Entering the Sanderson’s water garden requires a slightly self-conscious march along the breadth of the Long Bar, but it’s ultimately a beautiful space draped with dreamy voiles and tranquil plants. Negotiating the decking in heels is slightly perilous too, but the clientele is almost exclusively female so you get the impression they have suffered the same.
I was led to a gorgeous private room to await the rest of a hen party, when a gaggle of WAGs joined me having been misdirected. I don’t know who was more embarrassed – them or me – but the staff managed the situation swiftly and sweetly, albeit in a befuddled state. The same waiters remained with us for the duration, topping up rhubarb and custard tea (how quaint!) and happily responding to our photo requests. They were happy for us to exceed our allotted time until the next batch of hens arrived, heroically clearing the table at break-neck speed to maximise the time for all concerned.
And so to the afternoon tea offer. Charming touches re-inforce the Mad Hatter theme, though there’s strictly no fancy dress you understand (as the website chiefly states). While every other punter appears to be on a hen do, it is a rather more refined breed where fascinators replace the usual procession of phallic paraphernalia.
Darling touches made the occasion memorable, like ice-cream pops spiked with popping candy and diminutive ‘Drink Me’ bottles. The latter looked fit for an apothecary’s sweet shop and was filled with passion fruit jelly and coconut panacotta – delicious! A solid strawberry mousse sprung into my lap as I hammered away at its super-thick white chocolate exterior, but at least I recognised the coating was edible. (A fellow hen painstakingly carved her way in only to discard the case, fearing it was waxed. After all that effort, it was a shame she didn’t persist; the sugar high would’ve revived her).
Some of the quirks hit bum notes: a ham sandwich where the mustard resided in the bread, and an egg mayo sandwich in which the cress was substituted for rocket leaves. But I suppose you have to question just how jazzy you can rightfully expect these elements to be; the elaborate presentation more than makes up, with a girlie arsenal of tiered cake stands and twinkling champagne flutes.
This is undoubtedly at the glamorous end of London’s booming afternoon tea offer, and I’d be surprised if anyone leaves feeling anything other than pampered. The service can be a little slow, but not sluggish; surely afternoon tea is hardly the most high-octane of traditions anyway, so it shouldn’t necessarily present a problem.
All in all, I think it’s a solid and fun option for a celebration, plus there is a veritable menagerie of cocktails within arm’s reach if you choose to stay. Oh, and don’t even think about lunching beforehand; those Drink Me bottles don’t contain the magical shrinking serum billed in Wonderland. You’ll be positively groaning by the end.