Above: The Lalanis titled this "No More Teacups!", a nod to their dedication to drinking premium teas like you would a fine wine or whiskey - from a glass.
Bollyfood. The edible version of a starry-eyed Bollywood party.
I've been having a bit of a Bollyfood phase lately. At the end of April I got to spend time with Chef Vivek Singh and veteran restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab at Darjeeling Express's popup at The Cinnamon Club . Just one week later, I got to meet the hugely talented Chef Anna Hansen of The Modern Pantry , and share a table with Asma of Darjeeling Express , Dana who started and runs argan oil company Arganic, food writer and popup chef Ravinder Bhogal , and Rekha Mehr who started Pistachio Rose , which makes and sells Indian-inspired boutique pastries.
From left: Asma of Darjeeling Express Supperclub, Dana of Arganic, and Ravinder talk shop
The fine (looking) line joining these star-dots to reveal the Bollyfood constellation? Jameel, Nadeem and AK, the GQ-cover boys of London's tea scene (Well if they aren't already they should be). The 2 brothers and 1 cousin started and run Lalani & Co , a tea boutique focused on the best leaves picked at the best time of the year, from small plantations obsessed with quality rather than commercial volume. They started the business in 2010, and already count training the butlers at Buckingham Palace as one of their more unusual engagements.
"When we were trying to decide what to do, we were playing around with tea, coffee, cotton... but we kept coming back to tea. It's something we actually care about, and Jameel and Nadeem really have a palate for it," their numbers man AK tells me over tea. Possibly influenced by the fact that the guys grew up with an uncle who had tea plantations in Kenya. I wonder what tea runs are like at their office...
Above: Jameel (left), our host and tea-sommelier for the afternoon, and his brother and brewmeister Nadeem on the right.
On this spectacularly sun-drenched Friday afternoon, we were all in the upstairs dining room of The Modern Pantry to partake in an exquisite afternoon tea cheffed by Anna Hansen and tea-paired by the Lalanis.
Above: The gorgeous Lalani & Co tea chest. The Lalanis package their teas in black glass jars, "what works best for preserving quality of the leaf". The fact that they end up looking like health supplements is a somewhat happy accident. On each jar you'll find instructions for the perfect brew for that particular leaf - weight of leaf per portion, quantity of water, temperature of water, and brewing time.
Jameel and Chef Anna kick off proceedings. The care for their adjacent crafts burns in their eyes.
To start, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums) custard tart, cauliflower, fennel seed and almond seed pastry (middle tier in the photo below), paired with Mannong Village Ancient White Buds 2010 from Yunnan, China. Amazingly fresh and delicate, none of that usual tannic feel on the tongue whatsover. My favourite standalone tea for the afternoon. The Lalanis age the tea themselves in the UK, doing their best to regulate temperature and humidity in their black glass tea storage jars.
Then we have perroche (an English goat cheese) and roast tomato sanwiches with sencha mayonnaise... paired with Okumidori Cultivar 1st flush sencha 2012 from Kyoto.
These ruined me for all other tomato sandwiches from here on in.
We have a holy communion-style whiff of the Yunnan white tea. Blindfolded, you might think you were smelling flowers rather than leaves, pink rather than green.
The beautifully designed teacups on the table stayed untouched all afternoon. The Lalanis drink and serve all their teas in Riedel glasses, which they say is better for teasing out the aroma of the tea. For that reason the composition of this shot below, with the teacup nudged out of frame, really resonated with them, it seems.
Here a tender and juicy grilled Persian spiced poussin leg gets paired with Makaibari 2nd flush Grand Reserve 2012 from Darjeeling.
The Darjeeling is paired again with the tonka bean, caraway and hazelnut frangipane tart. Jameel solicits a vote to see if the Darjeeling pairs better with sweet or savoury. I vote sweet. In retrospect I wonder how much of that is influenced by habit since tea is often sipped at the end of a meal soon after dessert?
A minute please, to zoom in on these white chocolate, urfa chilli and black garlic caramel truffles. Time for me to fess up - Modern Pantry's / Anna Hansen's reputation for unusual and creative fusion flavours was the reason I'd be a sceptic of her work for so long. I find that a lot of the time, fusion food ends up just being confusion food. It's a tiny minority of fusion chefs that really produce something really special.
And even just reading it on the menu for the day, my brain fritzed a bit, seeing white chocolate, chili, garlic and caramel all in the same sentence. It just didn't compute.
And then I actually tasted one of them.
Paired with LaKyrsiew Spring Reserve 2011 from India's Meghalaya region.
Tasting notes: An explosive punch of sweet salty spicy pungent heaven. And a pinch of humble pie.
This was the precise moment when I finally became a Anna Hansen convert.
Despite my doubting Thomas-ness, Nadeem gave me 2 leftover truffles to take home to share with the Mister. Some girls have all the luck. And some girls have all the truffles. You can keep your damn luck.
But my luck continued anyway. Midway through tea I was trying to entice AK to see what could be done about using tea in cocktails. I told him wistfully about an absolutely beautiful green tea martini I had in New York in 1999, and why don't more people make them? To which AK smiled and pointed to the closing drink for the afternoon, an organic matcha mar-tea-ni, matched with a matcha marshmallow.
Delicious and PUNCHY! "Something to kickstart your evening and bank holiday weekend," smiled Chef Anna.
Whatever else it fuelled for the evening and weekend, it certainly kickstarted a chat around the table about what other tea-led experiences might appeal. Ravinder found spent tea-leaf compresses to be a great cure for puffiness and dark circles around the eyes, so there might be a tea spa afternoon afoot. There was mention about how the Darjeeling was actually a great pairing with (would you believe it?) a rare steak. Anyone from Hawksmoor or Goodmans reading this?
So far, Lalani & Co teas have been available only at hotels, restaurants and very special events such as these. But soon you'll be able to buy them directly online. Stalk them here.
And maybe I'll have have to stalk Chef Anna until she makes those chocolate-chilli-caramel-garlic truffles for retail....
Disclaimer: I'm the founder of Edible Experiences, and provided marketing and ticketing services for this event by The Modern Pantry and Lalani & Co. I attended this event as an invited guest.