When an invite landed in my inbox to attend a two-hour Art Deco walking tour of Mayfair followed by afternoon tea at the Dorchester, well I think you can all guess what I said!
Dorchester afternoon tea
How many times have you wondered about the stories behind particular places, buildings, doors? I’m drawn in all the time, even when I’m running late! Who lived there? What happened? Did they live happily ever after? Some call me nosey, but I prefer Curious!
Never more has this been the case than in the affluent area of Mayfair. Full of magnificent architecture, boutique shops, hidden green spaces and of course home to some of the most luxurious hotels in Mayfair.
On a sunny Sunday morning I met our very knowledgeable guide Yannick and a group of bloggers to explore Mayfair from an 1920s and 1930s architectural perspective. The most dreamy way to spend a morning for someone obsessed with building shots.
The tour aptly began at the Ballroom Entrance of the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane Hotel. Confusing the hell out of tourists since it opened, as it’s actually on Piccadilly and not Park Lane. It’s a fine example of Art Deco style. Did you know it was also the first hotel in London to have bathrooms in every room? No, neither did I.
We continued to the disused Down Street tube station which after a short working life as a station from 1907 to 1932 became intrinsic to winning WW2. In 1939 it transformed into the Railway Executive Committee’s bomb-proof headquarters. Prime Minister Winston Churchill used to secretly take refuge in the tunnels during the Blitz too.
At first glance Carrington House appeared an unassuming block of flats. However, on closer inspection you begin to notice the beautiful architectural nuances. Built in 1936 it housed 74 apartments, it’s embellished with decorative colourful tiles and geometric shapes symbolic of the period. At the time it was the height of sophistication, being the first apartment block with plug sockets for a TV.
We also delved into juicy stories from some of the historical icons who once lived and worked in Mayfair through the Jazz Age period. The exclusive area certainly wasn’t short on infamy and scandal. There was Coco Chanel who conducted an affair with the Duke of Westminster in the only freestanding house in Mayfair, built in 1724.
In 1927 she opened her first boutique around the corner. She never married the besotted Duke despite his numerous marriage proposals saying ‘there are many Duchesses but only one Coco Chanel’.
Discovering the infamous Mitford sisters was a revelation. Yannick regaled the sensational and controversial lives of the six sisters, as we stopped outside a bookshop where one of the sisters worked. One was romantically linked to Hitler, one in love with the leader of the British fascists and one became the Duchess of Devonshire to name just a few of their crazy stories. I see a BBC drama on the horizon!
Next on our stroll came the private members Lansdowne Club. In the 1920s it was known as Lansdowne House and rented by the famous (erm) shopkeeper Harry Gordon Selfridge. He rented the property for a phenomenal £5,000 and boy did those walls see the most extravagant parties with London’s élite.
Many of Mayfair’s beautiful luxury hotels exhibit the Art Deco characteristics like Claridges and The Beaumont.
For 1,250 of the Queen’s English pounds you can also stay in the famous Antony Gormley room, a unique suite in The Beaumont Hotel which occupies the interior of a giant semi-abstract sculpture.
We ended the tour in a secret garden just off Oxford Street. Brown Hart Gardens is a tranquil space where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the busy shopping thoroughfare. I can’t believe I didn’t know about this place!
More than ready for refreshments, we headed to The Dorchester to indulge in their floral afternoon tea.
Seated in the elegant and ornate Promenade, it’s the perfect choice to enjoy a classic British treat. With a magnum of Laurent-Perrier brut champagne popped, we began our Dorchester afternoon tea extravaganza.
When it came to the tea I opted for the traditional Dorchester Afternoon Blend. There were a variety of blends on offer plus some really interesting floral combinations.
We were soon tucking into a selection of finger sandwiches all made with artisan bread. The gold star on my vegetarian plate went to the free-range egg, Isle of Mull Cheddar and English watercress on malted grain bread. Let’s just say no egg mayo sandwich will ever live up to this one. The runner-up was the baby cucumber and truffle cream on white bread.
The traditional fillings were Norfolk Black chicken on sage and onion bread; 21-day aged slow-cooked beef; Lincolnshire onion chutney and wholegrain mustard mayonnaise and oak-smoked salmon with English wasabi and lemon butter on caraway bread.
In between the savoury and sweet courses we were offered the prettiest looking floral tea palate cleanser.
Warm raisin and plain scones were served with Cornish clotted cream and two homemade jams – strawberry and rhubarb and basil. A fan of herbs used in unusual ways I enjoyed the latter although it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The scones were a little disappointing, the claggy texture meant I only made it through one.
The floral theme continued and artfully moved into the seasons, represented by an individual French pastry. Exquisitely presented, I almost felt bad eating them (I did say almost).
Winter came in the form of a spiced parsnip cake, with orange, ginger, honey, cardamom cream and crispy Tanzanian chocolate. A lime sponge with vanilla and verbena mousse, peach crémeux and a lemon and butterfly sorrel characterized autumn. Spring was represented by a lemon and strawberry madeline which was layered with lemon and pistachio crémeux and topped with wild strawberries. Lastly leaving summer to the orange blossom, a chocolate and orange blossom sablé with orange cream and orchid petal. Utterly sublime, all I could think was thank god I only ate one scone!
If you love architecture and can’t resist a sweet treat this really is the perfect way to spend a Sunday.
Disclaimer: This is a collaborative post and my tour and afternoon tea were complimentary, however, all views, opinions and photos unless otherwise stated are my own and remain a trademark of the Curious Pixie.
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