This historic London hotel, opened in 1910, oozes classic British character and style. Sally Macmillan spends an afternoon enjoying tea overlooking its beautiful gardens.
In the immortal words of Henry James, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” And there are few places more agreeable for indulging in traditional afternoon tea than at an elegant London hotel — in this case, The Goring, royal favourite, and close neighbour to Buckingham Palace.
My companion Melanie is a former hotelier who trained at The Dorchester under the formidable Maitre Chef des Cuisines Anton Mosimann, so she knows a thing or two about excellence in catering and hospitality. We are warmly greeted by general manager Michael Voigt and discover we’ve just missed Peter Sweeney, the doorman who recently celebrated 57 years working for The Goring — he has just finished his shift.
Peter’s long-standing and much-loved presence at the hotel is emblematic of its history and character. The Goring was opened in 1910 by Otto Goring and is now the only five-star luxury hotel in London that is owned and run by the family that built it; Otto’s great-grandson Jeremy Goring is the present CEO.
In January 2013, The Goring was granted a Royal Warrant of appointment to the late Queen Elizabeth II for Hospitality Services; she was a regular guest when in London and stayed there “nine or 10 times” last year. Kate Middleton famously spent the night before her wedding to Prince William at The Goring and was one of the first guests to see the glamorous refurbishment that took place in 2015, the hotel’s 105th birthday year.
The Front Hall features exquisite hand-painted wallpaper created by specialist design company Fromental, whose beautiful hand-embroidered silk wallcoverings already grace many of The Goring’s suites and guestrooms. Director of sales Charlotte Chiene pointed out how the Goring family story is woven into the scenes with that typical British sense of humour — for example, a monkey on horseback in full racing silks references George Goring’s love of riding and sports, while a sleek seal is a nod to Jeremy Goring’s love of surfing.
Sometimes known as the Baby Grand, the ‘country house in London’ has 69 luxurious suites and rooms, each one individually designed and showcasing the very best of British design and craftsmanship. Marble bathrooms are stocked with Asprey products, fluffy, handmade Bar-Baa-Ra sheep footstools sit by supremely comfy armchairs and, if you happen to be staying in the ultra-desirable Royal Suite, you’ll be taking a shower in the presence of a life-size portrait of Queen Victoria.
The suites and rooms are set over six floors, with views either of The Goring’s gardens or peaceful Beeston Place. As you would expect, guests enjoy an exemplary level of friendly, professional service — families with young children are as warmly welcomed as VIPs who value discreet privacy and the attentions of dedicated liveried footmen.
Guests and visitors alike can drop in for drinks at the fabulously theatrical Cocktail Bar, book lunch or dinner at the Michelin-starred Dining Room (designed by royal family member and noted furniture-maker David Linley) and, of course, take afternoon tea in the Veranda or the Dining Room.
We are seated for afternoon tea at a table in the Veranda that overlooks the gorgeous garden, which appears particularly alluring on a warm summer’s day a few weeks after the lavish coronation of King Charles III. The classic repast does not disappoint. Both Melanie and I enjoy copious quantities of tea (you can choose plain old builder’s tea as we did but there is a vast selection of hand-blended teas on offer), plus a glass of Bolly for me and a glass of alcohol-free Wild Idol fizz for Melanie. The three-tiered cake stand is resplendent with delicate but flavoursome finger sandwiches, deliciously fresh scones, and small but perfectly formed cakes and sweet treats.
Do you go Devon and spread clotted cream on your scone and top it with jam (homemade, naturally), or go Cornwall and reverse the process? I vote for Cornwall, but either way, it is a deliciously memorable experience. The verdict from my expert companion: The Goring’s afternoon tea beats The Ritz’s, hands down.