“I can resist everything except temptation.” Oscar Wilde
So Kettner’s in Soho promised ‘Drinking, Dining and Revelry‘, something that they have been offering since 1867. This Grade II beautiful building, which was originally four separate Georgian town houses, is located in the heart of theatre land just behind Leicester Square. It was our venue of choice for a champagne filled afternoon tea as part of a girlie day out and a post-birthday treat.
Kettner’s was an integral part of the glamorous, fashionable and promiscuous Soho of days gone by, famously frequented by Irish author, playwright and poet Oscar Wilde (author of The Picture of Dorian Gray). When his play The Importance of Being Earnest was staged he was arrested for gross indecency with other men, with Kettner’s being the place of choice for his clandestine meetings. Kettner’s was originally opened as a restaurant in 1867 by Napoleon III’s chef Auguste Kettner and became notorious as the rendezvous place for a stream of colourful characters of the era such as Wilde and just as renowned for its risqué parties.
Alongside Wilde (who mentioned Kettner’s as his venue of choice when he went to trial) author Agatha Christie and singer Bing Crosby were also frequent celebrated guests. Probably the most famous of all was the King Edward VII and his performing leading lady, Lillie Langtry. Legend has it that the king ordered a secret tunnel to be built between Kettner’s and the Palace Theatre, where his mistress Langtry performed so they could meet at there during the intermissions.
The brassiere is decorated with a 1930’s theme and serves a modern European menu inspired by its original French chef. The chic decor is complimented by beautiful accessories such as antique looking lamps, ornate mirrors and a white grand piano, this restaurant is also the location for the daily Afternoon Tea. A fabulous champagne bar, also on the ground floor oozes old-school glamour and charm, it’s boudoir style is adorned with plush velvet curtains. With one of the most extensive Champagne lists in London, offering over one hundred varieties it’s the perfect place for pre-theatre bubbles. The inventive cocktail menu draws inspiration from the characters of the restaurant’s outrageous past, including the signature High and Wilde Bellini, in honour of Wilde. Eight Private Dining Rooms are available to hire on the upper floors, a perfect place for fabulous parties in true Kettner’s tradition.
We opted for the Kettner’s Afternoon Tea with Laurent-Perrier Tasting Flights that offered a trio of delicious champagne served with a selection of traditional finger sandwiches including egg mayonnaise, ham and mustard and cucumber, smoked Salmon mousse tartlet, homemade sausage rolls and leek and gruyere quiche. Home-made scones were served with clotted cream and preserves. Raspberry macaroons, dark chocolate and mint choux buns were presented alongside strawberry shortbread, Pimm’s cake and mini victoria sponge cakes but disappointingly no promised Battenberg cake. The sandwiches and savoury bites were paired with a no nonsense Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut which was far to quaffable (I may have practically finished before the sandwiches actually arrived), the scones were accompanied with a fruity tasting Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé and the final glass of citrusy Laurent-Perrier 2004 matched perfectly with the sweet treats of the final tier. Oh I forgot there was a pot of English Breakfast tea too of course (see the full menu here)
We enjoyed the experience probably aided by the glasses of champagne but there wasn’t much revelry. The restaurant’s ambiance was enhanced by the tales of debauchery from Kettner’s past, all very intriguing! To be honest the food was pretty average and the service left much to be desired, I am yet to find an afternoon tea in London that can rival what Claridges has to offer. As we left the pre-theatre crowd were filling up the restaurant and the champagne bar was definitely very popular. If you find yourself in Soho, pop in for a glass of bubbly and a slice of Soho history.
29 Romilly Street, Soho. London W1D 5HP
Telephone: 020 7734 6112
Unless otherwise stated, all photos on this page © Jo Brett 2015. All rights reserved.