There are few buildings more distinctive on the London horizon than the Royal Albert Hall.
The concert hall situated opposite Kensington Gardens is best known for holding the annual summer Proms concerts, which have been going since 1941. As one of London’s most treasured and distinctive buildings, the world’s leading artists from every kind of performance genre have appeared on its stage. Each year it hosts more than 350 performances including classical concerts, rock and pop, ballet and opera, tennis, award ceremonies, community events, charity performances and lavish banquets. It also hosts the annual graduation ceremony of the renowned Imperial College London.
But while I have visited the Albert Hall for concerts, circuses and awards ceremonies since the tender age of about ten, I have never once thought of arranging to meet somebody for a meal there. And that’s where I have been missing a trick. For the venue is not only renowned worldwide for its cultural offerings, its cuisine is pretty good too.
As the birthday of one of my closest friends approached, I wanted to give her a gift she would enjoy, and remember, and give us the chance for an all-too-seldom catch up. Life gets in the way and whereas we used to meet almost daily, we can now go months on end without managing to get a date in the diary. So I scouted around for a suitable venue for us to sit back and relax, without the worry of kids or closing time, and found an offer for Afternoon Tea at the Albert Hall.
Held in the building’s Verdi restaurant, run by the Rhubarb catering and restaurant group who also boast Sloane Square’s Gallery Mess and Ascot racecourse on their portfolio, there are several options available for the afternoon tea including the option to upgrade to champagne, or take a tour of the historic venue. I decided bubbly was in order on this occasion, so on a superbly sunny October afternoon we took our table by the window overlooking the Royal Academy of Arts, and sat back and enjoyed a crisp glass of Laurent-Perrier.
The afternoon tea is a medley of sweet treats, freshly cut sandwiches and homemade scones accompanied by clotted cream and jam. As a vegetarian I can often be limited on choice, but four incredibly appetising entrees were placed on the lower layer of my tiered trays, including egg and cress in a crepe wrap, a spicy aubergine offering, a delightful cucumber, cream cheese and mint, and another that I scoffed so quickly I can’t recall what it contained. My friend thoroughly enjoyed her more meaty options, especially the honey roasted ham with mustard and rocket, and smoked salmon with crème fraîche and balsamic caviar.
As we ordered from the fine selection of teas on offer – mine a jasmine pearls green tea and hers the Staunton Earl Grey – we enjoyed our second tier of light scones and deliciously indulgent clotted cream. Our waitress returned to check we were enjoying our treats, and made sure our teas were topped up and to offer us alternative blends. I decided to try the Nile Chamomile and my friend the Blend 68 white tea, personally recommended by our charming server.
Sweets at the Albert Hall are as extravagant and decadent as the stunning architecture within whose walls they are served. White chocolate, mint and rum macaroons melt in the mouth, while the carrot cupcake with Grand Marnier frosting is a mouthful worthy of royalty. There’s a crunchy salted caramel dark chocolate mousse, and a strawberry and rhubarb custard tart. By the time you’re done you’ll be vowing not to eat another morsel for weeks, but you make sure you finish every last crumb.
Having spent a leisurely three hours eating, drinking, talking, and eating some more, we finally forced ourselves to leave our luxurious surroundings and head back into the real world. A stroll past the famous Albert Memorial and through Kensington Gardens back to Paddington station was just what was needed to work off the incredibly enjoyable indulgence of the afternoon. Afternoon tea at the Royal Albert Hall is treat fit for a King, Queen, and certainly dear, dear friend.
- To see all the menus on offer at Verdi, or to book a table, visit the Royal Albert Hall website.