Afternoon Tea in London
Most Americans don’t enjoy afternoon tea like the British do and there is a very good reason for this. The English have been drinking tea faithfully since the 17th century and “afternoon tea” has been a staple of the English diet for over one hundred and seventy years. It was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry by mid day and since dinner was served late in the evening, Anna started taking a small meal with her tea in the late afternoon. She did this so often that she started inviting friends to join her. As a result, Afternoon tea quickly became an established and enjoyable meal in many middle and upper class households.
I can understand why it became so popular. It is so much fun eating those small finger sandwiches and wonderful sweets. The scones are my favorite part of afternoon tea. I love dousing those warm bready biscuit cakes in clotted cream and jam. The richness of the cream and the tangy sweetness of the jam melting over the warm scone makes them the perfect partners to enjoy while sipping hot tea…There’s nothing better than that!
Traveling “across the pond” as they put it is very exciting for a tea lover like myself. The United Kingdom is filled with some of the worlds finest tea rooms. Coming from New York, there are some fabulous tea rooms here but they are rivaled by those in Britain. First off, most of the tea rooms in the United Kingdom give an endless amount of sandwiches, scones, sweets and tea. Of course you would expect the high end tearooms to do that because they are extremely pricey but the small family owned tea rooms will do the same. Last summer I was in Scotland and I had the pleasure of visiting many small tea rooms. Every one of them gave an enormous amount of food plus they asked if I wanted more to take away. If you go to a tea room in New York City, most likely you aren’t getting seconds.
Some may say…”it’s afternoon tea, it’s not supposed to be a filling meal”. Well, I for one want to be satisfied when I sit down for afternoon tea. I expect to get filled up. After all, afternoon tea is a special, ritualistic meal and one which carries a higher price tag. I want to get my belly’s worth, is that so terrible?
One of my favorite tea rooms that I would like to talk about is The Savoy. They serve afternoon tea in the Thames Foyer at The Savoy Hotel on Strand in London. The room is elegant with a gazebo in the center and a beautiful stained glass dome ceiling above it which lets in natural light. It is wonderful and when I was there, they had a pianist playing in the center of the gazebo which made the ambiance even more special. The service is impeccable. This was my second time to the Savoy and they did not disappoint. My daughter and I ordered their vegetarian option with a glass of Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne. For my tea, I ordered the Fair Trade Jasmine Pearls and my daughter ordered the Savoy Afternoon Blend. Both teas were wonderful. The sandwiches came out all cut in equal lengths and were delicious. They gave us an assortment of vegetable, chutney, cheese and egg sandwiches. They served plain and fruit (raisin) scones which came wrapped in a towel to keep them warm along with clotted cream, jam and lemon curd. The petit four desserts were served on a silver platter, no pun intended, and they were served French style table side. Our server used two forks as tongs to pick up the desserts that we chose. It was all so elegant. We did order seconds on the sandwiches because they were so good. We were not rushed and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole tea time experience. The Savoy is a must to try if you are visiting London.
The next tea room that I thoroughly enjoyed was The Spatisserie at The Dorchester. It’s located on Park Lane right across from Hyde Park in London. The Spatisserie is located on the lower level of the hotel in the Spa. When we arrived on the lower level, we walked through a deep blue hallway lined with one stemmed single white flowers shooting up from tiny little jars and lovely smelling tea lite candles burning while sitting on a mirrored ledge leading us towards the doorway into the bright and minimal decor of the spa. Once we entered, I was enthralled with how pretty it all was. In the dining area, there were only 5 tables in the room. The walls were lined with blush colored sheer curtains that had lighting all along the perimeter. The effect was dreamy like sitting on a cloud. The color of the room matched the champagne that we had ordered with our afternoon tea. We were the only patrons in the room so it made us feel very special. The teas we ordered were The Dorchester Afternoon Blend, The Jade Sword, Lemongrass and Ginger and the Silver Needles with Jasmine Flowers. All of those teas were fabulous. We liked that we were able to order different teas for the different courses. Our vegetarian sandwiches were wonderful too. They came out on a rectangle shaped plate with two edible flowers and stems for garnish on each end of the plate. The scones were served table side and included two homemade jams and clotted cream. The desserts were equally as good. One in particular had a plastic elongated bulb filled with caramel sticking out of it. You take the bulb and squeeze the caramel onto the cake. It was so unique…fun and delicious all wrapped into one. Again, this was another terrific spot for afternoon tea.
Some more favorites are Claridges, The Ritz, Sketch and the B-Bakery Bus which I will review in another blog post.
The last tea room I will talk about in this post is The Game Bird at The Stafford London on St. James Place. From the minute we arrived, we felt uncomfortable. The staff acted as though they didn’t know we were coming even though they called me the day before to reconfirm. We were seated in a very dark area next to the wine cabinet and the servers had to constantly come over and get wine from the cabinet. We felt as if we were in the way. They took forever to bring us our tea and when we finally received our sandwiches, we couldn’t understand what they were. The server had a heavy French accent and he tried his best to explain what two of the sandwiches were but we were at a loss.. we had no idea. We couldn’t even decipher what they were by taste. The sandwiches were average to below average. They offered us second helpings but my daughter and I declined. They just weren’t good. The teas we ordered were the Jasmine Pearls and the Oyster Digestive Blend. They were fine. The scones were misshaped and large. They were more like baseballs than scones. They also had pastries that reminded me of rugelach but they had stuck to the doilies and were covered in paper on one side which made them inedible. The desserts were good but after the sandwiches, we didn’t feel like eating much more. After we left, I got a weird chill throughout my body. I didn’t feel right. Back at the hotel, my daughter was complaining of a bad stomach ache. We went to bed early because we were supposed to get up for a day tour outside of London. We both couldn’t sleep all night. After a few hours, it hit us both, food poisoning. It was wicked. We were both so sick that we missed our non refundable tour and had to stay in bed for 24 hours. It was so disappointing. To lose one full day of our 5 days in London broke our hearts all because The Game Bird served tainted food. How can they have been so careless… I will never return to this establishment and I have no idea how they could have such a good reputation.
I hope this post can help some of my readers when choosing a tea room while in London. If you have the chance to go for afternoon tea, you will thoroughly enjoy it. Make sure you make your reservations a few months in advance as these tea rooms get booked up quickly. Hopefully you will never have a negative experience like we did at The Game Bird. I have never had that happen to me before but I am glad that I can let others know of my experience there. That is an establishment that I would stay away from. I for one will never go back.
If afternoon tea isn’t available where you live and you aren’t going to London any time soon, add a scone with some clotted cream and jam for the perfect Cream Tea right at home. If baking isn’t your forte, you can purchase scone mixes and many high end supermarkets sell clotted cream in jars for about $6.00. Fairway Supermarkets is one of them. You can enjoy the taste of England in your own kitchen.
Stay thirsty my friends and enjoy your next cup of tea preferably with a scone...!