I’m not a huge fan of Christmas. I’m really not. I’ve tried, and there are lots of elements I like – namely the pigs in blankets and goodwill to all men – but the saccharine, schmaltzy side isn’t for me. What I really like is the cosiness of it all – the smell of real pine trees, the whoomph of warm air in your face as you come in from the cold, and the food. Oh, the food.
My mother and I visited The Landmark London in Marylebone for afternoon tea just as the Christmas decorations were being unveiled, so fortunately it scored pretty well on Christmassy things I actually love. The big draw is the Winter Garden, a vast atrium with an overarching glass roof and petrified palm trees. In June, when I came last, it was flooded with light, like a luxurious spa resort. Last week, on a cold, overcast London afternoon, it was dressed up with an enormous Christmas tree and twinkling fairy lights.
On any day, the quiet luxury of The Landmark London is pretty special. It was originally The Great Central Hotel, built by the Victorians to serve Marylebone station, though it fell into disrepair in the 1920s when the motorcar became popular and trains lost their magic. How things change, eh? These days almost everybody takes the train, though its old-world glamour is long gone. National Rail these days is about avoiding the wee on the toilet floor and silently grappling with the manspreader sat next to you for space, but somehow The Landmark London still manages to capture the old romance of the railroad.
It started, as these things do, with a glass of champagne and a round of sandwiches, which are unlimited. The proper thing to do is obviously to starve yourself beforehand, because they’re very nice indeed, and the sandwich cart comes round every ten minutes or so with a fresh spread. Fillings-wise there are no surprises: lapsang souchong smoked salmon and cream cheese, cucumber, egg mayo and mustard cress, and coronation chicken with tarragon crème fraîche in walnut bread, which was my favourite. (Er, I had five. Oops.)
By the time the scones came – fresh, warm and fluffy, with clotted cream and a couple of different jams – we had moved on to the tea. There’s an exclusive Christmas blend you absolutely must try – think mulled wine-flavoured tea – but there’s an extensive menu of all kinds of other teas too if, somehow, warming festive flavours aren’t your thing.
As a rule, I’m not really a sweet person (hence the sandwich massacre), but the creations of the patisserie chef are something to behold…
The best one is obviously the double-decker chocolate hazelnut and orange macaron (!!!), but the Valrhona chocolate, lavender and apple choux gets points for looking like a teeny tiny Christmas pudding.
That there, with the edible bow on top, is a pear and salted caramel yule log, but my mother’s favourite was the pearlescent white chocolate sphere, filled with pistachio sponge and cranberry. Christmas flavours can be taken so literally but the patisserie people have really got their creative hats on developing these twists on traditional treats.
It’s a lot of cake, but fortunately they have takeaway boxes…
Afternoon teas are, of course, fabulous Christmas gifts for the person in your life who prefers experience-type presents. (Take your mum. Mums love afternoon tea. It’s like catnip to them.) They’re also a great way to experience London’s incredible hotels without having to stay the night, which is a) ruinously expensive and b) completely unnecessary when you already pay through the nose to live a couple of miles away. The Landmark London’s Christmas Afternoon Tea is £55/head including a glass of champagne and runs until 2nd January, but there are gift vouchers available for the traditional and chocolatey teas throughout the rest of year too.
(And if cakes and a good brew isn’t your jam, Bookatable have an amazing dinner deal on at the moment too.)
Winter Garden at the Landmark London, 222 Marylebone Road, London NW1 6JQ
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in Islington and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.