The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1

 

High tea – there's a thoroughly English concept. Not quite tea and not quite supper, a collision of sweet and savoury flavours, a repast based on "the cup that cheers but does not intoxicate" but with the possibility that the tea will be laced with rum.

It was well established by the mid-19th century, and was more associated with the north than the south of England. Arnold Bennett, in one of his Staffordshire 'Five Towns' novels, describes "a high tea of the last richness and excellence, exquisitely gracious to the palate, but ruthless in its demands on the stomach ... hot pikelets, hot crumpets, hot toast, sardines with tomatoes, raisin bread, currant bread, seed cake, lettuce, homemade marmalade and homemade hams...". It's cognate with the 'tea' that working-class labourers wolfed down on coming home from work – though when it was introduced to the Home Counties, the savoury components became more delicate than their northern equivalents.

Fortnum's, the Queen's grocer's shop, has been dishing out tea to paying customers since 1707 and has turned the afternoon ritual into a posh and pricey business. The fourth floor, fine-dining area, christened the St James Restaurant when it opened in 1957 (F&M's 250th anniversary) was tarted up for this year's royal celebrations, renamed the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, and opened by Her Maj in March.

This newspaper has long turned a sceptical, if not quite sour, face to the pointless celebration of monarchical trivia (births, weddings, funerals) but you can't walk into the Fortnum's tea salon without feeling a teeny bit regal yourself. The reception desk stands before a display of the shop's celebrated tea caddies, great fat canisters of Pekoe and Darjeeling as imposing as guardsmen. The salon is a dog-leg, stretching away to the right, curling round to your left where the cakes are (and whither you naturally gravitate).

The décor and crockery are that familiar Fortnum's duck-egg blue, but associated shades of turquoise and pale green make the carpet and upholstery shimmer. The wood trim, like the napery, is a dense, wedding-cake white. The cake trolley is a beautiful silver object with a marble top. You sit at your table – the tables are set luxuriantly far apart – and regard the huge globes of pink peonies in their silver table-vases and the noble spires of the Royal Academy visible through the window and think, ah yes, I was born for this life...

But you weren't. You're here to address the food. The hilariously pricey High Tea menu starts with a choice of familiar savouries: cheese and onion pie, cheddar soufflé, lobster omelette Victoria, eggs Benedict, Welsh rarebit. They're small helpings, and almost perfectly judged. My baked duck egg could have been more set, but the sautéed mushrooms and Jersey royals had been cooked together until they formed a buttery emulsion that welcomed the golden yolk like a friend. Angie's smoked salmon, served on a blini with crème fraîche and Aquitaine caviar, was a touch of fishy heaven underscored by chopped chives.

To be honest, my savoury dish left me positively aching for a meaty main course and it felt just wrong when our charming waiter brought the cake stand. Victor, who's over here from Romania, doing a postgraduate degree, had talked me into taking a glass of Sancerre with the first course, and it seemed a terrible comedown to switch to tea.

But the Ladurée macaroons were so chewy, the scones so softly pliant under their dressing of Fortnum lemon curd or Jubilee Royal Sovereign strawberry jam and cream, the Jubilee Blend tea (a hybrid of India, China and, how quaint, 'Ceylon') so light and smoky, that I stopped whingeing and yielded to this orgy of multi-level sweetness.

Like the triple-decker plate stand, they offer you three levels of cake: macaroons, then a plate of tiny single mouthfuls – rosewater éclair, dark chocolate tart, raspberry and peach melba parfait, a stunning pistachio and cherry millefeuille using slivers of sponge rather than pastry. When you can't take any more, they steer you to the trolley, to choose one slice each of the serious cakes: a Bakewell tart, a Sachertorte, a Battenburg and an angel cake. They're all made fresh each morning by Jane Smith, who deserves a medal for keeping alive the idea of cakey perfection, miles removed from Mr Kipling. The angel cake – an indefinably sexy gateau with dirty-pink icing like bruised raspberries – was densely layered but light as a breeze, and probably the best cake I've eaten since childhood.

I'm no sucker for posh dining. I'm not someone to be taken in by dreams of aristocratic luxury or the paraphernalia of sugar tongs and tea strainer. But I loved the Fortnum's experience. It recalled a long-lost dream of the perfect tea room where your mother once took you, and told you to behave nicely. If you can stand the idiocy of spending £80 for two, I suspect you'll love it too.

The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1 (0845 602 5694). £40 per head, including tea.

Food ****
Ambience *****
Service ****

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side orders: Royal retreats

The Goring

Next to Buckingham Palace and a favourite of the Queen's, this 100-year-old British restaurant serves such traditional dishes as kidney pudding or lobster omelettes.

Beeston Place, London SW1 (020-7396 9000)

The Café Royal

This 1826 institution serves fine Scottish oysters – try them Rockefeller style (with spinach and mornay sauce) or simply as they come.

19 West Register Street, Edinburgh (0131-556 1884)

The Queens Head

High-end gastropub in the Troutbeck Valley serving impressive food – try the slow-cooked ox cheek suet pudding (£14.95).

Townhead, Troutbeck, Cumbria (01539 432174)

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week