Tea time with Sherlock…

by Thomas on June 14, 2017

There’s a lot to be said for celebrating your favourite fictional sleuth through the medium of food and drink. My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon on the Orient Express, sipping dainty little glasses of crème de menthe in homage to Hercule Poirot, gazing about the dining car and wondering which of our fellow passengers was likeliest to bump us off. In the heady days before our children arrived, we used to meet for a post-work Martini at Duke’s Bar in Mayfair, where Ian Fleming decided that Bond would take his ‘shaken not stirred’. So when I spotted that an afternoon tea inspired by the most famous fictional detective of them all had been launched at the Taj Hotel in London, I lost no time in booking a table.

I’d been lucky enough to stay a few years back at the legendary Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, and had assumed that grand old Indian hotels – and international holiday resorts – were the Taj Group’s stock-in-trade. And yet, situated in Victoria between Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, lies the Taj St James’ Court, a 338-room city hotel complete with spa, five restaurants and secluded inner courtyard.

The Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea is hosted at Kona, a Mediterranean restaurant on the ground floor of one of the eight redbrick Victorian townhouses that comprise the hotel. Though the contemporary décor and selection of chart music might not immediately scream 221b Baker Street, in between our place settings we found a runner of Harris tweed, with a number of Holmesian items placed upon it – a pipe, a magnifying glass, a Baker Street sign, a miniature violin and globe, and a pair of heavy steel handcuffs, for which our Sicilian waiter, Luca, reassured us the management retained the key.

We started by selecting our teas. As one might expect from an Indian-owned hotel, the range was broad and imaginative, and my wife’s pot of Assam Mangalam was deemed perfectly brewed. My Earl Grey came infused with tiny blue cornflowers, and had a delicious citrus zing that readied the palate for the main event.

The first platter to arrive was ‘The Sign of the Four’, named after Conan Doyle’s second Holmes story, which takes its plot from events surrounding the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Highlights included the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ brioche bun, with a slice of rare roast beef and a tangy mustard mayonnaise in the middle, and the ‘Study in Scarlet’, a pink, beetroot-bread sandwich filled with minted cream cheese and a layer of cucumber which gave a satisfying, toothsome crunch.

Once these had been demolished, we were presented with a stack of six soft, warm scones, a generous pot of homemade strawberry jam and a ramekin of smooth clotted cream. I think these may have been the finest scones I have ever eaten. No sign of the stiff exterior and dry, crumbly centre that can afflict this famous bun: these were as giving as a sponge cake, and I was thrilled when our waiter presented us with a Tupperware box of extra ones to take home.

By this point, my wife was approaching culinary defeat, so when the platter of cakes and pastries arrived, it was up to me to lead the way. There were some unusual confections aboard – ‘Watson’s Moustache’ comprised a Stout cupcake with a chocolate moustache embedded in the buttercream; ‘Sherlock’s Holmes’s Smoky Cigar’ a chocolate tube stuffed with a caramel mousse so heavily infused with woodsmoke that it might not be to everyone’s taste. But the ‘221b Macaroon’ – flavoured with 25-year-old Scotch – was sensational, and ‘Mrs Hudson’s Pudding’ proved to be a slice of sumptuous date cake that would have done the great landlady proud.

By this stage, even Moriarty would have been running scared from further consumption, but the lure of a Sherlock-inspired cocktail was too much to resist. On offer was a teatime twist to the traditional ‘Old Fashioned’ –  chocolate bitters on top of the regulation Angostura. And the name of this new cocktail? The ‘Elementary’.

All in all, a delightful mash-up of two of the Victorians’ most beloved creations – Holmes and high tea.

 

 

 

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Return to Oxford…

by Thomas on May 3, 2017

I love Oxford. I was born there; I grew up living either in the city or a few miles outside. I went to school there until I was 13, then returned to go to university. So if I’m ever lucky enough to be asked to do a book event in Oxford, I rush in like a shot. It was with unalloyed glee, therefore, that I headed to the city of spires last week to take part in the Ex Libris panel show at Blackwell’s – http://oxfordgames.co.uk/ex-libris-live/up-coming-shows. I arrived preposterously early, having been caught out on the M40 many times before, which gave me a few hours to wander around. I realised then that I’d not been alone in Oxford for ages – I’d either been meeting friends, or my wife and I had been showing the children the delights of the parks/Botanic Gardens/shrunken heads in the Pitt Rivers. And it was fun to stroll aimlessly, frequenting some old pubs (for non-alcoholic beverages: wits were required for that show), and places full of memories. Naturally, things are going to change. It’s nearly sixteen years since I graduated (ye gods). The entrance to the Taylorian Institute (modern languages HQ; my old course), for example, had switched location, and the mighty St Giles Cafe had closed down. But a more surprising change was the attitude of the students. In my day, it was definitely not cool to be posh. Accents were levelled off, grungy clothes embraced. But eavesdropping on groups of students last week, I got the sense that poshness was being celebrated. A cultivation of the disparaging aristocrat seemed almost de rigueur. At times, I felt like I was on the set of Made in Chelsea, witnessing a competition to bray the loudest or give the haughtiest putdown . When did this shift happen, I wonder? And is it only in Oxford? Surely it makes the city a more intimidating and less appealing place for anyone arriving for the first time. But perhaps I’m just getting old…

 

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Battersea crime walk…

March 20, 2017

I’m a firm believer in the Latin phrase, ‘Solvitur ambulando’; ‘It solves itself by walking’. Whenever I get stuck on a tricky bit of plotting, I close down my computer and step out onto the streets of Battersea. I tend to take the same route each time, one that’s specially devised to get a crimewriter’s […]

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The name’s James…

March 2, 2017

This is the index of a magazine I wrote something for. I plan to drink a Martini to celebrate my new name. Though I’ll bet this never happens to Ian McEwan…

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Sunday Times review…

February 16, 2017

A thrill to appear in The Sunday Times last weekend, not least because it’s a paper my parents actually read. That said, they completely missed the review (below), and I had to phone them with a minor nudge on Sunday evening. When it comes to parental pride, we’re all just big kids, really…

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Writing Magazine interview…

January 20, 2017

As the clock ticks down towards the release of A THOUSAND CUTS, here’s an interview I did for Writing Magazine, the bestselling magazine for ALL writers (I’m quoting their tagline there, I know). You may have to twist your head to read it, as my techno skills don’t know how to rotate it. But, if […]

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A grave mission…

January 9, 2017

This is an account of a trip I made to India and Bangladesh with my father and grandfather to find the grave of my great uncle. The last paragraph was meant to be in blue as well, I think… Lewis article

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Interview with ‘The Gibraltar Magazine’…

December 27, 2016

Here’s an interview I did with the Gibraltar Magazine in advance of this year’s Gibraltar International Literary Festival… HYPE FOR SPIKE – Thomas Mogford leads ‘Sleeping Dogs’ to the GLF    

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Travel writing — the good life…

October 27, 2016

I’d never been on an official press trip until The Arbuturian Magazine invited me to go to Cyprus this month to write a travel feature. I have to say, the experience was incredibly spoiling: living it up on press status, everyone being especially nice to you in case you might write something unpleasant. I felt […]

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The festival bubble…

October 1, 2016

Just back from the Rye Arts Festival, having given a talk called ‘Murder in a Seaside Town’. The festival is brilliantly run, and there are advertisements for it all over the picture-perfect streets of Rye. Seeing ones own mug posted alongside the likes of genuine household names, it’s possible to enjoy the brief illusion (or […]

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