I. Love. Willy. Wonka. The movie, not the man. Willy Wonka the man is just a little too… what’s the word… murder-y for my tastes. A little too okay with legal manipulation and wallpaper licking than I prefer in my tour guides. On the other hand, I do love a velvet suit jacket and a healthy sense of sarcasm. Hmm, maybe I’ve spoken too soon. He’s definitely not as weird as four bedridden grandparents/1 bed. (I-don’t-like-the-look-of-it.)
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory the movie, however, has everything I could ever want in a film: a grown man doing somersaults, burping to save your life, inspirational songs about how changing the world ain’t no thang, and spoiled brats getting exactly what they deserve. There’s candy and magic and chocolate and a shrink ray. There are bubbles, songs about childhood obesity, a chicken getting its head chopped off and a hilarious German family. What more could you want?
It was this attitude that lead me straight to London’s Chesterfield Mayfair hotel for afternoon tea.
Experiencing a traditional afternoon tea in London was an absolute must for me on my recent and first ever visit. However, “traditional” is a word no one in their right mind has ever used to describe me so naturally I sought out something a little less pinky-in-the-air and a little more jazz-hands. And that’s when I discovered Charlie and the Chesterfield, the Chesterfield Mayfair’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea. And it called out to me like Veruca Salt on her way down the garbage chute, “Don’t care how, I WANT IT NOWWWWWWW!” Dammit, life is too short to not act out your geekiest culinary fantasies.
The Chesterfield Mayfair
I was greeted at the entrance to the Chesterfield Mayfair hotel by a guy in a top hat. I think that tells you everything you need to know about this place.
It’s spectacularly fancy here but also the friendliest place you’ve ever stepped into. Kind of like a jewelry store… before they realize you’re just there trying things on to kill time during your lunch break at Gadzooks. They have a gin bar at which I was the only female… and the only one dressed as Violet Beauregarde, for some reason. It’s a beautiful property with the absolute nicest employees and there are more portraits of dogs in this place than the Facebook wall of your coworker who just adopted that three-legged shelter mutt.
I could only hope they knew what they were in for–etiquette has never really been my strength. Unless of course you consider saying “excuse me” with a forced British accent after I burp really loud in public to be polite.
Charlie and the Chesterfield
Afternoon tea is a British tradition that originated amongst the wealthy class in England sometime in the mid-1800s. It’s since trickled way down to the I-sold-my-old-Hooters-uniforms-on-Ebay-to-pay-for-this-MacBookPro population. Afternoon tea consists of a light meal of finger sandwiches with the crusts inexplicably removed, scones and other things you’ll have to ask your server to identify, delicious, sugary treats and, of course, tea.
For the past few years, the Chesterfield Mayfair has done all of us nerds a great service by incorporating the Willy Wonka theme into their scrumdiddlyumptious version of afternoon tea. It’s still fancy enough for your typical 1840’s British aristocrat, but also quirky enough for the average Grandpa Joe. They present the Chocolate Factory theme throughout the entire Charlie and the Chesterfield afternoon tea experience with the only thing missing being a scar-faced old man whispering in my ear while I sip champagne.
Your afternoon tea will begin with a serving of Fizzy Lifting Drink and, should you choose, follow with a different kind of fizzy lifting drink. Still bubbly, still pink. Because in the words of Wonka himself, “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.” And this coming from the guy who threw a pair of soccer cleats into a candy vat, so clearly he knows a thing or two about getting chocolate wasted.
Amazing how many blog posts I can work this into…
Once you’ve made it through all the sandwiches and scones, and if you haven’t stuffed yourself silly with clotted cream and snozzberry jam, you’ll arrive at the top tier of your fancy plate thingy. Here you have (all homemade, all decadent enough to get your bedridden-for-20-years grandparents dancing a jig):
- Oompa Loompa cupcake
- Homemade Wonka Bar (delicious even two weeks later when I finally ate it)
- White chocolate golden egg
- Fizzy lifting lemon cake
- Fruit tart
- Bubblegum éclair
- and a blueberry macaron
When you’ve finally reached your waistband’s breaking point they offer you golden tickets and Everlasting Gobstoppers. Their version of the golden ticket is a gold envelope with a prize of some sort inside–a certificate for a free afternoon tea, a free glass of champagne, maybe even a free hotel stay (to be opened only on your next visit). They just… give them to you. You don’t have to sacrifice your husband’s ransom or hire a factory of disgruntled laborers to frantically unwrap chocolate bars for you. They just hand them over.
As for the Gobstoppers, this marks the first time I’ve ever been handed a piece of candy with a pair of tongs. A hot dog off the grill, the occasional hot towel at a sushi restaurant, the eyeball of a goat in the biology lab? Sure. But a singular piece of candy? Absolutely not. It’s usually just me ripping open a box of Nerds at a red light and pouring them directly into my mouth–with about half of them ending up somewhere between the console and the driver’s seat.
A little shockingly, even fancy takes a short break every now and then for entertainment’s sake. The hotel and restaurant managers take turns dressing up like Willy Wonka just for the occasion (probably) so clearly I’m not the only one living out a fantasy here. I told him I needed to see a decent somersault upon arrival but fancy apparently draws the line at performing low-tier gymnastics moves indoors.
Charlie and the Chesterfield: the food
If sitting amid a forest of orchids and paintings of dogs with better table manners than you doesn’t make you feel like you’re dining above and beyond your social class, eating tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off will certainly do the trick.
Personally, I love the idea of afternoon tea (as a member of the 21st century). It’s like playing dress up as a kid. Only now you’re an adult with the blatant realization that this is not your life. That the only thing white and porcelain you own is a toilet that’ll take the next 30 years of your life to pay for. But for now you can indulge. You can spread whatever the hell clotted cream is onto things that were freshly baked just for you (I can only assume clotted cream is the solidified laughter of angels or the stuff the Care Bears use to power their cloud cars). You can dab the corners of your mouth with dainty cloth napkins. You can eat tiny sandwiches using only two fingers. And then you can order free refills of those sandwiches because you’re still a human being who eats with her elbows on the table.
That’s right–I said FREE REFILLS. We’re not in the 1800s anymore, Toto. And don’t lie to yourself; you’re going to want them. The sandwiches, the scones, the tasty, tasty treats–it’s all totally worth a ride down Nightmare River on the Wonkatania. For example:
- Honey roast ham with cheddar cheese and tomato chutney on onion bread
- Roast chicken with grain mustard, mayonnaise and nibbed almonds on white bread
- Scottish smoked salmon with horseradish cream cheese on beetroot bread
- Cucumber and cream cheese on white bread
- Freshly baked chocolate and fruit scones served with Cornish clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam (THAT. JAM. I’d gladly push a kid into a chocolate river for more of that.)
- Only the finest offerings from that reclusive weirdo in the factory with his name on it.
They accommodate children, vegetarians, gluten-free people (is that what they’re called?), even Wangdoodles, Hornswogglers, Snozzwangers, and rotten, Vermicious Knids. (I think that last one has something to do with a nut allergy. ⇠ They’re all, “cream buns and doughnuts and fruitcake with no nuts, so good you could go nuts, give it to me NOW!” I can joke about it because that’s me; I literally have no idea what a macaron tastes like.)
View their full menu here. And when you think about, their whole culinary production is pretty amazing seeing as how they could’ve just given us a piece of gum with all the courses in it and called it a day.
Charlie and the Chesterfield: the tea
Two whole pages of the Charlie and the Chesterfield menu are devoted to tea but I went with their signature, brewed-for-this-occasion, chocolate tea.
Their menu describes it as “Specially blended for the Chesterfield Mayfair, two smooth, soft, dark teas from China blended with high grade cocoa nibs to give a sophisticated depth and lingering sweet aftertaste.” Because, sure, that all makes sense to us. However, I really can’t describe it any better. It wasn’t what I expected it to be like but it was SO MUCH BETTER. I drank the whole pot and secretly wanted another when that was finished but you know how it goes–so much time and so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it.
Let’s just say it comes from their chocolate tea river. And their waterfall–that’s the most important thing. No other hotel in the world mixes their chocolate tea by waterfall. (But it’s the only way if you want it just right.) You can live in happiness too — drink the Oompa Loompa chocolatey brew.
Our Charlie and the Chesterfield afternoon tea was definitely a highlight of our entire London/Paris trip. Everything was beyond perfect–the food, the tea, the people dressed as other people, the atmosphere, the theme and the most attentive service this side of Loompaland. A guy placed a napkin in my lap for me. Either the service is just that impeccable or he could tell from the get-go that I was raised by wolves.
Afternoon tea should absolutely be included in any London itinerary and I’m so glad I discovered such a fun take on the traditional. I can only pretend to be civilized for so long but I can let my freak flag fly all damn day. Deep down I’m just a girl with an admiration for imagination in her heart and crumbs in her hair.
“Time is a precious thing. Never waste it.” — Willy Wonka
Charlie and the Chesterfield: information
Come with me, drink some tea, in a world of pure imagination…