“Hahahaha! That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard!” I say, as I slap the maitre d’ on the back. Alas, it is lost to the sands of time as I introduce my review a line too late. Today I’m in Chelsea for afternoon tea at the Cadogan Hotel. Since February 2019 it’s been run by Adam Handling, a multi-award-winning chef, who’s now added to his awards collection with an award for Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea at the Afternoon Tea Awards 2019.
Afternoon tea was designed as a mini-meal to bridge the gap between lunch and dinner, a tiny treat to stave off afternoon hunger. With its origins in the mid-19th century, it really took off after Queen Victoria started having her own afternoon tea parties. Thanks to her influence, the world at large soon became aware of the activity and its popularity soared from there. As such, who could possibly be a more ideal guest to enjoy a contemporary twist on an afternoon tea with than Queen Victoria herself? Well, since she declined to attend, I can think of nobody better than the Ancient Egyptian Sun God, Ra. It was the Ancient Egyptians who really began the process of measuring time. Eventually, they came to see each hour as a specific region of sky or underworld through which Ra travelled on his ‘solar barge’, a sort of ancient dinghy. Without Ra, we might not even have the afternoon, so to Queen Victoria who thinks she’s too good for this blog because she thinks she invented the concept of eating a cake in the afternoon, you’re not all that.
I sit in the foyer of the Cadogan Hotel awaiting Ra, when I hear the unmistakable sound of a solar barge pulling up outside. I see a smartly dressed human falcon hybrid throw an oar to a confused valet, and waltz in through the doors. “Andy, great to meet you, I’m Ra,” says the falcon-headed man, shaking my hand. “I’m excited to be here. Shall we?”
We sit ourselves down in what historians would probably refer to as the ‘theatre of tea’. It’s a smaller room compared to other tea theatres around London, but succeeds in feeling both very fancy and very casual at the same time. In a very welcome twist on the traditional afternoon tea, today’s tea will also be accompanied by a free-flowing champagne supplement, starting from an extra £25 per person (and going all the way up to an extra £195 per person depending on the champagne), for as much champagne as we can drink within a 90 minute window. I’m something of an alcoholic aficionado of drinks, so I feel confident that I can get my money’s worth, but even without my liver-destroying, borderline binge-drinker status love of the old grape juice, £25 for unlimited champagne is extraordinarily good value when a single glass of champagne at some of the other afternoon tea establishments will set you back nearly as much. It’s a lovely differentiator, something ideal for a regular Tuesday afternoon special occasion.
Ra is my oldest guest yet, coming from way back around the 30th century BC. His status rapidly declined since the fall of Ancient Egypt however, and he’s hardly been seen nor heard from since the year 0. Today is a good chance to understand more about where he’s been, what he’s been up to, and what’s next for history’s favourite Sun God.
“So, where have you been, what have you been up to, and what’s next for history’s favourite Sun God?” I say, demonstrating once again the quality of writing that’s seen this blog become a global sensation, racking up five page-views in Belgium and one in Namibia.
“Oh, things have been great, really great,” says Ra. “Just taking some time out from it all, you know?” He says, as he takes a swig of the champagne. “Mmm… Biscuity, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, I guess it is a bit biscuity,” I say. “Like fizzy biscuits.”
“Yes, fizzy apple biscuits,” says Ra. “Truth is, I haven’t needed to work in a long time, I’ve just been living off my royalties.”
“For the afternoon. I invented it, so I take a cut of every afternoon.”
“How does that work?”
“Well let’s see, how old are you? 4000?”
“I’m 33!” I say. “You think I look 4000 years old?”
“You look like you’ve died a thousand deaths behind the eyes.”
“Ok, that I understand,” I say. If anything a thousand is understating it. Most days I die a thousand deaths internally before I get to lunchtime.
“Ok, so you’re 33, which means you’ve enjoyed what, 12,000 afternoons?”
“Err… I guess?”
“So 12,000 afternoons at around £2 an afternoon means… ok, so you owe me £24,000.”
I laugh, but Ra remains stony-faced. “What, you’re serious?” I say.
“Of course I’m serious. You think £2 for an afternoon is too much? Try telling that to all of your treasured afternoon memories! You want me to take them back? I’ll take them back if you want me to!”
“What? Wait, no!” I say. “Look, let’s just take it easy, ok? I’ll get you your money if I have to, just… let me just figure this out, ok?”
“Fine, you have until we’re finished,” says Ra, just as the platter of sandwiches and cakes emerge, stacked on an ornate, golden tree. It’s a very beautiful arrangement. You get the traditional, non-negotiable elements of an afternoon tea such as finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats, but there’s also a selection of savoury treats too, such as a salt cod croquette, a mini cheese and onion tart, a chicken liver parfait and a chicken sausage roll. I begin with the chicken sandwich, which to be more specific is roasted chicken with tarragon mustard mayonnaise, smoked garlic and tomato jam. The bread is pillowy soft, spongy and light enough to doze away on, a tempting floury gateway to a world of savoury dreams. It’s lovely, as are the other sandwich friends it’s brought along, including smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, egg and cress and rare roast beef. It’s tasty, although the company is something of a distraction.
“Excuse me,” says Ra, summoning over the waitress.
“Would you like more champagne, sir?” Says the waitress, noticing Ra’s semi-empty glass.
“How many afternoons have you had?” Says Ra.
“Do not answer him,” I say. The waitress though is too polite.
“I don’t know, around 10,000?”
“You owe me £20,000,” says Ra. The waitress laughs. Again, Ra remains emotionless.
“He’s serious,” I sigh. “Apparently he takes commission for inventing the afternoon…”
“But I don’t have that money,” says the waitress, nervously.
“Then I must take back all your treasured afternoon memories,” says Ra, getting to his feet.
“No! No, look, we’ll get you the money, ok? We’ll all get you your money!” I say. Ra sits back down again. He’s proving to be somewhat unpleasant so far, in stark contrast to the delightful chicken liver parfait. I can see why the Ancient Egyptians stopped worshipping him. “Also, could I have more champagne, please?”
I’m topped up as I reach for a salt cod croquette. Cylindrical and covered in breadcrumbs, it’s a croquette containing salted cod (good evening, Belgium!). It’s certainly a bizarre addition to an afternoon tea, but it’s nice enough, although perhaps my least favourite of the savouries. I’m snapped out of my croquettish haze by the reminder that so far between myself and the staff we owe Ra £44,000, and that’s surely only going to spiral further out of control when he sees the elderly couple seated to my right.
Afternoon tea more than anything feels like a nice escapism from a pretty mentally-draining world. The ritual of taking a couple of hours to just sit down, have a cup of tea and a cake and briefly forget about the myriad problems that exist away from your table is a lovely thing. A lovely thing which is currently being spoiled by Ra’s insistence that even the passing of time be taxed. This kind of thing is depressing enough when encountered in the real world, but it Trojan-horsing itself into my sweet treat bubble via the medium of a long-dead god is the final straw. The only problem is, how do you stop a billionaire sun god who controls the passing of time? Thankfully I have a plan.
If I’ve learned one thing from the TV series The Apprentice, it’s that there’s only one thing that the rich love more than money, and that’s making people scour the streets of London for random items armed only with a Yellow Pages. If I’ve learned two things from the TV series The Apprentice, it’s that more than anything, the rich want status, and what offers more status than an internationally-renowned food blog?
“How would you like to own a food blog that none other than WordPress themselves have called ‘your domain needs renewing, please pay us £15’?”
“A food blog? A chance to control the media and influence the masses you say?”
“That I did not say, but sure.”
“What’s the catch?”
“A wager. If you win, you get my food blog. If I win, I get the afternoons.”
“You want me to gamble my entire fortune on a food blog? Why would I do that?”
“Because like all other billionaires, you’re a risk taker. You live for the thrill of losing it all, of crashing a country just for fun, or accidentally asphyxiating yourself in a cupboard-based sex play. It’s what you do.”
Ra looks at me, contemplating. “Ok, but I choose the challenge,” he says. “And I choose a race. My solar barge vs your… whatever.”
“Ok, fine, but I have two conditions,” I say. “Firstly, I get to choose my racer, and secondly I would like to eat this tiny sacher torte first.”
“Very well, then we have a deal,” says Ra. We shake hands, and then I reach for the tiny sacher torte. Sacher is one of my favourite tortes. Often when I’ve had it in the past it’s been more promising in concept than in execution, a chocolate sponge cake with a layer of chocolate covering a layer of apricot jam, but here it’s made very well. It’s top torte.
“Ready?” Says Ra. I nod, and we head outside to where Ra’s solar barge is parked. “Your racer, who have you chosen?” He asks.
“For my racer, I have cho- oh, bloody hell.”
“I forgot to eat the scone. Who comes to review an afternoon tea and forgets to taste the scone? Why do I do this…” I sigh. “Anyway, for my racer, I have chosen… Mr Ayrton Senna!” I say, as I gesture towards the corner of the street, where Ayrton should come screeching in on cue. He does not. “Ayrton Senna!” Silence. Finally, a fancy-looking woman walks around the corner. “Oh no…”
“Good afternoon to you all! Shall we indulge in some afternoon fancies?” Says Queen Victoria, as she approaches.
“You said you weren’t coming!” I say, despairingly.
“Can a monarch not change her mind? Who else could be more fitting than myself?”
I gesture to my right, where Ra is sat in his magic canoe.
“Goodness! What is that?” Says Queen Victoria.
“It’s a solar barge, and since I assume Ayrton Senna is no longer coming, you’re going to be racing against it for the fate of humanity,” I say, as Victoria goes as white as the bread on a salmon and cream cheese sandwich.
I know what you’re all thinking. ‘Oh, here we go again, another food review taking the departed monarch in a foot race with a solar barge angle. When is this trend going to end?’ And yes, I can only apologise that we find ourselves here, but here we find ourselves, stood on the streets of Chelsea, watching a 19th century head of state race against an ancient falcon man. Ra and Victoria line up at the traffic lights, him in his barge, her in her flat shoes. As is customary, I drop a handkerchief and it’s go, go, go. Ra immediately tears off in his solar barge, as we all watch Queen Victoria slowly meander away.
“Maybe it’ll be a tortoise and the hare situa- no, no, wait, he’s already won,” I say, disappointedly, as we all watch Ra do doughnuts on the finish line in the distance. Ra comes back towards us in his solar barge.
“The keys to your blog, please,” he says, triumphantly.
“Who the hell has keys to their blog?” I say. Ra looks at me, knowingly. I sigh, and throw him the keys to my blog.
“Thankyou, and from all of you I shall also be requiring all of the money that you owe me too, which I believe comes to around £242,000. I take all forms of payment including cheque and direct debit.”
“Can I make one last request?” I say. “Can I please at least eat my scone? It would be a shame to come for afternoon tea and not actually review the scone.” Ra kindly agrees, and me, Ra and Victoria all go back inside to our magical tree of treats. I shed a single tear, followed by around two-hundred more as I realise it’s the last treat I’ll ever review. It’s a wonderful way to end though, a beautiful beacon of butter coated in thick cream and a lovely strawberry jam homemade on the premises. “Thankyou, scone,” I whisper to the scone.
“It’s my pleasure, Andy,” says the scone. Oh dear, I’ve had too much champagne. Ra and Victoria sit opposite me, sharing a sacher torte, laughing as if the world isn’t collapsing in on itself. Then, I hear a voice from the foyer.
“Sorry I’m late, Andy! Somebody stole my solar barge!”
I turn to see a falcon-headed beast in a silver suit striding into the theatre of tea. “Ra?!” I say, confused. “But you’re already here?” I say, staring at the two Ras before me.
“Who is this imposter?” Says blue-suited Ra, angrily. “Get him out of here, immediately!”
“I’m no imposter! This is the imposter!” Says silver-suited Ra. “Look!” He says, as he grabs the other Ra’s head and pulls it off to reveal none other than…
“PEPYS!” I shout, stunned, as I see that it’s none other than Samuel Pepys, famed diarist. “I should have known it was you!” The last time I saw Pepys he was filling up several two-litre bottles with Fanta in a Nando’s despite saying he just wanted tap water. He’s a grifter, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if he didn’t write his own diaries.
“Yes! Yes, it is I, Samuel Pepys!” Says Pepys. “And we would have got away with it if it weren’t for this bloody bird!”
“We? You were in on this too?” I say to Victoria. “You’re not even from the same era as Pepys!”
“He told me I could make a fortune!” She says. “All I had to do was decline your invitation and then stop Ayrton Senna from coming!”
“How dare you! You have both brought… I want to say shame but let’s be honest, that ship sailed a long time ago… you’ve brought further shame on this blog, something none of us even thought possible! I’ll be taking these!” I say, taking back the keys to my blog. “Get them out of here!” I say, clicking my fingers to summon the interdimensional food blog police. They step out of a portal that looks remarkably like a pain au raisin and lead Pepys and Victoria away in chains. In front of me now stands Ra, and some very relieved staff, free from their financial burden.
“You’re not going to charge us for the afternoon are you?” I say to Ra.
“Charge you for a basic human need? Who do you think I am, any existing member of the British Conservative Party?” Says Ra. We laugh, yet internally we both die a little bit.
“Excellent, then the champagne is on me!” I say. Everybody cheers.
“Your hour and a half of bottomless champagne is over, sir. You’ll need to pay for additional glasses,” says a waitress.
“Just the bill then, please.” Overall…
9/10 – A delightful and unique afternoon tea.