Enjoying afternoon tea is one of my favorite things to do in London. Enjoying it at a luxurious five-star hotel is even better. During my last visit to London, I took part in this British ritual at Fortnum & Mason and Harrod’s. On this trip, I had the pleasure of trying out The athenaeum hotel’s new ‘Evergreen Tea’, which is part to the property’s Park Pleasures package benefiting The Royal Parks Foundation.
The athenaeum, nestled in Mayfair and right across the street from Green Park, is already a heavy-hitter in the afternoon tea department. In March, 2012, it was named Top London Afternoon Tea by the Tea Guild (yes, there is such an organization). There were floral teas, flavored black teas and green teas and teas infused such as Jasmine flower (which I adored), Bella Coola, Bingo Blueberry and Rooeis. The most intriguing seemed to be the hotels Honey Tea, which is made from beekeepers in Regent’s Park.
My fellow writers and I were treated to orange blossom scones with Devonshire clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam and lemon curd. And as the lone American in the group, I learned that people actually debate the proper order of applying condiments to scones. Some add lemon curd first, clotted cream and then jam. Others add the lemon curd last. Personally, it makes no difference to me as long as I can enjoy some thick, sweet Devonshire cream as often as possible. The offerings of finger sandwiches filled with smoked salmon, cucumber, egg salad with watercress and pastrami were also delightful. And I had to resist the urge to try every decadent item on the three shelved trolley. There were iced floral tea cakes, vanilla cheesecake with edible flowers, fairy cakes (what we in America call ‘cupcakes’), meringues, fruit tartlets and dark chocolate covered strawberries. I was nearly in a sugar coma after all that deliciousness!
In addition to enjoying one of the best afternoon teas I’ve ever had, I had met the man who created the property’s astounding Living Wall, which you can view from inside the tea room. Climbing 10-floors high and loaded with more than 260 different kinds of plants, this vertical garden covers the entire side of the hotel’s exterior. Research scientist and artist Patrick Blanc designed this spectacular and unique botanical landmark with species of plants based on the local climate. It’s nothing shore of a magic garden, a living tapestry of flowering plants and scrubs – and there’s hardly any soil!
Blanc explained that first he installed a system of slats on the wall, then hung pieces of artificial felt containing strategically placed root plants onto the wall. Of course, there’s an automated watering and fertilization system, but Mother Nature pretty much takes care of the rest. About once or twice a year, the vertical garden requires a bit of maintenance, but for the most part, this amazing fusion of nature-melded-to-concrete is self-sustaining. The Living Wall not only blends the hotel with the neighboring parks, it is constantly growing and rejuvenating itself. And this structure has another benefit – the plant life helps reduce pollution. Blanc has created similar vertical gardens all over the world, but the one at The athenaeum is his first in the U.K.
It must be easy to take the Living Wall for granted. I’m sure thousands of people walk past it every day and don’t pay attention. Our hustle-and-bustle life has that effect. But the Living Wall really is a marvel and I was completely fascinated with its spectacular design and usefulness.
If you’re planning a trip to London, add afternoon tea at The athenaeum hotel to your must-visit list. To recognize the 10th anniversary of The Royal Parks Foundation, the hotel will make a £10 donation to the charity for every Park Pleasures package booked. That package includes one night’s stay at the hotel and the Evergreen Tea for two.
For more information on the Living Wall and Afternoon Tea at The athenauem, check out