I floated into what felt like a room made of clouds – light, ethereal, and not quite there. Between the sweeping white staircase in the centre of the courtyard, the white rattan furniture, and the palest cream marble floor, it was not hard to believe that you had momentarily left this world.
Bamboo trees shoot up in every corner, the fringe like leaves brushing the skylight, creating dappled patterns with the suns rays. At the base of the bamboo, pale green orchids were nursed, not yet matured into the white that was required for the room. The balconies of the upper suites overlooked the tea room, the windows were decorated with wooden lattice work in the palest teal and the white shutters pulled my memory back to an earlier time. The stone elephants and antique Siam parasols evoked the colonial era and it was no stretch to imagine Conrad or Greene relaxing beside me.
A man was sitting on the balcony above me caressing an acoustic guitar and the notes fell down onto us like otherworldly rain, whetting my imagination and pulling a tear to my eye with the sheer beauty of the sound, reminding me of the O’Shaughnessy ode:
‘We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams’.
My oriental afternoon tea started off with pandan leaf and coconut scones – they were the fluffiest scones I had ever tried, with an incredibly subtle flavour and were well complimented by clotted cream and a mango and ginger jam. The jam was very different to what I expected ginger jam to taste like, it was nothing like that awful crystalline ginger, and was not spicy at all either, yet it retained the ginger flavour that I love so dearly.
I usually love marzipan, but the yellow bean marzipan fruit were disappointing. I hurriedly put them back, resolving not to try them again despite their very attractive demeanour. The next thing I tried was an interesting trio of what looked like Turkish delight covered in grated coconut, placed stylishly in a little ‘boat’ server made of a banana leaf. I was hesitant about them, but they were actually quite perfect – little jellies flavoured with coconut (white), sweet potato and pumpkin (yellow) and egg yolk (ochre). I didn’t quite manage to finish them all though, too much of a good thing and all that.
Next was the lightest sponge I have ever tried and, once again, the fusion of flavours – this time Pandan and Passion fruit – worked surprisingly well together. It was neither overpowering nor invisible. When I saw macaroon on the menu, I expected it to be a French macaroon however I wasn’t disappointed to discover the coconut macaroon of my childhood, sandwiched together with some chantilly cream – it was wonderful, if a little heavy.
I arrived at the hotel at 2pm having eaten nothing all day – I was trying to make sure I would be ravenous before the feast. However the amount of food before me was daunting – the afternoon tea was definitely designed for two people!
My sister and I have a habit of leaving our favourite part of the meal till last which is why I started off with the sweets. However I was feeling a bit sick after all of the sugary fancies so decided to forsake the last few and move on to the final plate: of salt and spice and all things nice!
I don’t think words can describe how amazing the food was! It was an explosion of exotic scents and flavours in my mouth. The lemongrass in the Thai spiced tuna sandwich was particularly pungent – that is how Tuna should be eaten in a sandwich, my tongue felt alive!
Sadly, there was an egg mayonnaise sandwich – which was a little disappointing as it is my least favourite sandwich, however it was cooked with Thai herbs, and the bread had been died a hot pink so it was a feast for the eyes! My next foray with these delicacies was the brioche roll filled with crushed prawn, passion fruit, coriander and chilli. The latter two were a welcome contrast to the sweetness of the passion fruit, and the crunchy prawn pieces complemented the soft, moist brioche in an unthinkable way.
The meal ended with a rambutan sorbet adorned with pretty water chestnut jewels, after which I was absolutely sated, and as a philosopher, I understand the gravitas of the absolute.
Sitting in the Author’s Lounge of the Oriental Hotel, you can’t help but feel inspired. That little paradise that had welcomed Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, Noël Coward, Graham Greene, John le Carré and Tennessee Williams among others has to be on the list of places to visit for all aspiring authors.