Paddington Afternoon Tea at Aqua Shard
If anyone asks, ‘what does it mean to be British?’ how does one respond usually? Our stiff upper lip? Fish and chips along the pier? Our ability to handle anything life throws at us as long as there’s a fresh pot of tea brewing? The fact is, our British institutions are those little things on this rainy little isle that endure. However, the reason that they endure is because we allow them to evolve with time, without losing their sense of tradition. Our fish and chips can be found with gourmet tweaks like Indian pale ale-infused batter now. Likewise, our afternoon tea has become a playground of renewed grandeur and experimentation.
London has no shortage of venues offering up their own interpretation of British afternoon tea, but perhaps one of the finest examples of tradition meeting contemporary innovation is found at The Shard. As a setting alone, you would be hard pressed to find one more dramatic. Afternoon tea in the past would invoke images of either quaint tea rooms, or the white tablecloths and highly polished silverware of a fine hotel. At over 1000ft tall, The Shard’s highly polished glass and steel outline jutting up into the skyline now offers a very different backdrop for this British tradition.
Inside, up on the 31st floor, Aqua Shard’s floor-to-ceiling windows look out across London’s rooftops, which act as a surprisingly calming backdrop for any meal. Known for its gourmet takes on British classics, Aqua Shard now has a beloved children’s character to help shape its afternoon tea – Paddington Bear. In preparation for his upcoming film release, the restaurant has crafted a unique afternoon tea which has been crafted in tribute to everyone’s favourite marmalade-loving bear.
Brought to the table in a wooden suitcase, this chest is packed with the type of luxurious flavours that Aqua Shard has become renowned for introducing on its menus. Firstly, a bedrock of any afternoon tea – finger sandwiches. On one side sits the classic favourite of Staffordshire leg ham, grain mustard, and Bermondsey hard cheese (Aqua Shard takes pride in sourcing local ingredients from nearby Borough Market). Exciting tweaks feature elsewhere in the sandwiches too, such as chicken perfumed with lavender mayonnaise, or Earl Grey smoked Loch Duart salmon, cucumber, Oscietra caviar, and dill-scented cream. Not only this, but a selection of edible flours alongside the sandwiches provided a colourful and peppery addition.
Another afternoon tea essential came nestled in the Paddington wooden chest – warm scones. One was immediately recognisable as being the vanilla and raisin classic, but the other was more mysterious. Upon trying it, there was a delightfully subtle zesty bite, which turned out to the orange blossom in it.
As delicious as the sandwiches and scones were, it was difficult to not be a big kid and go straight for the selection of homemade cakes and sweet treats that had gone into the wooden chest. It would’ve been rude to not start with the bun that featured a small rice paper impression of Paddington on top, and we’re very glad we did – a wonderfully smooth, rich praline filling burst out as soon as we sank our teeth in. The Paddington bear tweaks just kept coming – from the undeniably cute red icing hats nestled in the corners, to the orange marmalade macaroons which sat alongside them. Even one of the most British symbols there is, the classic black cab, got a little Peruvian twist. Biting through the dark chocolate of our little taxi chocolate, we were greeted with a warming kick of chilli.
Of course, with afternoon tea, the clue is very much in the name. Cakes and pastries aside, you need to have a fine cup of tea steaming in a cup beside you, otherwise it just isn’t cricket. Predictably, Aqua Shard spares no expense in offering a comprehensive selection of leaves from across the globe, sourced from the Rare Tea Company. Earl Grey from the first ever English tea garden of Tregothan is on offer, as is the exclusive White Silver Tip, made using spring buds in China which are picked for only 20 days each year. For something a little darker, we also went with the South African Wild Rooibos, which is harvested by hand on horseback. When we were unsure of what to pick, our waiter was extremely knowledgeable on making just the right pairing.
One of the truly endearing things about afternoon tea is the sense of innocent enjoyment one can get out of it. Sitting down with a selection of sweet and savoury treats, in beautiful surroundings, with an exotic cup of tea is something that is difficult to find fault in. Using the breath-taking views of the shard, and the intimacy and contemporary sophistication that Aqua Shard excels in, afternoon tea here is given tweaks that just can’t be found anywhere else. Not only this, but having a Paddington bear-themed meal… what’s not to love?
Paddington Afternoon Tea is served Monday to Friday between 3pm and 5pm. The classic Paddington Tea is £34.50, or £45 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot NV Champagne.
Level 31 The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London, SE1 9RY