The Corinthia Hotel is the best new five-star hotel you’ve probably never heard of. Between Trafalgar Square and Embankment, the building looks Orwellian from the outside, but inside is all sweetness and light.
In the Lobby Lounge, smiling waitresses glide around like air hostesses from 1960s adverts. Under glass cloches, killer Battenbergs await your bite.
Consultant Claire Clark is the Corinthia’s cake guru. She has quite a following among the cognoscenti: for a time she was the pastry chef at The Wolseley; she then worked at the French Laundry in California, one of the world’s best restaurants. And now she makes her living advising top tea rooms how to bake their cakes.
The finger sandwiches and tiny scones, although present and correct, are not the point of the afternoon tea. It is the Clark-perfected cakes that make the Lobby Lounge a destination.
For example, the gateau opera, a traditional French confection made from layered almond sponge cake and soft chocolate ganache, was so perfect and petite it might have been assembled by elves. An éclair was the size of a ring finger, with suspiciously lavender-coloured icing, but it melted in the mouth with the flavour of violets.
Even a millefeuille – a confection bastardised in tea rooms from Salford to Oban – had been restored to the delicate French fancy it truly is.
The afternoon tea costs a lofty £35 per person, but this is now the going price in London’s many hotel tourist traps where you will get an inferior afternoon tea and have the ignominy of having to book a two-hour slot weeks in advance. No such problems at the Corinthia – it still accepts walk-ins (but ring first, just to be sure).
If you’re not up for an afternoon tea blow-out, you can just slip in for a treat from the glass cloches – Bakewell tarts, Victoria sandwiches, Eccles cakes: all simply sublime, as you might expect at £7 a slice. A cake-fest for connoisseurs.