Let there be cake: Art Afternoon Tea at Rosewood, London

I had always wanted to experience afternoon tea in London, but was always put off by the stuffiness event. At the Ritz, for example, the dress code is put under ‘terms and conditions’; as a “client responsibility” guests are not permitted to wear jeans for afternoon tea. Apparently cake tastes better when you’re in a tux. This is just not true. Cake is best in loose clothes. Preferably in bed, with Orange is the New Black in the background. So when I realised I was going for afternoon tea for my 21st birthday, and that the dress code was ‘smart casual,’ my mum sewed up the holes in my ripped jeans and we pretended to be posh for the day. 

What differentiates Rosewood from its competition in the capital is that the cakes are treated as individual artworks. Rosewood’s executive pastry chef, Mark Perkins, has curated a selection of art-inspired cakes to accompany finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones and loose tea. His creations are inspired by five of the most globally iconic artists currently exhibited in London including Yayoi Kusuma, Alexander Calder, Banksy, Damien Hurst and Mark Rothko. This novel idea works well on so many levels, because by using the artists’ work as a basis of inspiration, the cake itself becomes an artwork, but in edible form. Rosewood have nailed it – I can’t imagine another theme that would work as effectively embodied in pastry. Politicians, countries, famous figures etc. could all get a little controversial, and cake should never offend. Art afternoon tea seems to have struck gold, because it is about adapting the style into a new miniature version, one that can be recognised, adored and consumed by art fanatics. I’m going to rank and review the cakes, comparing them to their original masterpieces.

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  1. YAYOI KUSUMA

Renowned for her psychedelic colours, patterns and repetition, Japanese artist Kusuma has taken over the international art world one polka dot at a time. For this cake, Perkins drew inspiration from her installation ‘All the Eternal Love I have for Pumpkins’. Rather than merely copying a pumpkin from the work, the cake shows the chef’s original take. I have ranked it the highest because of how visually striking it is, and to me it just screams ‘Kusuma’. Moreover, it tasted as quirky as it looked. It was made from milk chocolate mousse, passionfruit cremeux with chocolate set on chocolate biscuit. Perkins thought that her predilection for yellow and black was best translated into passionfruit and chocolate.

2. ALEXANDER CALDER

This was a structural masterpiece. Fitting for the American sculptor who invented the mobile, the moving sculpture made with suspended shapes that move in response to touch or the air, typically found above a baby’s cot. Disguised as a modernist mobile, this cake was surprisingly incredibly heavy because the inside was densely packed with pistachio bavarois, cherry jelly, pistachio sponge “sprayed” with red chocolate. As I have a predilection for pistachios, this my favourite flavour-wise. I was also astonished by the interior engineering work, as I cut through every cake in half to share, this one did not collapse. The exterior embellishments were a little fragile however, made only coloured chocolate, they fell off when I picked the cake up.

3. BANKSY

The nation’s favourite and a worldwide phenomenon, it would be a difficult task to create a cake that was not identifiable to this mainstream street artist. I think this let down the overall challenge to create something with an innovative spin on an existing artist. It was almost inevitable that the cake would be a brick or building with one of Banky’s iconic stencils on. They had chosen Banky’s 2002 piece ‘Balloon Girl’, which was originally a mural on an East London, but was removed and sold for £500,000 in 2014. Depicting a young girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon (only that the opaque red icing was not not heart-shaped) the impressive element of this cake was its unusually brick-like texture. It was the richest of the five, and incredibly indulgent. A chocolate cube filled with vanilla cream choux, chocolate creme resting on a salted caramel liquid, I imagine this would take a few miles to burn off. Too much sugar compacted into a 2inch x 2inch box for my liking.

 

4. DAMIEN HIRST

When I think of Hirst I think of sharks or cows preserved in tanks and diamond encrusted skulls. Far less so, I think of his inoffensive and boring dot work. Truth be told, I dislike Hirst. His public response to the retaliation of his unimaginative artwork is pretty tongue and cheek; when people say “anyone could do that” he barks back “but you didn’t, did you?” And he’s made an obscene amount from doing what we could not be bothered to do. It took some time for me to recognise that the cake was based on Hirst’s art, and like his career itself, the cake’s design was a bit boring. The redemptive factor was that it tasted really pleasant, and it offsets the heftiness of the Banksy cake. A white chocolate tart made from cassis jelly, yuzu curd and decorated with dots, it was delightful but didn’t have the shock factor I was expecting – I would have preferred a replica of ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (aka the shark in a tank). That would have been fun.

5. MARK ROTHKO

This was the artist I knew least about. He was a famous abstract expressionist, but all I knew was that he had a thing about painting bold block colours on canvas. I imagine that his was the easiest to translate into cake form, because his work is the least adventurous. The most inventive creative decision would therefore have to be the flavour combination, and this was subtle, light and delicate. This was made from layered coconut sponge, raspberry, coconut mouse and decorated with thin pink and red raspberry chocolate. I thought this was not the one to rave about – it’s structure was not experimental, nor was its embellishments.

I also couldn’t help but notice that this had been done before by many amateur home bakers…markyboy

Located in central London, High Holborn, Rosewood Hotel is anything but an eyesore. Admittedly, while trying to act collected, and not break anything in the process, I did take three trips to the ladies bathroom over the space of two hours to take Snapchats…

The cake art pieces were just one feature of the overall sophisticated experience. The tea, sandwiches, and scones were additionally exquisite. I did not have a big enough stomach capacity to eat it all, and our wonderful waiters kept offering us top ups of our favourites. They were so hospitable, and elaborated on the artists’ stories behind each individual cake. I ended up taking home the scones and a spare Banksy cake. Word of warning: come on a very empty stomach, and wear loose smart casual clothing. This is the first season of art afternoon tea at Rosewood, if you would like to experience these specific varieties for yourself, you must come soon, as new replacement designs are due to replace them. Standard afternoon tea per person is £50 and can be booked online here.

Thoughts about which artists I’d like to see in art form at the Rosewood in future: Louise Bourgeois, Tracy Emin, Max Ernst…

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Train ride home

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