There was a time when hotels situated within close proximity of a busy mainline railway station were somewhat dreary affairs, more perfunctory than polished. Not so these days with a new breed of design hotels that add swish to their swagger.
Andaz Liverpool Street started life as the Great Eastern Hotel in 1884 and was mostly frequented by travelling businessmen (a daily supply of seawater was delivered by rail to assist their ablutions). With a couple of notable “spruce ups” over its history (it was previously owned by design guru Sir Terence Conran in 2000), the building is now a perfect synergy of classic elements – with its red brick and stucco features – and chic contemporary interiors.
Nowhere is this design mash-up more evident that in “1901”, the restaurant named in honour of the stunning domed stained glass atrium that dominates the room and was erected – you guessed it – in the year 1901. The room is suitable grand, with elegantly high ceilings that give a live, airy feel and cream stuccoed walls. While the long central bar, stocked with a mixologist’s dream of coloured liquors and spirits, is testament to the sometime cocktail party spirit of the location, we were there for a more refined and restrained reason: to partake of Afternoon Tea.
There’s a festive feel to the edible delicacies on offer, with mini sandwiches (crusts off, of course) filled with festive turkey and cranberry, roast beef and horseradish and the ubiquitous smoked salmon with lemon butter. There’s also a side of game pie, with buttery melt-in-the-mouth shortcrust pastry that 8-year-old Joe loved, and a nostalgic nod to the Seventies with an amuse-bouche portion of prawn cocktail with a sweetly tangy Marie Rose sauce and nice crisp baby Gem lettuce.
Such refined dining of course deserves a fitting libation. Cue the menu with teas in various hues (white, green, black or red berry) and from various origins (India, China, South Africa and English breakfast). There are also teas with a kick on the cocktail menu, inspired by Rooibos (with rum, Kahlua, and Grand Marnier), Earl Grey (with gin, apricot jam and lemon juice) and Mint tea (with apple schnapps, vodka and apple juice). I opted for a pot of mint tea, with a glass of Veuve Cliquot on the side, as we settled down to admire our lush surroundings.
The ambience of 1901 on Saturday afternoon was casual and informal; it was not too busy either, which makes it more relaxing for a visit en famille. Some afternoon teas are more formal in tone and setting, but we felt perfectly at ease. 1901 is also baby-friendly, though I must say I was slightly disappointed to see the bulky industrial design of the highchair that was brought out. Considering Andaz prides itself on its design credentials, having hotel rooms decked out with Eames and Jacobson furniture, wouldn’t it have been splendid if they used a Bloom or Nest highchair? The baby clearly wasn’t that impressed by the highchair either, as she preferred to crawl around on the shiny floor.
When the baby dropped her soother on the floor, one of the waiters swiftly swooped in like a hawk to retrieve it, turning to the child’s mother to ask “Shall I wash it for you?” Now that’s excellent service with a smile
A big part of any afternoon tea is, of course, the sweet offering, including traditional scones with jam and clotted cream. Although the salted caramel macaroons were just a tad too salty for our liking, the iced gingerbread candy canes went down a treat – so much so that after Joe had wolfed down two, he made a special request for more, which was promptly granted as three more were presented to him on a plate.
After our lovely afternoon tea, we took a stroll around the hotel to admire their rather quirky Christmas 2013 decorations: a giant golden gorilla takes pride of place in the hotel’s front window and there’s a barrel of gold 3D-printed monkeys cascading down the lobby’s rotunda, each grasping a sprig of mistletoe should you be tempted to steal a sneaky kiss!
Why go To give your child the opportunity to hone her manners and learn the etiquette of afternoon tea in a smart yet relaxed atmosphere.
Who is it best for All ages are welcome, but fans of scrummy scones will enjoy it most.
Our Favourite Bit Joe’s votes are definitely for the game pie and gingerbread candy canes. I can’t possibly comment, since he ate them all and I didn’t even get a crumb!
Top Tip Stop off at the pedestrianized Bishops Square, tucked behind Liverpool Street station, beforehand. Though busy during the week, it is practically deserted at weekends, so your child can run around freely to burn off some energy before teatime. For the festive season, they also have fabulous installations that light up the floor in a rainbow maze that children can chase.
Don’t Go If you’re a latte lover. Of course, they’ll oblige you, but it is supposed to be afternoon “tea”.
While You’re Here Head to Spitalfields, winner of the 2007 Best New Open Space, for a stroll around the shops and the famous market. They also host a calendar of concerts, festivals, fashion shows and more.