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

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