The Franklin Review
The Franklin Review
We head down the rabbit hole to a magical Alice In Wonderland afternoon tea in a stylish and whimsical setting
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has become one of the most enduring children’s tales of all time, inspiring films, theatre, music, and art… and now London has gone Alice crazy with a blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. To coincide with it all, The Franklin Hotel in Knightsbridge has put together an afternoon tea, picking up on the motifs and characters featured in Lewis Carroll’s curious tale of a girl falling down a rabbit hole and into a fantasy world.
While the exhibition is one of the year’s hottest tickets, fortunately new tickets are released every Tuesday for the week ahead so you can still bag one. And if you combine it with the afternoon tea, you can make a rather special day out of it, or a weekend, if you really want to do it in style.
A five-star boutique hotel set across four Victorian townhouses, The Franklin is a magical spot. Designed by Anouska Hempel, there are mirrors everywhere, along with deep velvets, a Carrara marble floor and touches of art deco. It really is stunning.
We dropped our bags with the helpful staff, picked up our tickets, and wandered across the road to the V&A. Descending the stairs, the excitement builds and then you’re into the surreal place of Alice.
There’s clever theming throughout – I won’t reveal too much as the thrill is in the discovery. And it is just enchanting. A table is set for tea, there are clips of all the Alice movies ever made (with a selection from around the world), there’s a giant chess board projected onto a wall… and while it could have veered into a gimmick, the exhibition has been balanced with some excellent insights into the history of the book and the huge influence it has had on arts and culture.
There’s also a virtual reality section – don the headset and you are transported – it’s quite something as you actually feel as if you are shrinking and falling down the rabbit hole.
I’ll be honest – my two sons (aged 9 and 12) are not the world’s biggest fans of Alice in Wonderland – but to enjoy this exhibition you don’t have to be and they were absolutely blown away. It works on so many levels, for all ages and levels of interest.
Our imaginations fired, we were excited to see what was in store for the afternoon tea and how it would translate this magical world, with the menu designed around what a modern-day Alice might want for eat after a journey through Wonderland.
Taking place in the two intimate dining rooms overlooking a private garden square, this is a delightful spot for the afternoon. The tables are elegantly set and the room is filled with light from the large windows.
The selection of teas are served with ceremony by the knowledgeable waiter. And the table was soon groaning with incredible-looking treats.
The sandwiches are not your usual offering – a small bun with crab salad, soya mayo, avocado, cucumber and lime, and a beetroot pita with burrata cheese and bresaola, for example, but they were utterly delicious and all the combinations worked perfectly.
The cake stand is Instaworthy-pretty stacked with pastries and cakes with references to Alice. There are hearts, rabbits, top hats, all in sweet form. We loved the heart cake with red velvet sponge and a carrot caramel cupcake. And the Drink Me potion – a concoction of pomegranate, mango and lime – was a big hit with us all.
But what really impressed was that it was not style over substance and was actually one of the most delicious afternoon teas we have ever tried.
Barely able to move, we retreated to our adjoining suites. They too pick up on the sumptuous look of the public spaces, with mirrored surfaces, dark walls and rich textures. And they’re rather magical – as if matching our theme of the afternoon – with the children wandering up and down the staircases from bedrooms to the lounges. We had great fun exploring each area in turn. There’s a view of Brompton Oratory out of the bedroom windows, too.
The hotel is close to the boutiques of Knightsbridge so after a quick snooze on the super-comfy beds we wandered around the stores.
For dinner, we stayed at the hotel. The main restaurant, under Alfredo Russo, is set to reopen later this autumn but for now, there is a lounge menu offering a selection of classics which you can enjoy in your room or in the bar and restaurant.
This suited us fine – we were so full from our afternoon tea that we wondered how much we could actually eat for dinner. We spied the stunning-looking martini bar so while we built up an appetite we relaxed with a couple of cocktails and soaked up the Gatsby-esque surroundings.
The boys tried the sourdough pizzas, which are huge and really impressive with a thin and crisp crust. We opted for the beef filet – it was simply served (with nothing more than some roasted potatoes and a salad garnish) but perfectly cooked.
After a decent night’s sleep – the hotel is tucked away on a residential street so the rooms are quiet – we enjoyed a breakfast menu that offers more than the usual ‘full English’ with options such as baked eggs with chanterelle mushrooms and truffles.
Part of the group Starhotels Collezione, whose other hotels include the Helvetia & Bristol in Florence and The Hotel d’Inghilterra in Rome, The Franklin feels like a hotel you might find in an Italian city. But it has a London stamp – charming, sophisticated yet whimsical.
From the minute you walk in, you feel more like a guest at a stylish house party. While there is nothing particularly aimed at children here, it is family-friendly. No tots are racing to and from a crèche, and there is a decidedly grown-up vibe. But the concierge can organise backstage tours of the V&A or Hamley’s toy store. And with South Kensington’s museums so close by, it all combines to make a fabulous family weekend away, perfect for a pre-Christmas treat.
The Franklin London – Starhotels Collezione is part of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.
Afternoon tea costs £45 or £55 with a ticket to the exhibition.
Alice: Curiouser & Curiouser runs at the V&A until 31 December. £20. Under 12s are free.