Thursday, 27 February 2020

Afternoon Tea Review - Aqua Shard, £49.50

We've been a bit out of practice in going out for afternoon tea so in an attempt to get back in the swing of things, we decided to have a pre-Christmas (yes this was a few months ago!) afternoon tea in a place we've been meaning to visit for a while.

The Shard is the tallest building in the United Kingdom and is renowned for the amazing views you can see from the top. But how does it stack up for its afternoon teas?

The Shard is very easy to get to as it's right outside (and above) London Bridge station. There's a particular entrance that gives access to the lifts that take you all the way up to the restaurants and bars.  There are a few different options for afternoon tea but we went for Aqua at the Shard.  

When we got there, we were told that our table wasn't ready yet, despite us arriving on time, and were asked to wait in the bar for our table to be ready which took a while. Once we did get seated, the staff seemed pretty busy and not as attentive as we'd like so it was a while before we got served. The table we got was near the window, though not right up against it and there were great views across the river. This is definitely the main reason to choose an afternoon tea in this location, though we should point out that in the winter, there's the danger that the sun will be setting or have set by the time you're having tea and so the views might not be as good as you'd hope, especially with the reflections on the glass from inside.


Teas were from the Camellia's Tea House that we've sampled before so we were reassured that they would be good quality, but what a small selection!  There were only six in total – two black teas, one green tea, one white tea and no fruit teas at all. Disappointing.

Given the limited options available, Charlotte chose the China White Hair, Caroline the Earl Grey, Mo the Aqua Shard bespoke breakfast blend and Dave the Chamomile tea. 

The tea came in nice teapots with in-built strainers. For the most part they were well-brewed apart from the bespoke breakfast blend which was too strong almost immediately. We requested more hot water which we did get, though each time it took a little while to arrive.

We were offered refills and new selections of tea but because the service was slow I don't think we were able to take as much advantage of this as we might have liked to.

There were 4 sandwiches each: egg and truffle; hummus, red pepper and aubergine; turkey, cranberry and lettuce; cheese and pickle; and a small smoked salmon crumpet.

The bread was fresh and varied, so far so good, but sadly in most cases the condiments overwhelmed the main ingredient in each sandwich particularly the pickle and the cranberry jelly. Most of the sandwiches were well filled but a couple were very under-filled which was disappointing.

The egg and truffle sandwiches tasted like normal egg mayonnaise with onion salt but none of us could detect the truffle at all. The hummus, red pepper and aubergine sandwiches were surprisingly good and much more daring and interesting than most vegan sandwich offerings though the peppers were a bit overpowering. The turkey and cranberry sandwiches were on theme and tasted good but were overall quite dull.  The smoked salmon crumpet that we thought would be our favourite (as we're all fans of smoked salmon) was a let down as the crumpet was dry.

There were no refills on sandwiches offered and given the service, it's likely to have taken a long time to get them.

As is pretty standard, there were two scones each available - one fruit and one plain. The scones were a good texture and tasted great. Our only complaint about them was that all the food was brought at the same time and they had been warmed but were cold by the time we got to them.

The jam was apparently apparently cranberry and strawberry, to fit in with the festive theme, though it mostly tasted of normal strawberry jam - nice but not overly festive. The cream was clotted cream but it had clearly come straight from the fridge and was so cold as to be almost frozen. We had to ask for more jam and cream as there wasn't nearly enough for eight scones' worth.

Though the scones were our favourite part of this tea and the scones themselves were excellent, we marked it down slightly because of the jam and cream.


This was billed as a festive afternoon tea and the cakes is where that theme really came out. The presentation was nice and they all looked pretty but we were disappointed with them.

There were four cakes each: a gingerbread Christmas tree biscuit; a dark chocolate and cherry mousse cake; a pear and cinnamon Santa Hat mousse; and a clementine and prosecco trifle.

There was clearly a lot of effort to have festive flavours included but a biscuit, a trifle and 2 mousses made for a very samey selection of cakes, and we really missed the presence of any pastries or gateaux.

The biscuit got varied reviews. It was Caroline's favourite from this course but Mo's was over-baked and very dry. The dark chocolate and cherry mousse cake had a very strong flavour of kirsch which again divided opinions in the group. The Santa hat gets points for the festive presentation but it was an odd combination - a pear and cinnamon flavoured mousse covered in a thick layer of cinnamon sugar on a biscuit base. A lot of cinnamon going on! The trifle was pleasantly refreshing but pretty bland in flavour.

We've mentioned the service already, which was surprisingly bad.  Although our waiting staff were very polite, they were really busy and didn't have enough staff to look after everyone. We constantly had to wait for things - the table, the food, the hot water - and given that you have a time limit on how long you can spend there, this became very frustrating.  

The ambience was fine, but nothing special, and more like a bar than an afternoon tea.  The lighting was very low, so everything was dark, presumably so the view was clearer at dusk, but we did have trouble distinguishing what we were eating at times.  The table was small for four people, and every time they brought us a new item, we had to rearrange everything to try to fit it in.  We also had some slightly strange low chairs that the taller members of our party were definitely finding uncomfortable by the end of our booking. The last thing to note is the toilets. We'd heard some rumours about the views from the toilets in the Shard so we keen to explore them. There were great views from large windows in the ladies toilets, but we were also quite startled by views available inside the toilet cubicles from the floor to ceiling mirrors....

Overall, we were a little disappointed with our experience. This wasn't a cheap afternoon tea and while we enjoyed the views and the experience of going up the Shard, it felt like we would have got better value for money if we'd just had drinks. If you're coming for the view, we'd recommend skipping the tea and getting a wine or a cocktail instead.

Pros                                                             Cons
Great scones                                            Service was very slow
Beautiful views across London        Very dark inside so hard to read the menu 

The toilets are an experience!           Underwhelming cakes


5 out of 10

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Afternoon Tea Review - Patisserie Valerie

Afternoon Tea Review - Patisserie Valerie, £12.50

We've had a couple of requests to review some cheaper afternoon teas, which was something we'd already been thinking about, so it seemed like a good time to find some cheap and cheerful teas around London.  We went to the Piccadilly branch of Patisserie Valerie, a well known cake shop with many branches across the country.  They have been serving afternoon teas for a while, and you can book online on their website for most of their shops.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon, and the Piccadilly branch isn't particularly big.  When we got there, there was a large queue out the door, so we were very glad we had booked in advance. 

The teas were loose leaf and the Suki tea brand, which we've had in a few places before.  The tea menu wasn't large, but was what we'd expect to see in a café like this - 3 or 4 black teas, a green tea and a few fruit teas.  Mo had Darjeeling, Caroline had Earl Grey with Blue Flowers, and Charlotte had the Green.  The Darjeeling and Green were nice but the Earl Grey flavor was a bit weak.  They were served in pots with built-in tea strainers, so you could take them out if the tea was getting too strong.  We also had no problem getting hot water to top them up.   21/30

There were 5 different sandwiches each: smoked salmon and cream cheese; egg mayonnaise; cucumber; ham with spinach and mustard; and chicken with pesto and sunblazed tomatoes.  They were either on white or brown bread, and there was also a mini vegetable quiche per person.  The sandwiches were mostly well-filled, and all tasted fine.  They were nothing out of the ordinary but fairly decent, basic flavours.  The mini quiche was a nice addition but the texture was quite rubbery, like it had been microwaved to warm it up.   21/30

We were given one fruit and one plain scone per person, with clotted cream and two miniature jars of Bonne Maman jam in different flavours - strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant.  The scones were medium size, with a decent flavor but a bit too dry.  The jam was fine but the cream had melted quite a bit, and was almost runny.   20/30

As Patisserie Valerie is known for its cakes, we expected these to be good, and on the whole we weren't disappointed.  The selection consisted of mini eclairs, a chocolate mousse cake, a berry mousse cake, a miniature Victoria sponge and a Coffee and Walnut cake.  The Victoria sponge was the only disappointing one, the sponge was too light and the jam was barely noticeable.  The chocolate mousse cake was especially good though.  They all looked great, and very appetising.  They were a good size and variety, however, there were only 3 per person.  20/30

Overall, we enjoyed our tea at Patisserie Valerie.  The food was generally good, and definitely great value for money considering both the quantity and quality of what we had.  Although the place was busy, we weren't hurried at all and were able to take our time.  The service was also good, very attentive and friendly, and we were offered a doggy bag for the leftovers. 

We'd definitely recommend Patisserie Valerie to anyone looking for a good afternoon tea that doesn't cost much.  It's also good for a last minute outing, as it's not necessary to book in advance, and most people aren't there for more than some tea and cake, so customer turnover is fast.  Having said that, it does depend on what day of the week you go, and which branch you choose, and we were glad we'd booked in advance.  The only issue we had was the atmosphere.  It was very busy and very noisy, which we fully expected, but we prefer somewhere a bit quieter.  If you want a more elegant atmosphere though, be prepared to pay a lot more.

Pros                                                                              Cons
Good value for money                                           Very busy
Loose leaf teas                                                          Cakes at the counter looked nicer
Good selection of food                                         


8 out of 10

Friday, 17 June 2016

Afternoon Tea Review - The Berkeley's Pret a Portea

Afternoon Tea Review - Pret-a-Portea at The Berkeley, £45

A Knightsbridge designer afternoon tea, Prêt-à-Portea, is "inspired by the themes and colours of the fashion world". The menu is revised every six months to follow the changing seasons in fashion.  Perfect for the Tea Ladies' Christmas treat!

We were shown into a large dining room, full of people having afternoon tea.  We had had to wait around 10-15 minutes before we were seated, possibly because it was close to Christmas, although it may well always be that busy.

The tea selection wasn't large and there were only 9 real teas compared to 8 herbal or fruit infusions. There were three black teas, two green, two Oolong and two white but there were several interesting varieties within that selection.  Mo had the Bohea Lapsang, Caroline had the Nilgiri Frost then the Ceylon and  Rose, and Charlotte had the Wuyi Oolong followed by the Jasmine Silver.  There was no information on the teas, which was a little disappointing.  It's hard to choose when you don't know what they are, especially if you're someone who doesn't drink a lot of different teas.  Some were brewed better than others - the Ceylon and the Jasmine were far too strong.  Refills, hot water and different teas were happily provided though.  25/30

The Sandwiches arrived on large plates rather than on a stand.  They were a good selection: ham and piccalilli;  turkey and cranberry; cheese and beetroot on beetroot bread; egg mayonnaise on brioche (our favourite); beef with horse radish and capers; and smoked salmon and poached salmon on dill and orange bread.  Charlotte doesn't eat red meat, so they provided some alternative sandwiches for her: cucumber and cream cheese; mozzarella, tomato and pesto; and hummus and pepper.   The bread was a little dry on a few of them, and some of the fillings weren't very flavourful but on the whole, they were very nice sandwiches, and a great selection.  28/30

There was no scone course but  miniature savouries were served instead: carrot mousse with sesame seeds and cauliflower; cheese scones with mascarpone and chutney; and salmon ceviche with pickled radish.  We were divided on whether this was a good idea.  The carrot mousse was okay, Mo and Caroline really liked the salmon but Charlotte didn't, and we all agreed there was far too much chutney with the scone.   We all like the idea of extra savouries, but we're not sure these ones added anything to the meal. 

Of course because there were no  sweet scones that meant there was no clotted cream - which is always a shame.  But because there were so many cakes we didn't really feel the lack!

Cakes...... many cakes.

The cakes were all designed to reflect this season's fashion collections and very pretty they were too!  We were given a 'fashion menu' to show what items the cakes were made to match. 
There was no way we could remember them all, or properly describe all the items that inspired the cakes, so we've copied the below from the hotel's website:

Dolce&Gabbana's popular pink rose dress from their ‘Viva La Mama’ collection, becomes a lychee and almond mousse set upon pink pâte sablée topped with light pink chocolate and delicate rose detailing.

Alice Temperley's favourite flutura skirt becomes a gianduja chocolate supreme set on sable Breton glazed with chocolate mirroire, sprinkled with edible gold and a bright blue chocolate flower.
Fendi's double-breasted chocolate biscuit coat with red and brown icing details.
Moschino's quirky cartoon inspired nu-rave dress is a cream and orange financier and coconut savarin topped with a button of yellow and red chocolate.
Simone Rocha's ethereal embroidered cream tulle dress with floral detailing is refashioned into a vanilla  éclair filled with salted caramel crème patissiere and decorated with red sugar flowers.
Giambattista Valli's pink and yellow pop culture dress as an elegant bavarois with custard cream and chocolate cremeux crowned with crisp pearls and a quirky leg tuile
Dolce&Gabbana's cinnamon biscuit Mary Janes decorated with a contemporary twist of tantalising rose petals and sparkling sugar crystals.
Alexis Mabille's haute couture oversized bow gown from his 'Portraits of a Woman' collection is recreated with vanilla panna cotta and chestnut cream duchesse satin topped with a large pink chocolate bow.
Valentino's rockstud striped Victoria sponge shoulder bag with cranberry compote amidst multi-colour striped chocolate, finished with a golden handle.   

 The cakes, unsurprisingly, looked great and we really admired the skill they put into creating and executing them.  They mostly tasted great as well, although the biscuits were very dry.  We were offered extras, and we were given handbag-shaped doggy bags of one cake each to take away with us.  28/30

Although the room we were in was nice, it wasn't particularly special or elegant in any way.  It was also very crowded and noisy, so not a particularly relaxing atmosphere.  We were glad we were by the window, and not in the centre of the room.  The service was erratically attentive, the staff were very welcoming and professional but not always easy to find, and several times we had a long wait for something we'd asked for.  We think it was probably due to how busy it was with people out for a Christmas treat, and not the norm. 

For  a special occasion, it's a good place to go.  The food and the tea are good, and there's plenty of both.  No scones and cream, but plenty of cakes for a sweet tooth.  Unlike afternoon teas of a similar price, the Pret-a-Portea has a specific theme which is done well, and makes it stand out from the crowd.  However, we'd probably advise you to go at a quieter time of year.

Pros                                                                              Cons
Good, interesting teas                                           Very noisy
Beautiful, well-themed cakes                             Lack of information on the teas
Good selection of food                                          Slow service


8.5 out of 10

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Afternoon Tea Review - Kensington Orangery

Afternoon Tea Review - Kensington Orangery, £26

Kensington Orangery is a beautiful, airy building with high ceilings and long glass window, situated next to Kensington Palace, which is a Royal Palace and currently the residence of  William and Kate - The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  The Orangery was built in 1704 for Queen Anne when she was a princess.  She used it to host parties - I wonder if she served tea!

We had been meaning to go there for some time, so we were very pleased to be invited there for afternoon tea. 

The tea selection wasn't large - only one green, 4 herbal, and 6 black teas (four of which were blends, including two variations of Earl Grey).  Mo had the Royal London tea, Caroline had the Afternoon at the Palace, and Charlotte had the Earl Grey with Blue Flowers (Lady Grey).  The teas were loose leaf, and all very nice.  The selection wasn't very exciting but the teas were good quality and the three we had were distinctly different.  We liked the fact they have their own special blends, as we felt it added something to the experience.  The teapots were small but the waiter quickly brought us a large pot of hot water to top them up with. 21/30

There were 4 types of sandwiches: egg mayonnaise on a bridge roll; smoked salmon and cream cheese on a mini bagel; cucumber and mint on plain bread (2 each of these); and a coronation chicken wrap.  They were all very small, canapé size sandwiches, and are the smallest sandwiches we've ever had in an afternoon tea.  However, they were all nice, good quality sandwiches.  They tasted freshly made, and we liked the different breads that were used.  They also looked nice, which we don't often find - even the best sandwiches we've had just look like sandwiches on a cake stand, but the use of different forms of bread gave them an added variety, so they looked dainty but interesting.  21/30

There was one fruit and one orange scented scone per person.  They had a good flavour and a light, slightly cakey texture rather than being crumbly, which wasn't to everyone's taste.  However, they were well made, very tasty and obviously homemade as the size of them was a little erratic.  The clotted cream was room temperature, so nice and spreadable, but the jam was pourable, and was actually running off the scones, which made them a bit tricky to eat.  22/30

The cake selection consisted of a small slice of sponge cake each, 2 orange mousses, 1 chocolate and berry mousse, 2 orange eclairs and a slice of battenberg.  They were all small and dainty, and looked very appetising.  The sponge was our least favourite as it tasted of too much baking soda, and the filling didn't really stand out.  The eclairs and mousses were very nice but the marzipan on the battenberg was quite wet and sticky.  There wasn't a lot of flavour variety, but we did like that they had orange flavoured cakes and scones, to fit in with where we were.  The only problem with this was that Charlotte couldn't taste most of the orange flavour because she was drinking a citrussy tea.  We'd really recommend you don't have an Earl Grey if you go here.  Although there weren't many cakes, it balanced well with the quantity of the sandwiches, and we didn't feel that we'd had too much sugar, which often happens with an afternoon tea.  18/30

Despite the time of year (January), the Orangery was full of people having afternoon tea, but we didn't feel crowded at all, and we couldn't even hear the conversation at the table next to us.  Even in winter, we had a lovely view of the grounds, although it would definitely be nicer in summer.  The atmosphere was very relaxing and we didn't feel rushed at all.  We all enjoyed our tea, and we liked the addition of orange to the scones and desserts, to echo our surroundings.
The Kensington Orangery was a lovely place for afternoon tea, and we're very glad to have been there.  Although we've been to many places with unlimited refills, and so much tea we were practically swimming, we didn't feel that the smaller quantity of food detracted from the experience.  This was exactly what an afternoon tea is supposed to be - a way to fill the gap between lunch and dinner, not a meal in itself.  The room is very grand and elegant, and its situation next to Kensington Palace makes it a great place for tourists to experience a traditional afternoon tea.  It's possible to buy a combined ticket for afternoon tea at the Orangery and entry to the Palace, which is definitely worth a visit. 

Pros                                                         Cons
A traditional afternoon tea            Cakes could have been better
Elegant setting                                   
Relaxed atmosphere          


7.5 out of 10