The membership club scene is getting crowded, and Londoners have never had it so good. Assuming you can get in, of course.
London's clubs have evolved from the traditional Mayfair gentlemen’s clubs, to the nineties / noughties behemoths of Groucho, Blacks and the Soho and Shoreditch House siblings, to the newcomers such as 5 Hertford Street.
Those clubs sat at the top of this premier league are thriving. The newly promoted and mid-table clubs are finding life a bit harder. So every promotional piece helps. To that point, Paramount, sat atop Centre Point tower in the heart of the West End, is offering the 'highest afternoon tea' in London.
My first experience of afternoon tea was in Glasgow, a city that I subsequently discovered prided itself in this social / dining nuance, and it was superb. There were hearty portions of savoury and sweet surprises, with generous lashings of tea and a bit of Champagne thrown in. They also weren’t expensive. Basically, Glaswegian afternoon teas felt like value for money.
Paramount comes from a different end of the market. Their afternoon teas have been devised by head chef Mark Kay, formerly of the Michelin-starred Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, and Wild Honey in Mayfair. It features classic creations from smoked salmon, egg and cured ham sandwiches to scones with clotted cream alongside a quiche of the day, as well as a selection of pastries, organic teas and coffees. Guests can choose from a standard high tea offering, priced at £28, or one including Champagne at £42.
So how does it stack up? Once you get over the rather shoddy ground level entrance (admittedly not helped by the Crossrail engineering work) the 32nd floor restaurant has the great views you would expect. The Northerner and I disagreed over the styling. Paramount’s dark parquet flooring, orange seating and dark brown furniture and fittings, with details of copper and designer light fittings, certainly lifted the space. But it still felt like an office cafeteria that has borrowed another restaurant’s outfit for the evening. The other diners were a mix of tourists looking for that Empire State experience in London, and pre-theater goers in their shimmering dresses and best jewelry. I’m not sure that there were many private members among us.
As for the afternoon tea itself, the highlights were the frozen fare selection of a Frozen Coffee Cream, Strawberry Parfait and Mango Chiboust in a cone, all of which were particularly good. The teas on offer were outstanding. We went for the Jasmine Pearls and the Organic Bohea Lapsang, both from Fujian in China. The latter had a smokiness and depth of liquorice flavor that I wouldn’t have believed possible from hot water over leaves. However, some of the core components of the offering were disappointing. The rye bread with the salmon was a little dry. The scones were cold, as if they had come out of the fridge. And the portions were modest. It was afternoon tea in its truest sense, rather then a late lunch or early dinner.
Paramount’s afternoon teas are good, but not sensational. And in the private members club world, every component needs to be great if you want get to the top of the league. But who knows? A few tweaks and by next season Paramount might be a championship contender.