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Afternoon teas — some reviews

Over the last few months, I’ve been sampling the delights of London’s hotels’ afternoon tea offerings, specifically: The Savoy, Brown’s, and The Ritz. I’ve gone for various celebrations (having a lovely friend and a desire to treat yourselves is a celebration, no?) over a few months, and I thought that I’d write up some of my thoughts for those who are also planning a celebration, or just want to treat themselves.

TL; DR? Go to:

  • Brown’s for delightful little scones and a relaxed atmosphere
  • The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar for the intimate atmosphere and a lovely balanced afternoon tea
  • The Ritz for generous sandwiches, good music and some fun staff, but save yourself the £10 extra for a celebration cake)

Future adventures are going to include the Berkeley’s fashionista tea, the Wellesley Hotel, the Connaught Hotel, and the Bulgari hotel.  

I went to The Savoy on a Christmas gift certificate that was about to run out. They were rather apologetic that they only had tables in the Beaufort Bar left, but to my mind this is the best place to go to enjoy a special tea with a good friend — or partner — when you want a relaxed and intimate atmosphere to catch up in. The black-and-gold Art Deco bar is small, looking out over the Thames Foyer (the main tea area) with its gaudy pagoda, piano, and smart groups out for birthdays and the like.

We had the traditional tea. It came with lemon curd as well as strawberry jam for the scones, which was a pleasant change. The tea range is the more extensive of the three, and the pastries were lovely. We ate slowly, and they were very good at keeping my tea topped up and the sandwiches and scones flowing. They were a little stingy with the cakes later on (they didn’t come around very much!), but you should hopefully have filled up on scones, sandwiches and pastries!

I took my mother and step-dad to Brown’s for their birthdays. The atmosphere here is very relaxed. It felt as though there were quite a few little groups who had simply ‘dropped in’ because they lived nearby, rather than the formal groups that populate The Savoy and The Ritz. The scones are mini, but they are absolutely delicious, with a slightly savoury, salty crust that makes them absolutely moreish. The piccalilli sandwich was also amazing.

On the downside, our ‘larger’ group couldn’t quite fit the teapots and strainers on the table, but they were not very quick at coming around to fill up cups, so we shuffled things about so that we could serve ourselves (this took several, slightly awkward attempts, as each one was spotted and the waiter promptly hurried over to ‘assist’). The cakes also weren’t really worth it. The cream in the Victoria sponge was quite cheap tasting, and the coffee and walnut cake was a bit dry. I abandoned mine in favour of more scones.

My best friend and I went to The Ritz to use up an alternative booking I’d made for my mother and step-dad’s birthday, and hence we went for the ‘celebration’ tea. For £10 extra per person, this came with a cake with a personalised message, and I chose the raspberry and mango mousse cake. It came with the other cakes (there were a lot of others also celebrating) and a quick chorus of happy birthday. The cake itself was covered in very sweet icing, and to be honest, it was nothing special and really wasn’t worth it. Having already eaten quite a lot of the generous sandwiches, we ate a quarter each, and it was a real waste of our time.

The whole tea felt a bit rushed as the celebration cake came out before we had really had a chance to finish with the savoury portion, and almost immediately after the cake cart came around (twice!). I didn’t actually get to eat anything from the cake cart because every time he came, I had either a scone or the celebration cake on my plate, and I strongly suspect that the cakes on the cart would have been superior to the rather tasteless, sugary celebration cake.

On the plus, aside from the generous sandwiches and the perfectly nice scones, the staff were very friendly and jovial, and the music was great (and certainly more enjoyable than the pianist at The Savoy). There was a nice atmosphere here, although I did prefer The Savoy.

Beverages with which to write….

GradHacker has a wonderful post about tea and some of its intricacies. I love coffee more than SLHedge, but I love tea too, so here are a few thoughts of my own.

I’ve long since given up on tea-infusing balls after my uni roommate and I managed to rust through one and we thought that perhaps we were insufficiently responsible for such a device. We transferred over to DIY teabags or ‘paper filters’ such as these. I still use these, years later, because they are just more convenient, particularly for use in work where I don’t really want to be cleaning out an infuser in the little kitchenette! They are also much easier to use, for example, in library kitchenette’s, as you can bring them from home pre-prepared.

A kettle is definitely preferable to the microwave or the sort of hot-water dispensers some offices have (i.e. water about 70-80 degrees that has been standing on a permanent cool-heat cycle for who knows how long).

Storage tins are a must. Even though lots of supermarkets (e.g. Marks and Spencers) are selling loose-leaf in plastic bags inside paper envelopes, resist the temptation.

I generally steep for less than the recommended time, in part because I am big re-user of tea. Your mileage may vary, as they say!

I particularly want to try these two that SLHedge recommends: CocoCaramel Sea Salt Herbal Tea and Raspberry Riot Lemon Mate Tea. Both sound delish!