots of different items, but then we decided to strip it back to the classics – with our own Capital spin on it, of course – because, at the end of the day, there’s nowhere to hide with the classics.'

He’s quite right. Despite the slightly more creative top tier (why aren’t more meals served in multiple layers?) containing the impressive Neapolitan ice cream sandwich and a rich, tangy chocolate orange trifle, all the other items were familiar faces to us all. When you know what a cake should taste like its quality is easier to judge. In some cases, this is a risk – as Easton himself admitted – but of this spread it’s safe to say the gamble paid off.

 
 

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