I hadn't really known what to expect but I had a vague idea that the flat was going to be super-swish and owned by someone terribly rich who did this as a little hobby or it was going to be artsy and eclectic and bursting with bohemian chic. In fact the venue was neither of those things - it was actually the kind of flat that I could imagine myself or any number of my friends living in: nice but decidedly normal. We started the afternoon on the terrace (quite a luxury in central London) where the group got to know each other over a glass of champagne and an absolutely delicious cheddar biscuit - which actually reminded me in texture of a cheesy rock bun.
There were twelve of us, not including Lady Gray and her husband, and I suppose that is the real excitement/risk of an event like this. What will your companions be like? Coffee Boy was initially concerned to be the only male guest but the last group of four to arrive included two others so he didn't feel too much like he'd stumbled into a hen weekend. We were all twenty or thirty somethings and came from locations as diverse as Bethnal Green and Australia. Everyone was very smiley but, inevitably, it took a little while for everyone to relax.
Once we'd all eagerly scoffed our appetiser we moved inside to the dining room which had a large table set for the twelve of us and a bookcase absolutely stuffed with cookbooks of all kinds. Lady Gray then told us how the Hidden Tea Room came about and asked us to take our pick from the impressively extensive tea menu. There were teas of every hue from black to green and blue to herbal infusions - all pleasingly loose leaf. I chose a Darjeeling and Coffee boy went for the Afternoon Tea blend and in a few minutes our own full-size individual teapots (hallelujah) arrived along with our sandwiches. There was a really good selection, including for veggies, with each of us having four different crustless sandwich fingers. Then to prepare us for the upcoming sugar-fest we were served a beautiful bowl of palate cleansing mango and pineapple sorbet. It was incredibly refreshing and certainly whetted my appetite for what was to come next.
We began our selection of sweet things with some lovely, still warm, mini scones. Sadly they were plain but Lady Gray explained that she mixes it up and chose to forgo fruit on this particular day - just my luck! But they were served with proper clotted cream and a choice of either strawberry or blackcurrant jam which almost made up for it. Next up Lady Gray brought out two cupcake stands filled with vanilla and red velvet cupcakes. One of the guests was having a birthday and the hosts brought out a single cupcake with a candle which seemed to go down well. Just as everyone was starting to feel full to bursting out came plates of shortbread, lemon drizzle cake and incredibly rich toffee brownies. I have to say as a group we were well and truly defeated. We didn't manage to finish any of the sweet offerings - and believe me we all gave it our best shot.
Finally, and perhaps my favourite part, we were served beautiful flowering jasmine tea with a fantastic truffle - just in case we hadn't had enough chocolate... It was such a lovely idea to finish the very rich afternoon off with a delicate tea - even if it was accompanied by a truffle - that it inspired me to finally buy those glass teacups I've been coveting.
It was quite an afternoon, and no mean feat for the hosts to keep a disparate group happy for the best part of four hours. Obviously a lot of the enjoyment came from the fantastic baked goods on offer but I certainly felt lucky to have such a nice bunch of people to chat to. How it would be if you had more trying companions I don't know. Lady Gray's husband (Lord Gray? Earl Gray?) told me that they had had really nice people so far but I can't help thinking it would ruin the enjoyment if you had a real bore next to you. But I guess that's all part of the fun with the underground restaurant movement - you never quite know what you're going to get.
My one slight reservation is the price. At £25 per head, paid in advance, it's not cheap. And although there was no question that lots of time and thought and effort had been put into the afternoon, I do think that some people may find £50 for two people a lot to spend. Afternoon teas in London's top hotels are usually in the region of £30 per person and for that you are getting to sit in some pretty sumptuous surroundings. Although the food and drink at the Hidden Tea Room was every bit as good as you would get in those other venues and the crockery and cutlery were all top notch, the surroundings are much more down to earth. That may very well be the appeal for many people - and I'm never one to pass up the chance at a nose around someone else's home - but if you are wanting a really luxurious environment, perhaps for a special occasion, this may not be quite right for you. The whole experience was like going to a delicious afternoon tea party hosted by a friend who is an excellent cook. The only difference in this case is that you don't know the friend or any of the other guests. It really was quite an experience.