Fashioned to a tea

  • Travel
  • Saturday, 17 Apr 2010

High tea flirts with high fashion at The Berkeley in London.

Knightsbridge in London is renowned as much for its designer stores as for the fashionistas who pound the pavements from Harvey Nichols and Harrods to Bond Street. In the past year, however, London’s beautiful people have found a new and rather delicious fashion fixation at the super luxurious Berkeley Hotel’s Caramel Room.

Here, afternoon tea is served with a deci­dedly trendy twist. Known as the Prêt-à-Portea, it is a daily affair that turns high ­fashion into tasty little nibbles.

The Berkeley’s head pastry chef Mourad Khiat, a regular face at London Fashion Week, takes inspiration from the must-have items of the season and translates them into miniature works of art. He also gets expert advice from industry insiders — the fashion editors of British Vogue, Elle, and Wallpaper magazines.

Among the fashionable edibles he has made are a Dior blueberry macaroon and a gold Christian Lacroix Valrhona chocolate bonbon. He also pays tribute to designers, like the joconde sponge cake dress filled with lychee cream and spun sugar ruffles that is a nod to Matthew Williamson.

Mulberry’s classic “Bayswater” bag is transformed into a white chocolate-and-coconut truffle “it” bag with a silver clasp. Roger Vivier’s “over-the-knee” boot turns into a chocolate biscuit replete with the signature buckle and heart. Burberry’s classic trench coat, on the other hand, is reinterpreted as a rich cinnamon and caramel-infused cookie while Louis Vuitton’s pale pink bunny ears are set on a base of chestnut and pomegranate mousse.

“The combination of colours and textures translates wonderfully into cakes and pas­­­tries,” explains Khiat, a Canadian who has surprised even his wife with his newly-acquired, in-depth knowledge of fashion trends.

“The capital has been in the picture this fashion season, celebrating the 25th year of London Fashion Week. We have made sure that young British design talent is represented on our tea stand next to the old-time favourites,” he adds.

The Prêt-à-Portea is, of course, much more than just a mini fashion show-and-tell. Khiat’s creations are actually delicious — a perfect marriage of good tastes. To accompany his sweet treats, diners have an expansive selection of fine teas to choose from including English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Ceylon, Lapsang Souchong, Organic Assam, Vanilla, Pear Cara­mel, White Peony, Camomile Citron, Wild Blossom and Berries, Chocolate Mint Truffle, and African Amber.

Better yet, why not start off with a glass of champagne?

Continuing with the fashion theme is the specially commissioned and elegant fine-bone china by Paul Smith for Thomas Goode on which the delicious morsels are served. A selection of savoury items such as salmon-and-cucumber sandwiches are included in the Prêt-à-Portea. Portions are unlimited, and plates are constantly replaced with fresh servings of any item you may desire from the menu.

The afternoon tea is popular with both tourists and locals. Like at the fashion shows, the crowd at Prêt-à-Portea is an international cast of Europeans, Japanese, Chinese and Americans.

Built in 1972, The Berkeley is very much an old school property with a history that dates back to the 1880s. The original hotel was located at the corner of Piccadilly and Berkeley Street. Like the hotel, the Caramel Room is a faultless mix of English-meets-cosmopolitan style. It’s classy without being fussy.

New York-based designer Alexandra Champalimaud has blended the chocolate-hued walls with faux crocodile upholstery to great effect. Here, polished wood, brightly coloured upholstered cushions and a refined ambience makes the Caramel Room perfect whether for an afternoon to catch up with old friends or to have a discreet business meeting.

The Prêt-à-Portea is priced at £35 (RM175) per person; £45 with champagne. Or if you’re in the mood for the ultimate indulgence, go for the Couture Champagne Prêt-à-Portea (£52 per person), which comes with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Rosé, Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut, or Louis Roederer Carte Blanche champagnes.

The Prêt-à-Portea is a great way to experience the hospitality, luxury and sheer sumptuousness of one of London’s famed hotels (where room rates go into the region of thousands of ringgit) without spending too much of a fortune.

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