Valentine’s Day dining: a prospect that can fill even the most seasoned restaurant-selector with dread. And in this vein, rather than the traditional tasting menu of oysters/chilli/insert-well-known-aphrodisiac-here, all served atop the token candle-lit table, Palm Court at The Langham are bucking the usual trend with their for-one-day-only, exclusive Valentine’s afternoon tea.
The tea is crafted at the hand of The Langham’s Head Pastry Chef, Andrew Gravett, who brings nothing short of patisserie-sorcery to these pristinely laid tables. Hailing from luxury chocolatier, Valrhona, Gravett brings a deep knowledge of ingredients that means as well as fashioning an Instagrammers-dream display, the treats on the stand are as decadent as you like, without the heaviness that can sometimes mean you’re (ruefully) calling for a takeaway box before you get to the sweet layer.
We’re invited for the honour of seeing the workings of a 5-star hotel’s pastry operation, so pre-tea we don our ‘Langham’ embroidered aprons and head into the basement kitchens for a snoop at the masters in action. The precision that goes into creating their output is immediately obvious, with decimal-point temperatures, exacting ‘folding-in’ methods and the science behind how ingredients mix being just a few of the focuses of our fascinating talk.
There’s a mini ‘cement mixer’ that’s loaded up with roasted almonds and red-hued syrup (it is Valentine’s, after all), glossy fondant mix piped into mini moulds, and scarlet-shade chocolate, perfectly tempered until we can almost see our reflections in it. Everything is baked as close to serving as is possible, meaning (maybe if we were a bit closer to ground level) guests could hear the ping of the oven on their gorgeously gooey, freshly finished fondants.
Post creation process, we head upstairs to the dazzling Palm Court dining room, complete with pianist, twinkling drop-crystal lighting, plush velvet chairs and fresh flower displays: basically another masterclass, but this time in elegance and tranquillity.
We select our teas (The Langham house blend, as, what else?) and our sandwich layer is laid in front of us: perfectly rectangular finger sandwiches, a prawn cocktail brioche roll and zest-topped smoked salmon served on a squishy rye-bread disk.
Next, the scone layer: crisp linen napkins are peeled back to reveal light, crumbly scones filled with juicy sultanas, and slathered with thick clotted cream and sweet-sweet strawberry preserve (we also touch on the classic Devonshire-Cornish debate, with opinion split 3-1 in favour of Devonshire).
Finally arrived the arrival of the ceremonious (and entirely edible!) stand of white chocolate and coffee choux bun (Where’s Cupid?), whose crisp pastry gave way with a creamy ‘pop’ (my favourite creation of the day); glossy, toffee apple-style hibiscus mousse (Love is All Around); and the ‘Marry Me’ ring, filled with cream and encircled with chewy, almond-filled set syrup. We then snapped away at the bitter dark chocolate stand: a playful ‘Willy Wonka’ flourish.
The fondant for two arrived last: the thinking being that you won’t mind sharing with whoever you’re visiting with. The melting vanilla ice cream created a marbling effect when mixed with the chocolate: teased open to reveal a river of oozy chocolate. Love was definitely the prevailing emotion here: which we’d assume was the desired effect.
Love is eternal, and so seemingly is this tea: as we’re presented with a gorgeous Manjari chocolate and passion fruit mousse as we leave. Crafted to resemble a flower that’s become synonymous with hotel, the rose, this take-home-treat is perfect for continuing the Valentine’s indulgence. We’ll take this over a bunch of a dozen roses, any day of the week.
You can indulge in The Langham’s Valentine’s tea on 14 February, book it here.
View the full menu here.