Sweet Things Are Made of These
“I can’t wait to reopen the seating area outside,” says Eric Lanlard, his voice still rich with the timbre of Brittany. We’re in Cake Boy, his café lounge school next to the River Thames in Battersea. The Master Pâtissier and Chef is standing under a halo of lights beside a mouth watering cascade of tartes aux fruit, entremets framboise, pralines and tartes paysannes. “My favourite dessert in the world is tarte tatin – piping hot from the oven with crème fraiche on the side!” he shares. Eric moved from Plomelin in northwestern France to London 32 years ago to work for restaurateurs Albert and Michel Roux, becoming their Head Pastry Chef within a couple of years. He opened Cake Boy in 1995. Ever since, the Garçon de Gâteau has been busy as a global baking ambassador for the likes of Marriott International and Virgin Atlantic in between keeping it sweet by publishing books.
It’s time to take a trip down memory lane, an eight year trip back to a promotion in Knightsbridge… Here goes… Now that London Fashion Week is over, we can all breathe out. Nothing tastes as good as chocolate, so we’re off to experience the Montezuma Afternoon Tea at Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel. The hotel building is looking well for 50. Once the gangly new kid on the block, all Sixties bravura, it has matured (with the help of a subtle facelift) into something altogether more refined. The address is not so much golden postcode as golden place: Cadogan. Jumeirah Carlton Tower is off Sloane Street, home of the Rangers, between Candy + Candy’s One Hyde Park and the only road in London to have an architectural style named after it (Pont Street, keep up). Nearby is of course King’s Road, foodie paradise (Duke of York Square market) and shopping heaven (from Partridges to Peter Jones).
Afternoon tea, really an excuse to indulge between official meals, is high up the list of sybaritic Must Dos. Chinoiserie at JCT lives up to its name. Bedecked with hand painted Chinese wallpaper and gold leaf galore, the lounge is thronged with an army of cheongsam clad waitresses at our beck and call. We half expect Fan Bingbing to sweep through the revolving doors. Instead, the flame haired resident harpist provides a sense of serenity for the American, Saudi and English Isabel Marant clad guests. A glass of Champagne accompanies fresh strawberries before the menu goes choc-a-bloc in a celebration of its cocoa theme (Montezuma was the last Aztec king and a bit of a chocolate fiend). We order a Darjeeling and (Lady Grantham wouldn’t approve) a coffee.
One of the many joys of afternoon tea is having your cake and eating it in whatever order you desire. For the purposes of this review, we will stick to the order of the menu. Cocoa dusted (a taste of what’s to come) croissants with chorizo and Elemental provide a comforting intro. The sweet meets savoury theme makes its surprising, sensual, debut with a rich curried crab tart topped by white chocolate. A heart shaped white chocolate and parmesan palmier is hard not to love. Another unlikely yet successful marriage is chocolate macaroon with venison. For pescatarians, there’s the opportunity to order off menu, so cucumber and mayo sandwich is a traditional alternative. Back on menu, the cassis imperial chocolate cupcake is a fine dark mousse with balsamic blackcurrants filling an edible chocolate case. A sprinkling of pearls completes this sultry indulgence.
To cleanse the palate, a conquistador shot is an inspired layered composition of passion fruit, white chocolate with basil seeds and coconut jelly. Mission complete. Caraque spicy chocolate tart with popping candy features a pistachio wafer as delicate and colourful as the Chinese wallpaper. Dark mini chocolate caramel loaf filled with liquid salted butter, sweet food in savoury form, provides a jubilant succulent extravagant finale, for now, to cocoa. After this exotically original South American tour de taste, familiar British comfort returns in the form of (Lady Grantham would approve) scones with clotted cream and fruit preserve. Throughout this autumn, the general public can get tarted up and enjoy Eric Lanlard’s Montezuma Afternoon Tea. It costs £40 per person; £50 includes the Champers; for £55, the strawberries are added. The service is great, friendly staff who are more than adept at catching eye contact; a Coutts (of course) bank machine outside the hotel comes in handy for withdrawing tenners for tips.