Food and fashion are enemies, so congratulations to the Berkeley Hotel for attempting detente with something insane. It has invented a fashion ‘tea’ called Prêt-à–Portea which is, I am told by a press release, ‘designed to add a creative twist to the classic elements of the traditional English afternoon tea with cakes and pastries resembling the latest catwalk designs for the style conscious’. It gets worse, if there is anything worse than ‘style-conscious’ people eating in public. Prêt-à-Portea ‘has become a must-visit location on the London style map’, even if Londoners know there is no London style map and if there were it would be a hole in the Tottenham Court Road full of double-breasted cardigans and dead bodies.
Even so, this is the PR spiel — if you get bored of wearing shoes and carrying bags, or even love them so much that you need mad new ways to express your love, you can miniaturise and then digest them. I do not know whether Prêt-à-Portea is, at its heart, a slobbering homage or a -poison-pen letter to fashion, and fashion feels equally confused about its consumers, so the concept may be smarter than it looks. Except this is fashion, so I doubt it; as with politics, incompetence is always the most likely cause.
The Berkeley is in Knightsbridge, land of divorce settlements and supercars. Its sisters Claridge’s and the Connaught are the most beautiful hotels in London but the Berkeley is not at all beautiful. Perhaps she was eating when the looks were handed out; so Prêt-à-Portea is perhaps a wracked act of sisterly competition, which is noble enough, but does not work. The Berkeley lobby is decorated with styled dead leaves and the tea room, although it calls itself ‘the caramel room’, is chestnut brown, like a small horse. The punters do not seem to notice; they look slightly like dead leaves themselves, as, now I think of it, do most fashion designers — dead leaves, painted flesh.
Out comes a three-tiered cake stand, brought by a girl of unusual grace and sweetness (not a model), who carries laminated photographs of the specific garments and accessories from the Autumn/Winter collections of 2012 that ‘inspired’ the cakes and biscuits: she then delivers the craziest lecture I have ever heard, although gently, like a normal person talking to a woman in chainmail knickers. The cake stand is certainly pretty, if you are a celebrity child with an ancient, rotting soul; and if there is such a thing as a cake stylist, which I now feel sure there is, I congratulate her, and also the waitress, for the delivering the following lines without laughing. ‘This Diane von Furstenberg Pink Lady apple mousse and calamansi cremeux’ — she points at a mousse— ‘[is] topped with playful interlocking sugar puzzles.’ ‘This Burberry Prorsum layered praline, Dulcey cream and chocolate mousse trenchcoat’ — she points at a cake — ‘[is] topped with a stylish violet umbrella.’ ‘With his trendsetting vision’ — she points at a biscuit — ‘Marc Jacobs’s oversized double-breasted chocolate-biscuit jacket with show-stopping sparkly pink icing promises to bring that all-important magic to this winter’s party season.’ I am certain days, nay months, of complex international negotiations by thin people with tiny heads preceded this introduction to this tea; fashion is the scrawny time-waster of life and, looking around the sad brown room, there are plenty to run it out.
What can I say? It is ridiculous — objects taken to the very edge of usefulness, by the culture that spat out log stylists. It tastes OK, but there is something ash-like and dead-lipped to fashion, which is ever the opposite of joy. If you seek fine tea, your destination is still the Fortnum & Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, a mile away.
The Berkeley, Wilton Place, London SW1X 7RL; tel: 020 7107 8866.