Tea Time

Rob­bie San­tos savours high tea at Lon­don’s Fort­num & Ma­son

Philippine Tatler Traveller - - Contents -

My love af­fair with Lon­don be­gan four years ago, when I started tak­ing short courses in fash­ion at Cen­tral Saint Mar­tins. To study fash­ion and to con­struct clothes does not only re­quire in­ven­tive­ness, but also pa­tience and dili­gence. To sum it up, it felt like re­liv­ing Project Run­way on a daily ba­sis. At the end of each day, dash­ing to a pub near King’s Cross to un­wind be­came de rigueur. It was an ex­pe­ri­ence I rev­elled in each time I would at­tend short courses. This daily habit, how­ever, changed in the spring of 2017 when I met a new Filipino friend in Lon­don. His name was Scott Vil­la­cora. Our com­mon friend, Jaime Ponce de Leon, had ex­cit­edly in­tro­duced us over af­ter­noon tea at Fort­num and Ma­son, the lux­ury depart­ment store along Pic­cadilly. Fort­num and Ma­son is world-fa­mous as a pur­veyor of tea—both blended and rare— plucked from ev­ery cor­ner of the world. And it was a stu­pen­dous sur­prise to learn that Scott Vil­la­cora is the Head Pas­try Chef of Fort­num and Ma­son’s tony Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Tea Salon. Fast for­ward to 2018, I ca­su­ally asked Scott if I could write about him for Philip­pine Tatler Trav­eller, be­cause I reck­oned he em­bod­ied the ex­cel­lence of the Filipino abroad and it would give his coun­try­men much pride to learn about him and to learn from him. Suf­fice to say, our string of mes­sages even­tu­ally per­mit­ted our sched­ules to match and we agreed to meet af­ter my class one swel­ter­ing Mon­day af­ter­noon. I es­caped the heat of Pic­cadilly and en­tered the robin egg blue Ed­war­dian set­ting of the tea salon. The tran­quil am­biance hides the 400 cov­ers (400 afte af­ter­noon tea sets sets) the salon serv serves daily, tha thanks to the flaw­less ser ser­vice and the sooth­ing pia pi­ano-play­ing tha that can be heard in ev­ery po por­tion of th the spa­cious p par­lour.

Scott, who hails from Du­maguete City, Ne­gros Ori­en­tal, has been work­ing in the United King­dom’s food in­dus­try for the past 13 years. He earned his di­ploma in Culi­nary Arts from the Philip­pine School of Culi­nary Arts in Cebu City.

The pas­sion for pro­duc­ing pas­tries be­gan in his youth. When Scott was eight years old, his mother taught him how to bake ba­nana cake—a sta­ple in their fam­ily’s Sun­day lunches.

Af­ter an eight-year stint at the Sir Christo­pher Wren House Ho­tel and Spa in Wind­sor, he trans­ferred to Fort­num and Ma­son.

Scott shares that he is part of the 14-mem­ber Pas­try Team, which is just a bit larger than the Savoury Team’s 11 mem­bers. He heads the depart­ment that churns out 12,000 scones and 7,000 cakes weekly.

He re­veals that the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Tea Salon has four menus each year–one per sea­son. Fo­cus­ing on Bri­tish pro­duce, Scott and the rest of the team con­cep­tu­alise the menu three months prior to its ex­e­cu­tion.

The over­ar­ch­ing theme of each menu is “Quin­tes­sen­tial Bri­tish,” but Fort­num and Ma­son re­works old clas­sic desserts such as the rose éclair, tof­fee cheese­cake, fruit­cake, Black For­est Swiss roll, and the pear and hazel­nut choco­late mousse, with a twist. Scott is quick to point out that their desserts are “not generic” and “not French.”

In­ter­est­ingly, there are 10 pas­tries that are fea­tured in each sea­sonal menu–two of which are al­ways Scott’s orig­i­nal in­ven­tions for the sea­son. Hence, in a year’s 40 pas­tries, eight are Scott’s orig­i­nal recipes. That’s a huge dose of cre­ativ­ity right there!

The best-sell­ing pas­tries dur­ing af­ter­noon tea are the red vel­vet cake and the vanilla le­mon

cheese­cake, his first oeu­vre ever. More­over, he in­ti­mates that his per­sonal favourite is the Som­mer­set cider brandy choux bun.

When asked if there was any­thing he didn’t like to bake, he ex­claimed, “Tarts! [I] Don’t like mak­ing them…bak­ing them!” But of course, this is just his per­sonal opin­ion and we ended up hav­ing a tart later on.

Af­ter the con­stant flow of cham­pagne and savoury de­lights, the tray with scones and pas­tries daz­zles the ta­ble (at this point, I had long for­got­ten the calo­ries and just rel­ished the ex­pe­ri­ence). Scott teaches me that one should start from the light­est to the heav­i­est pas­try. Hence, the tast­ing se­quence was as fol­lows: peach and mint Swiss roll; straw­berry crème brûlée; pas­sion fruit and vanilla mousse; rose choux bun; gi­an­duja cake. Be­ing made with three dif­fer­ent kinds of milk choco­late, the gi­an­duja cake was the most deca­dent in­deed!

The mo­ment with Scott turned silent when the pi­ano stopped play­ing. I turned around and saw that the salon was al­most empty. The place was clos­ing. I at­tempted to break the si­lence and ca­su­ally asked, “So, which fa­mous celebrity has come here and en­joyed your food?”

I saw the gleam in his eyes as he proudly enu­mer­ated, “Of course, the Duchess of Corn­wall, Camilla… then there are Ju­lia Roberts, Halle Berry, Whoopi Gold­berg, and Rob­bie Wil­liams… all of whom were walk-ins!”

For this pas­sion­ate chef who some­times does a back-break­ing 14 hours of work dur­ing the Yule­tide sea­son, he de-stresses through swim­ming and in­dulging in Mag­num ice cream. He adds that his trav­els to Costa Brava, Spain and Piros, Greece have re-in­vig­o­rated his body and soul. Sports, travel, and ice cream are sure ways to re­ward one­self for all that gru­elling hard work and drain­ing cre­ativ­ity.

We had bid each other farewell, but I left Fort­num and Ma­son with two boxes of de­li­cious treats. Per­haps it was to serve as a re­minder of how an ac­quain­tance be­came a friend; or how lucky I was to have gone through the same gen­teel ex­pe­ri­ence once again; or how calo­ries never re­ally go away, they are just some­times packed in the most fab­u­lous of boxes! Maybe it’s all of the above.

Truly, this Filipino in Lon­don con­tin­ues to rep­re­sent the best of the Philip­pines and Fort­num and Ma­son through his craft, as the iconic depart­ment store won the Af­ter­noon Tea Awards of 2018 for Best Chil­dren’s Af­ter­noon Tea last July.

Prune d’ ar­gen mini tart paired with Fort­ma­son tea; clas­sic but­ter­cream cake for tea time; Fort­num & Ma­son’s flAg­ship store on Pic­cadilly CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT

CLOCK­WISE En­joy­ing Fort­num & Ma­son’s fa­mous and ex­clu­sive tea blends; named in hon­our of Her Majesty The Queen’s visit in 2012, the Di­a­mond Ju­bilee Tea Salon epit­o­mises the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of af­ter­noon and high tea in all its splen­dour; pink cham­pagne rhubarb and gin­ger stem curd with gin­ger bis­cuit

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