Thursday, 13 December 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - Fortnum and Mason

Review - Fortnum and Mason, The Diamond Jubilee tea room - £40.00 per person


As it's nearly Christmas, and it's our last afternoon tea of the year, we thought we deserved a treat.  To say we were expecting this to be good would be an understatement.  We were expecting this to set the benchmark for afternoon teas.  With Fortnum & Mason's reputation, we would have been disappointed with anything less.
We arrived ten minutes early, and made our way through the crush of people on the ground floor to the much more sedate Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the fourth floor.  The salon is split into two sections, separated by the entrance hallway where there was a Christmas tree decorated with Fortnum & Mason tea caddies, and a pianist was playing an 'interesting' selection of tunes on a grand piano.  The salon is decorated in the distinctive green/blue Fortnum & Mason colour, and the overall atmosphere is one of civilised elegance. 
We were shown to our table, where a waitress explained the options available, and told us to ask if we needed any help with the tea selection.  We all chose the afternoon tea option (of course), and after spending a fair amount of time looking through the extensive tea menu, Charlotte chose the Imperial West Lake Long Jing green tea, Caroline chose the Assam Superb, and Mo went for the Bannockburn First Flush Darjeeling.  There was an extra £2 surcharge for choosing a single estate tea instead of a blend, which Charlotte and Mo were happy to pay for their teas.
The teas arrived and were poured for us, then the pots were immediately topped up with hot water again.  We were all very pleased with our choices, the green tea had a nice tangy seaweed flavour, the Assam was full and strong with a slightly unexpected, though not unpleasant, aftertaste and the Bannockburn was fresh and delicate. We were brought pots of hot water when we asked for them, but most importantly we were offered fresh tea - not just fresh pots of the teas we had chosen, but pots of a new tea if we wanted it.  Mo stuck with the Bannockburn, while Caroline chose the Jubilee Blend (a mixture of India, Ceylon and Chinese teas) and Charlotte went for the Silver Peony King Special AA white tea.  Caroline and Charlotte both preferred their second choices, the Jubilee Blend was less strong than the Assam but more rounded while the white tea had a mellow flavour with a subtle grassiness.  All in all, with the selection, the top ups, the option to try multiple teas throughout the afternoon we couldn't give this anything less than a perfect score 30/30
Along with the teas, we were brought a cake stand with sandwiches, scones and cakes on it.  We were just thinking that the number of sandwiches looked small when we were told that we were welcome to refills of everything as often as we liked.  In fact, as soon as we finished the first round of sandwiches, a waitress instantly appeared and offered us more.  If it hadn't been for the fact we had to save room for the scones and cake, we could have been there indefinitely.  There were five sandwiches in the selection: egg mayonnaise in white poppyseed bread, cucumber with mint butter in plain white bread, beef with horseradish cream in granary bread, chicken with tarragon dijon mustard in plain brown bread and a combination of smoked and poached salmon with creme fraiche in granary bread.  The only minor complaint we had here was that the mint butter was slightly too strong with the cucumber, and to be honest, didn't really add much to the sandwich.  Due to this minor quibble, and we're really being harsh here, the sandwiches scored 29/30
The scones were the usual one plain, one fruit per person.  They were served with a large pot of clotted cream and three different types of jam - strawberry, blueberry and raspberry.  There really isn't much to say about these, other than we all very much enjoyed them.  If we hadn't been wanting to move onto the cakes, we'd have been happy to have more.  29/30
The cakes we were presented with were small and beautifully made.  There was a good variety in the flavours and types available.  They consisted of pink rose flavoured eclairs, chocolate ganache filled with a chocolate, raspberry and rose mousse, a light vanilla truffle on chocolate sponge filled with cherries, and a lemon curd and praline layered cake topped with caramel and gold leaf.  We were also told that we could have slices of cake from the main cake stand in the centre of the room.  Caroline chose a maple and pecan cake, Mo chose the blueberry bakewell tart and Charlotte went for the layered orange cheesecake sponge.  Once again, we were offered as many refills as we wanted, but we were feeling a bit too full to take them up on this offer.  The cakes provoked a more mixed reaction from us.  The chocolate and cherry ones were delicious and easily the favourites, the rose eclair was also very good.  The bakewell tart and the orange cake were nice but not outstanding, while the maple and pecan was far too sweet and the lemon curd one tasted like eating spoonfuls of lemon curd with the occasional surprise nut.  Having said that, we are being deliberately harsh here.  We would have easily been able to avoid any cakes we weren't keen on and ask for as many of the ones we liked as possible.  Even with the quibbles we had, the cakes still scored a more than respectable 28/30
In case it's not clear from our description, there was an abundance of food and tea.  We were there in total for 3 hours, which is the longest afternoon tea we've had so far.  Even after we had paid the bill and were getting ready to leave, a waitress offered us some more tea!  The service was really exceptional, with a nice balance between being attentive and leaving us to enjoy ourselves.  We were also given a small sample box of the Jubilee Blend tea to take away with us. 
With supplements for single estate tea, the service charge and the bottle of water we ordered, we ended up paying between £45 and £50 per person.  Although this is the most we have paid for a tea, it was actually only a few pounds more than some of the others we've had (admittedly we had discount vouchers for these and didn't pay full price).  As far as value for money goes though, we really can't fault this.  It's not something we could afford regularly, but we all agree that if we were going to go anywhere for afternoon tea, Fortnum & Mason would be the top choice.  The only reason we are not scoring it a full 10 is in case we find somewhere even better in the future.  We're cautious like that.

Pros                                                    Cons
Trying more than one tea                 The odd selection of music being played 
Taking your time                                  Erm....lemon cake was too lemony
Excellent quality and variety          Really struggling to think of things now


9.5 out of 10

Friday, 7 December 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - The Betty Blythe tea room

Review - The Betty Blythe tea room - £21.00 per person

On Friday last week the Tea Ladies went for a themed afternoon tea. The Betty Blythe vintage tea room offers a 1920s tea experience with dressing-up box included. An added benefit is the opportunity to bring your own bubbly with a very reasonable £2.20 per person corkage charge.

The 1920s tea takes place is downstairs in a small room with no windows, which accomodates about 6 people at most.  This gives your party a certain amount of privacy to dress up and be silly, without feeling self-conscious about who might be watching.

For dressing up there was a wide array of hats, fascinators, gloves, handbags, shawls and beads on offer. The gentleman in our party even had a smoking jacket to wear. There were so many dressing-up options available in fact that we felt the need to swap accessories every 20 mins or so to get the chance to try everything we wanted.

There was a good selection of teas on offer with white, green, black, rooibos and herbal teas all available, although quite a few were flavoured teas which aren’t to everyone’s taste. Caroline chose the Assam ,Mo the Darjeeling, Charlotte chose a green tea called 'The Muse' and Dave, the honorary tea lady chose Bollywood Dream Chai.  We all liked our selections, and were pleased that they were all loose leaf but we were disappointed that we didn't get any information on which companies produced our teas.  We got a top up of water when requested and all felt that we had more than enough tea to keep us going through a couple of hours of dressing up fun. We gave the tea a score of 24/30.

We got one stand of sandwiches between us, which seemed a little measly, especially when we saw the amount given to a party with half the number of people. They had made some effort to use different breads and we got salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, egg mayonnaise and ham sandwiches. Overall we thought they were a little bland and the bread was a bit dry so we scored them a mediocre 16/30.

The sandwiches were followed by a small canapé of smoked salmon on rye bread with a dill sauce. We all found this ok but a bit soggy and it seemed strange as it was just one single canapé each in the midst of all the other courses.

The scones arrived prettily arranged on a plate, already loaded up with cream and jam (see Cream vs Jam). Whilst it was a pretty display we felt that putting the cream and jam on the scone is half the fun, let alone the fact that they’d decided on cream first (which is clearly wrong*). The cream was clotted cream but not the best that we’ve tasted and they were a little stingy with the jam. We were assigned two halves of a scone each and all the scones were plain which in comparison with other places where we’ve had one plain, one fruit scone each was disappointing. We scored them 12/30.

There were three cakes on offer which each came in a little course of their own, brought down by smiling waitresses at regular intervals. The first was a small truffle chocolate brownie square topped with a mint leaf and jam filled raspberry. The majority liked the brownie but weren’t too sure about the topping. 

Next was a small orange and coconut cake  (not the promised lemon drizzle on the menu) which we then divided into four. This cake we universally disliked - there was a strange taste of alcohol and washing-up liquid which was rather unpleasant. Last to arrive were some tiny cupcakes. These were nicely decorated and tasted ok but were certainly nothing special. We thought it a shame that there was no variety in the selection - no pastries or biscuits on offer, and we felt that presenting them on a cake stand would have been much more impressive than bringing them to us individually. We gave the cakes a very low score of 11/30.

We got our afternoon tea via Living Social which amounted to a cost of £9 each which is excellent value for money for what we received, even considering our opinion of the food however we wouldn't be so happy paying the full price.

It’s clear from the above that we didn’t rate the food at this tea very highly but we wouldn’t want you to go away thinking that we didn’t have a good time. If this had been a plain afternoon tea where the food and the tea are the central focus of events we would have been very upset, but the fact is that the whole dressing up element was a huge amount of fun and that combined with the Prosecco that we brought along meant that we had an enjoyable couple of hours. If you go to Betty Blythe’s go for the dress-up and the atmosphere - not the food.

*this is the opinion of one tea lady the others agree that cream first is correct

Pros                                                                                             Cons
Great fun dressing up                                                       Mediocre sandwiches
Bring your own bubbly                                                     Pre-spread scones
                                                                                                      Disappointing cakes


5 out of 10