It could be the cold weather, it could be the invention of jeggings, but eating more food than seems humanly possible is something the British excel at. From a post-clubbing kebab through to bottomless brunches, there's a million meals and traditions designed by our forefathers to ensure we can find an excuse to eat at any time of the day. So I salute the Duchess of Bedford for coming up with afternoon tea - a way to eat 1000s of calories without having to justify yourself. Not that I would ever need to justify myself when spending hours in The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell, which steals hearts with Anglophile-inspired decor, eccentric touches and an afternoon tea that will fill you with a day's worth of recommended calories in one sitting.
Venue and Atmosphere
There’s no shortage of grand and lofty townhouses in London, but despite my best efforts, it’s not often I’m allowed behind the heavy oaken doors. Hotel, restaurant and bar The Zetter Townhouse was worth the wait, with a venue that is a glorious cross between a museum, art gallery and wacky aunt’s parlour. With enough sumptuous interiors and watercolour landscapes to fill an issue of House and Garden, the spot is perfect for living out any Little Lord Fauntleroy fantasies, while maintaining a cool London theme.
Afternoon tea takes place in the cocktail parlour, a hushed, deep red sitting room, covered in ornately framed paintings, sketches and old maps. Chesterfield sofas - that prove impossible to leave once I’ve sunken my unfit body down - are squidged into available space and a fire flickers at one end of the room. If I hadn’t just marched from Shoreditch, I would have thought I had woken up ten years into the future, with a great country pile and decrepit hubby by my side (#lifegoals). This isn’t the snobby, pretentious home I fully plan on running, however, with a sense of fun and self-deprecation in the quirky interiors; a taxidermied cat in a ballgown stands upright in one corner and the hallway is wallpapered with vintage movie posters.
Sticking with the eccentric uncle and aunt theme, the venue’s afternoon tea was split into two savoury sections: that of Aunt Wilhelmina and that of Uncle Seymour. My companion and long-time brunching buddy went for Aunt Wilhelmina’s, which was a choice of four neat finger sandwiches, filled with smoked salmon, honey-roasted ham and turkey, for a seasonal twist. Uncle Seymour’s savoury choices were billed as more indulgent and came as four flakey buttery, bite-sized pastries; the truffle sausage roll was a richer take on the classic, while the croque monsieur was a teeny little bite of cheesy heaven.
Sweets are shared with the rest of the tiers laden with scones, cakes and chocolate. Being from Devon, I take my scones pretty seriously, and The Zetter Townhouse gets this bumpkin’s seal of approval, with a crunchy flakey bake, that crumbled into a soft inside, perfect for dolloping on clotted cream FOLLOWED by jam. We were rather defeated by the two scones, though it could also have been the pot of clotted cream we ate each, and only managed bites of the rest. Shout out to the Ferrero Rocher, if you weren’t in a food coma already, the giant, homemade take on the chocolate will ensure you're laid up and not going anywhere with a fist-sized ball of thick dark chocolate, chocolate moose and a potent truffle buried in the middle.
Bottomless tea comes as standard with the afternoon tea (£33), but it’s worth upgrading to the cocktail option. With a menu designed by supremo Tony Conigliaro, these aren’t your average Sex on the Beaches. I opted for T.Punch (£11), a goblet of throat-tingling tequila and lemon, sweetened with a grapefruit sherbet. If you want bubbles, the spot is a la mode with their selection of English Sparkling wines, including Hattingley Valley and Nyetimber.
Right between mushy peas and drinking til you pass out, afternoon tea is a tradition that only makes sense in the UK. The Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell has taken the theme to parodical levels, making it all the merrier. Step into a world of eccentric aunts and wacky uncles for afternoon tea that is as much theatre as it is crumbling fruit scones.