Back in the 90s St Martin’s Lane was the place to be seen, its swivel doors leading through a lobby of golden molar chairs and onto Asia de Cuba - the ultimate girl-about-town’s hangout. But this is 2016 and times have changed, which is fortunate as so has St Martin’s Lane. I headed down to The Den - their well-appointed oak-panelled snug - to see what a 2016 afternoon tea was all about.
Following a swanky refurb led by Phillipe Starck, the hotel has regained its sense of cool, with a mix of old-fashioned English eccentricity and bold postmodern art work. The lighting is low, the walls are clad in oak panelling and grand paintings hang on the wall. All very typical, right? Well no. On closer inspection, each portrait told a story; the Great Fire of London picture that’s slightly charred around the edges, the opera singer with cracked glass in homage to their neighbours, English National Opera, nothing was quite as it first appeared.
The Afternoon Tea
There’s something quintessentially British about an afternoon tea, and the cosy, country feeling of The Den added to the sense that I had stumbled into Victorian England. Any pomp is undercut, however, by the slightly skewed paintings and welcoming staff. If you’re going to afternoon tea you might as well do it properly darling, and the G&T menu is delicious enough to make you forgo Champers. With a choice between six, each drink was inspired by various characters, hobbies or events; I went for the Over and Under (Sipsmith Sloe Gin, Fever-Tree Tonic, fresh lime and raspberry) which is OBVIOUSLY referring to a gentleman’s most favourite pastime, shooting. I may not have appreciated the subtleties of the name but my G & T was deliciously refreshing with the sloe gin adding a hint of sweetness.
Tea is kicked off with a savoury course; three dainty bites which included a poppy seed choux filled with smoked salmon and tomato and a honey-roasted ham and Somerset cheddar brioche.
The showstopper, though, is the sweets, a pile of pastries, tarts and scones all carefully balanced on a three-tier cake stand. Everything was sugary sweet and creamy but just the right amount to devour without feeling stuffed. The mixed berry tart was in a crisp pastry that crunched against the gooey fruit and the coconut macaroon's meringue dissolved on our tongues it was so light. But if you eat only one thing, make it Ludovic’s Eclair. With doughy choux pastry, praline and vanilla cream, it was what I imagine heaven tastes like. I don't know who this Ludovic is, but I want to meet him, thank him, and possibly marry him.
There are a lot of afternoon teas in London but I thought The Den made the event their own. There was a good selection of G & Ts, the pastries were all different but delicious and the relaxed and intimate ambience of The Den took away an pretension. Add to that brilliantly funny and friendly staff, a fire and huge leather sofas, and you've got an ideal bolthole from the madness of Covent Garden and Leicester Square.
Afternoon tea at The Den starts at £29.50 per person; £39.50 with a gin & tonic and £42 with a glass of Champagne.