Saturday, 19 October 2013
Review: Kensington Palace Orangery
Before heading off on my summer break to the Midwest of the US of A (where I had a wonderful time but drank very little tea worth writing about) I was lucky enough to be invited to sample the relaunched afternoon tea at Kensington Palace's Orangery. Now, the Orangery is somewhere I've always intended to visit but being located in a part of town I don't venture to very often, I have somehow never quite managed it. To make even more of a treat of it, I took my sister H along.
The day started somewhat inauspiciously with pouring rain and a slight, shall we say, detour. (Despite the fact I used to cycle past the Palace everyday on my way to work, I still managed to turn the wrong way out of the tube station. "I've never got the tube here, if we'd have cycled I'd have been fine" was my somewhat unconvincing excuse.) Anyway, we arrived but a few minutes late for our booking and made our way through the lovely, if damp, gardens to the Orangery itself. Wow, what a room. I had seen it from the outside but somehow I was unprepared for the gorgeous light-filled space within. Of course, it was an orangery, designed for growing plants but the huge windows coupled with the bright white paint-scheme and simple wrought-iron furnishings just made it wonderfully light and airy, even on this dark and miserable day.
We were shown to our table, right by one of those lovely large windows, and awaited our afternoon tea eagerly. We kicked off with a little glass of champagne - well it'd be rude not to - and perused the tea menu. I chose the Royal London Blend, a nice robust mixture of Yunnan and Ceylon and as it arrived so too did our cake stand filled with delights. At the bottom were some delicate but delicious sandwiches, smoked salmon and cream cheese, egg mayonnaise with cress, and cucumber and mint (with extras to make up for the lack of ham as neither of us are meat-eaters). They were fresh, tasty and had their crusts cut off, so were all round pretty prefect.
Then it was onto the sweet-stuff. Well, what a selection. Two slices of Victoria Sponge which managed to be light yet firm enough to slice perfectly: this wasn't the Victoria Sponge your nan used to make, there was less buttercream and it was somehow a little more refined. Then there was the most intense chocolate ganache cake; a salted caramel chocolate almond torte; a dense sponge with a slightly crunchy exterior topped with an apricot preserve (can anyone help me out with what they're called? It's the one at the front on the left - I've only ever seen them called "Yummys" (sic) in Berlin but I'm sure they have a more elegant proper name); and a sharp little passionfruit tart. Every single cake was distinctive and delicious. We shared them all as neither one of us wanted to miss out on the taste sensation.
The scones served, of course, with clotted cream and strawberry jam were absolutely perfect: a little bit of crumble, neither too soft nor dry, and really delicious. Of course most things slathered in clotted cream tend to be pretty delicious but these scones with their slight scent of orange or juicy currants were more than a match for their toppings.
What a very lovely afternoon we had at the Orangery. It's no longer possible to pop in for just a scone or a piece of cake, as afternoons are reserved for a full-on afternoon tea. You can either have the Royal Afternoon Tea (as we did) served with a choice of champers, Pimms or pink fizz for between £28.50 and £32.50, or a booze-free version for £22.65 - they even have a gluten-free option at the same price which would have been a dream come true back in the days when wheat didn't agree with me (I really don't miss those four years I have to say).
At those prices the Orangery is not the kind of place you'd pop to on any old afternoon, but given that visiting there means you'll be partaking in a full-on afternoon tea you wouldn't necessarily want to be going too often anyway! But if, like me, you sometimes like to treat yourself to an afternoon tea instead of lunch then I think the Orangery is a pretty perfect place to indulge. Light, airy but in no way overly-starched or stuffy (as some posh hotel teas can be) it really is the kind of place you could go to catch-up with a friend you haven't seen for a while. On my next visit I will be sure to book again as the queue, even on a rainy midweek afternoon, was quite sizeable - and looking at their website it's also clear that, unsurprisingly, it's a place that regularly gets booked for private functions so check before you go.
I'm really pleased to have finally made it to the Orangery and it definitely exceeded my expectations. I want it all when I go for a posh afternoon tea: nice table linen; lovely bone china; a pleasant environment; good service; but a relaxed, friendly and casual vibe. I thought the Orangery delivered on every count. And anywhere that you can leave on a rainy Wednesday afternoon with a spring in your step and a pleasantly full tummy has got to be somewhere worth returning to on a fairly regular basis.