Archives

‘It’s always tea-time’

What better theme for an afternoon tea than Alice in Wonderland, given that there is no tea party more famous than the Mad Hatter’s tea party, featured in the 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.   The Sanderson Hotel in London clearly thought the same and currently hosts an afternoon tea inspired by the very novel.

It was a sunny, warm June day and my friend and I were having a joint birthday tea (her birthday being May and mine July, June is always the best choice for this).   We were greeted at the hotel and led through to a beautiful courtyard garden, complete with faux flamingos. Marble tables were set out around the pond and baby pink blankets were over each chair, should a need for them arise. The garden also had a beautiful, floral swing chair, in association with Laurent-Perrier and was getting a lot of attention with girls trying to get the perfect Instagram snap.

 

I had come dressed in the latest Cath KidstonxDisney collaboration, an Alice in Wonderland shirt dress. I paired this with rose gold Marie Leonie pumps bought in Verona and a matching rose gold handbag from River Island.

img_1129

 

 

The waterfall in the background had a lovely relaxing effect as a waitress brought over the teas to choose from. These were all in small bottles like the drink me potion was in the story and each one was named after a character. The menus were stuck in a novel, crockery featured gymnasts and the serviettes were wrapped with a piece of paper with #I’m a Mad Hatter. When the tea pots came out, they had an illustration of a king on them and a black paper crown. The sugar cubes could be found, where else but in a music box.

 

When the tea stand was brought over, it was simply wonderful and really embraced the theme as much as possible. The food was one of the best themed offerings I have seen at any afternoon tea.  The savoury items were a smoked salmon Scotch quails egg with caviar and cream cheese, a stack of King of Hearts ham and parmesan croquet-monsieur, held together by a heart cocktail stick, Cornish crab brioche with spiced avocado and coriander and White Rabbit cucumber and cream cheese sandwich on pesto bread.

 

 

Next came the obligatory warm scones with Cornish clotted cream and fruit preserve. These were wrapped in black and white checked napkins as a nod to the chess game in the story. Then came the bit I enjoy the most, the range of sweet treats. There was a Queen of Hearts rose and strawberry Jammy Dodger, mocha chessboard gateau, Tweedle Dee lemon curd financier, Mad March Hare vanilla pocket watch macaroon, chocolate and pistachio Blue Caterpillar, Wonderland marshmallow magic mushrooms and Mad Hatters lost carrot and fennel meringue; all washed down with Alice’s exotic fruits “Drink Me” potion, served in a small bottle with a vintage paper straw.

Finally to round things off, we were given ice-cream served in a small terracotta flower-pot, as you do.

img_1168

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but was slightly disappointed at the standard of service received. I said as much on Twitter and much to my surprise, the impossible happened and my friend and I were invited to return to the hotel for a complimentary dinner, so they could showcase their service. We returned and our every need was met, while we enjoyed a delicious three-course meal and the hotel’s signature cocktail. They certainly turned my opinion around – what fabulous customer service!

 

When it came to my actual birthday, my sister-in-law surprised me with a fantastic Alice in Wonderland themed cake while my husband bought me an Alice in Wonderland cake stand.

 

Lewis Carroll was inspired to write the novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while rowing in Oxford with a friend from Christ Church College and his three girls, one of whom was called Alice in 1862. During the trip he told the girls a story about a bored girl named Alice who was looking for adventure.  This story, which the real Alice asked Lewis to write down, is the basis of what, once elaborated on, became the novel.  I wonder if Lewis Carroll, knew when he was in Oxford that day, what an influence the novel and its characters would continue to have over 150 years later.   I visited Oxford with my Mum back in May, following a shopping trip to Bicester Village.  We had afternoon tea by Folly Bridge which is where Lewis’ boat trip began, visited Alice’s shop and saw the small door in the Cathedral Gardens which legend has it is where Alice entered Wonderland.

 

Over the years, there have been many differing adaptions of the classic tale and I have to say one of my favourite film ones is the Disney 2010 adaption, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.  Whatever the version you choose though, I think there are two very important messages to take from the tale which are, nothing is ever quite as it seems and if you believe in the impossible, it becomes possible.

Down the Rabbit Hole

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland. The book, written by Lewis Carroll, allegedly for a friend’s daughter after he told her the story on a river trip; was first published in 1865. It was followed up by Alice through the looking glass.   The story has been translated into many languages and there have been numerous film and play adaptations of it. The most famous adaptation are the Disney cartoon version, released in 1951 and the version from 2010 starring Johnny Depp.

disney alice

Some critics have tried to claim the magic of wonderland is simply the description of someone on a drug induced trip – however whatever the inspiration, wonderland is a fantastic fantasy world which has grabbed the imagination of children in the past, today and probably will for many years to come.

To celebrate this wonderful nonsense story where nothing is as it seems– there is an interactive theatre show called Alice Underground being held in the Vaults at Waterloo. The director, writer and producer of the show advises ‘growing old doesn’t mean growing up, embrace the nonsense, leave your adult at the door and join us for a while in Wonderland – we’re all mad here.’  My husband and I visited last month and it was a fantastic experience.

WARNING – If you plan to visit – I would advise you not to read any further as this blog will give away a lot of secrets and spoil the suspense and therefore the experience which is what the producer wants you to focus on.

Guests were instructed to come dressed in red and black for the Queens Court but sadly less than 50% of people took this advice so perhaps the effect was not quite as the producers imagined. I wore a black dress from New Look and accessorised with red suedette heels also from New Look and a red heart bag by Floozie which I got in the Debenhams sale. I also made a fascinator out of heart suit playing cards. The white rabbit commented on it and left me ‘in charge’ at one point because of it!

IMG_0730_2

IMG_0726

IMG_0727

IMG_0733_2

The show begins in a room full of various curios – there are book cases that are crooked, a writing desk, a mini dark room and most importantly a mirror. When you look in the mirror – a hologram of Alice appears. You are left in this room just long enough to wonder exactly what you have paid to see, before there is a bang and one of the bookcases opens to reveal a passage way covered in pages from books. You are then in a room of mirrors and the ceiling begins to spin – giving you the feeling of falling down the rabbit hole.

Next you are faced with a giant chessboard with a door on either side and you are introduced to the white rabbit. The white rabbit explains that you can either go through the large door or the small door and you are to select either the ‘eat me’ or the ‘drink me’ option depending on which you want. As the book says ‘if you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there’ and as such we chose the drink me and therefore the small door. This leads through to another area where you are given your Wonderland identity cards which determine which suit you are in. The rabbit then checks the coast is clear (when he left me in charge) before taking you into a dark room where you are entertained by the Cheshire cat. At that point we were split according to the suit on our cards. I was nervous to be separated from my husband as by now, I really did feel like I was Alice; entering a strange world where anything could happen.

We began in a room full of looking glasses which the resistance were hiding since the Queen had banned them in the kingdom. In one mirror we once again saw Alice but not as a hologram this time. She was musing on how she got there and who indeed she was.

Next we found ourselves in the kitchen, helping with the cooking. The Duchess holding a sneezing baby pig had makeup on which really frightened me and the chef kept making sudden loud bangs of the rolling pin.

Following that was a room with a knave who had been trying to paint the roses red as the Queen would be annoyed they had got white ones by mistake. They needed us to help them try and magic the brush clean.

We were then in a room with another member of the Wonderland resistance (the queen had apparently outlawed nonsense). We were given a party whistle and told to blow it when the answer to the riddle ‘Why is a raven like a writing desk’ was revealed which it was, later in the court room.

Subsequently we were taken to see Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee who were suspended from the ceiling and jumping around whilst trying to read; we made a swift exit as one of them announced they were about to be sick.

Lastly was my favourite room. We all sat on cushions on the floor whilst the caterpillar told us a story in between him drawing on his shisha pipe.  Projected on the ceiling was a kind of image which perhaps represented his thoughts or a dream. My only criticism of this room was that the people operating the caterpillar could have been more discreet.

All the suits were then reunited to sit at the table for tea. I had wine in a tea cup and we listened to the mad hatter and others talk in riddles about such things as it always being tea time and jam tomorrow and jam yesterday-but never jam today.

After tea we were escourted in to the court room and organised by suit, whilst the queen of hearts tried to ascertain who had stolen her jam tarts. It turns out my husband’s group had. The story ends with Alice saving the day and the queen being put behind the looking glass.

We ended the show in the Queens bar where you got to meet the cast and try some gorgeous cocktails served in jam jars.  Incidently 6077 jam jars were needed for this!  It truly was a magical experience, like entering a dream world and certainly gave me a new appreciation for the text.

IMG_0752_2

IMG_0748_2

IMG_0747_2

IMG_0744_2