Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Afternoon Tea Review - The Athenaeum Hotel, London

The Athenaeum Hotel, London - Festive Afternoon Tea, £34.50 + service per person

The Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly has become very well known for its Afternoon Teas.  In 2012 it was the winner of the UK Tea Council's Afternoon Tea awards, and was given an award of Excellence in 2013, so we thought it would be a good place to go for our Christmas afternoon tea this year.  In addition, for the month of December, their tea takes on a festive theme which gave us an opportunity to try another themed afternoon tea.

The room we were escorted to was smaller and much less grand than we were expecting, and the atmosphere was cosy and comfortable rather than elegant.  The choice of teas was limited to 12 but included white, green, rooibos and fruit teas.  The "menu" was a presentation box of tea samples, next to which was the name and a short description.  Caroline chose the Borengajuli Assam, Mo had the Formosa Kangaroo Lapsang and Charlotte had the Sencha Fukujyu (we didn't even try to pronounce that one). The teas took a while to arrive, so we had already started on the sandwiches when it came and had to pause for the pouring.  They were presented in silver teapots but we were very pleased to see that they came with small cloths on the handles, so we didn't burn our fingers.  They were all excellent, well-brewed and we were given plenty of hot water and refills.  By the names, the teas were obviously selected specially for their quality, rather than being generic examples.  It was a shame there wasn't any information on which company supplied them.   25/30

There were 5 types of sandwiches - turkey and cranberry sauce, ham and onion marmalade, egg mayonnaise, cucumber and cream cheese, and smoked salmon.  They were okay but nothing special.  None of us liked the egg, which was the only one that came on a flavoured bread but we weren't told what the bread was and the taste was a little odd.  The salmon, ham and turkey were nice, but the cucumber was overpowered by the cream cheese.  The amount of filling was mostly fine and we were given refills.  It was nice to have 5 different ones and to see the turkey and cranberry as part of the festive menu.  25/30

The scone course was accompanied by mince pies, and for a change we were given 3 types of scone - plain, sultana, and cranberry.  They were small in size, and although we could have had refills, we chose not to, as the mince pie accompaniment meant we had plenty to eat.  We also had clotted cream and either strawberry jam or lemon curd.  On the whole, the scones were nice but some were a little dry and they would have been better warm.  The cranberry ones, while a nice idea, didn't really taste of cranberry.  The jam and lemon curd both had a lovely flavour but were so runny that they could have been used as dipping sauces.  The mince pies had lovely pastry and were a little warm but the filling was very tart and tasted of far too much lemon zest.  This was definitely the best we've seen for selection though, as the scone course tends to be one fruit, one plain.  25/30

To finish the meal, we had a plate of petits fours and could choose as many cakes as we liked from a dessert trolley.  The petits fours consisted of rose and raspberry meringues, a lemon macaron, a Baileys mousse, a mini bakewell tart, strawberries dipped in chocolate and a dark chocolate box with white chocolate mousse.  Although they looked very pretty, only the chocolate box had the wow factor we expected.  Both this and the Baileys mousse were lovely but the flavour of the meringues and macaron was minimal and the bakewell tart was too dry.  The trolley cake selection was very impressive.  Among the offerings was a Victoria sponge, a carrot cake, a ginger loaf, shortbread stars, cupcakes, mince pies, Stollen and a Yule log.  Mo went for the carrot cake and shortbread stars (which the waiter really heaped onto her plate!), Caroline had the Stollen and Yule log, and Charlotte had the Victoria Sponge and Yule log.  Needless to say, we didn't manage to finish all of this.  The helpings were very generous and we were already feeling quite full.  The cakes on the whole had a good flavour, but the Stollen was dry and apart from the Yule log, they were all quite dense.  The Yule log and shortbread were both very good though.  We really couldn't fault them on selection and quantity for this course, but we felt the quality could have been better, so although they scored highly, the missing points are because we felt flavours, textures and presentation could all be improved upon.  27/30

Overall, we had a lovely afternoon tea.  We had a 2 hour slot, so felt we could take our time, and enjoy ourselves.  The staff were excellent: very attentive, friendly and polite.  We would definitely recommend this as somewhere to have afternoon tea, however, it lacked the grandeur of similar places, so it didn't really have a 'special occasion' feel to it.  This was made up for by the amount of time we had, and the fact that it's around £10 cheaper than many similar places, so we felt that what we had was good value for money and if you're looking for somewhere to take Mum, Dad or Gran to for Christmas, then this will be friendlier to your budget. We actually preferred it to the Savoy and  The Ritz which are both more expensive.
We also thought they fitted the tea to the festive theme very well.  Mince pies, Stollen, turkey with cranberry sandwiches, etc, all showed that they had thought about this, and tried to give each course a festive element.  Although our comments above indicate we would have liked an improvement in quality, please remember we're comparing The Athenaeum with similar places, and the food we had is a vast improvement on some of the places we have been to. 

The Athenaeum serve their Festive Afternoon Tea until the 6th of January, 2015.  We couldn't help noticing that they are also currently offering a Gentleman's Afternoon Tea with whisky, and a Paddington Afternoon Tea, complete with marmalade sandwiches.   So many afternoon teas, so little time........

Pros                                                                              Cons
Good quality tea                                                      Bland sandwiches
Relaxed atmosphere                                              Quality of cakes
Excellent service                                                     

EDIT: We were contacted by a lady called Anne, who read our review and took her daughter to the Athenaeum.  Her daughter needs a gluten free diet, and although the type of bread was nothing special, Anne was pleased to say that the gluten free scones were the best she'd ever had, and let us know that the cakes offered were macaron mushrooms, champagne jelly, a chocolate fruit basket, a meringue and strawberries dipped in chocolate, all of which were also good.  If you're looking for a gluten free afternoon tea, it sounds like the Athenaeum is a good choice.  Thanks Anne!



8.5 out of 10

Monday, 13 October 2014

Afternoon Tea Review - The Langham Hotel

Afternoon Tea Review - The Langham Hotel, London - £44 per person

The Langham claims to be the place where “the tradition of afternoon tea was born over 140 years ago”, so as a traditional place to take afternoon tea in London, you can’t get much better.

The Palm Court, where tea is served, is a beautiful room that evokes all the elegance and gentility that you’d expect. We were sat at a well-sized table on comfortable seats. They had a piano player providing some nice ambience though on occasion the piano was a little louder than we would have liked but on the whole the airy space, elegant surroundings, and background music made for the perfect afternoon tea environment. We went for the Wonderland tea at £40 a head (though it has since risen to £44 each).

There were over 40 teas available, including a good selection of green, white and herbal teas. There was a yellow tea on offer which isn't often seen, though at a surcharge of £19.50 none of us were keen enough to choose it. We were all tempted by the Tregothnan teas but in the end Charlotte chose the Anji Green, Caroline chose The Langham Blend, Mo chose the Darjeeling and Sandhir (our honorary tealady for the day), the Chai. The staff were very attentive and good at giving more hot water or fresh tea without being intrusive. Whilst the Langham blend wasn’t entirely to Caroline’s taste, it was still of a good quality and Charlotte’s green tea was the best brewed green we’d seen for a long time. We agreed that this was one of the best afternoon teas we’ve had for tea selection and knowing how to brew and serve their teas. 27/30

There were five different types of sandwiches: crab and prawn, egg mayonnaise, roast beef, smoked salmon with whipped brie, and coronation chicken - all with different types of bread. We weren’t fond of the smoked salmon with the brie, as the flavours didn’t work for us but all the others were very nice. We were a little disappointed at the lack of  traditional cucumber  sandwiches but we were offered refills and could specify which sandwiches we wanted more of. 26.5/30


The scones were the highlight of a very high-scoring tea. We had two each, one plain and one fruit, and we were offered refills. They were a good size and they came with the usual strawberry jam and clotted cream. They were the best scones that we’ve yet had – light, not too doughy and nicely warm. 28/30

The selection of cakes was the low-point of this tea, though as it was excellent overall, the cakes were still of a very high quality. We were served a lime posset, a passion fruit and mango dome, a chocolate tart, a lemon and poppy seed cake, and an Eton mess push pop. The push pop was very pretty but difficult to eat as it was on the liquid end of mousse. It felt like a gimmick and not one that particularly came off. The chocolate tart was very rich but tasty and the lemon and poppy seed cake full of flavour but a bit stodgy. The passion fruit and mango dome was attractive with some glitter on the top and had some nice strong sharp flavours. The lime posset was our winner from the selection as it was lovely and citrussy and it’s rare that we see a posset on the menu. As a selection we thought it was a bit limited as there were three mousse-like  desserts and no pastry offering like an ├ęclair or biscuit to provide some different textures. 22/30
The service was excellent: attentive but not pushy; although we would have liked a little more explanation of all the cakes.  We did wonder at the naming of the Wonderland tea, as there didn’t seem to be any connection to Alice in Wonderland, or any attempt to make this a themed tea. Overall though, this was one of the best afternoon teas that we’ve been to. We were so busy enjoying it, we forgot to take many photos to show you.  Even though the price of the tea has increased, we still think that it’s good value for money for a special occasion, considering the refills and the quality.

Pros                                                         Cons
Elegant, genteel ambience             Lack of variety in the cakes
Excellent tea selection                     At the high end of the price range
Scones especially good          



9 out of 10

Friday, 26 September 2014

Afternoon Tea Review - The Dorchester Hotel

Afternoon Tea Review - The Dorchester Hotel, London, £45

The Dorchester is a very famous and beautiful 1930s hotel on Park Lane so we had high hopes for our tea here.  It's best to book early for this hotel, as afternoon tea is very popular here. 
First impressions were excellent the tea is served in The Promenade, an elegant lounge area where you can have tea while watching the hotel guests walk past you to the lobby.    It is an attractive and comfortable setting, decorated with beautiful flowers, and the pianist was far enough away to be pleasant but not annoying!
The tea menu is rather short and limited, which is disappointing when you consider the price and the reputation of the Dorchester.  There were only 24 teas, 3 of which required a supplement of £3, and 6 of which were caffeine free/fruit teas.  The only Darjeeling required a supplement, and there was no white tea.  Caroline chose the  Assam – not as full as some, Charlotte the  Sencha – not the best in her opinion,  and Mo had the Dorchester Blend – a perfectly good afternoon tea.  The waiters insist on pouring the tea for you which we find a bit irritating, plus the tables were quite small so two of us had to have our teapots on a stand which we couldn't reach.  We had refills when we asked for them but overall we were a little disappointed.  23/30
The sandwiches were not on the stand but were served by the waiter from a serving platter, so you could choose which you had.  There were five to choose from: cucumber with caraway bread; smoked salmon with granary bread; egg with white bread; chicken with honey and mustard; and ham with tomato bread.  They were consistently good, well filled and very tasty.  We were offered refills of everything, and the waiter didn't want to take no for an answer. 29/30
We were then served an unadvertised mint chocolate mousse (palate cleanser?) which was pleasant enough but we weren’t sure why it was there or what it added to our meal.

The scones were good.  Served warm with clotted cream and jam, they were a good size with a nice shine on the top.  There was one fruit and one plain each and we were offered refills.  The jams, rhubarb and angelica, and strawberry, were the best we have had at a tea. 26/30

The cakes were all very stylish and attractive but slightly disappointing as they were all cream or mousse based and the only actual cake was coffee, which two of us don’t like. Mango and coconut mousse,  passion fruit and dark chocolate tart, rhubarb panacotta, coffee and walnut caked and raspberry macarons.  They were all made well, although none of us liked the mango and coconut mousse because it was so sweet.  We were again offered refills, but it didn't really make up for the lack of variety and the overall sickly creaminess of the dessert course. 22/30

The atmosphere of The Dorchester was lovely.  A very elegant setting, lovely Limoges crockery, and despite the time limit, we weren't hurried out or rushed in any way, and we were able to relax and have a leisurely tea.  The service was friendly if a little erratic, and it did get annoying trying to find a waiter every time we wanted to pour a cup of tea.  Overall though, we all enjoyed our experience and would be happy to come here again.  The price is expensive but it is definitely value for money for a special occasion.
Pros                                                         Cons
Elegant, relaxed ambience             The tea selection was disappointing
Good quality of food                          Lack of variety in the cakes
Sandwiches especially good           Waiting staff were hard to find



8.5 out of 10

Friday, 27 June 2014

Afternoon Tea Review - Maison Touareg

Maison Touareg - Moroccan Style Afternoon tea with champagne, £12.50 with a voucher

Variety is the spice of life, and we fancied a bit of spice in our lives so we booked an afternoon tea with a difference at Maison Touareg, a Moroccan restaurant in Soho.  Tea is an important part of Arab culture so we had high hopes.
The afternoon tea is only offered at weekends 12:30 to 5:30pm and it’s quite a small place so it’s advisable to book.  We had a voucher offering 2 for one with a glass of bubbly – full price is £21.50.
The ambience felt authentically Moroccan – with ornate lamps, dark colours and cushions everywhere.
There were 14 teas on offer which is more than we have found in much grander places – descriptions and provenance were lacking and most were fruity - but a fine selection.    Charlotte had the Orange Blossom; Caroline, Turkish Apple (a tea commonly found throughout N Africa and Turkey); Mo, Berry and then later Mint and Dave, Cardamom and Lemon and then a Lemon and Ginger.  They all came in authentic teapots with the traditional glasses to drink from.  We were offered refills, hot water and were allowed a second choice of tea.  The apple had real bits of fruit in it and the mint was made traditionally with whole mint leaves – overall we were impressed. 25/30

Rather than sandwiches Maison Touareg serve a selection of savoury pastries and wraps.  There were falafel, chicken and lamb kofte wraps, spinach parcels, and mini chicken and feta pasties.  They were all nicely presented and very tasty. However, there was some confusion in the descriptions from the waitress and the 2 cake stands had different things on them so sharing proved complicated! No refills but there was a good selection and plenty of food. 23/30

There were no scones, of course, but there was a sweet chicken pastry which bridged the gap between savoury and cakes and was surprisingly nice.

The cake selection continued the traditionally Moroccan theme with baklava, a date crunch and some custard pastries. The menu also promised a “homemade Moroccan orange blossom cake with orange saffron marmalade & rose cream” which wasn't quite as special as we had hoped.  So much so in fact that we didn't realise we had had it and we enquired of the waitress where it was.  The cakes were pleasant but a bit meagre and with not much variety.  15/30

Overall, we enjoyed our experience at the Maison Touareg.  Service was friendly and willing (if a little confused at times) and  the atmosphere and decor was attractive and added to the experience.  At £12.50, we did find it value for money, and although a Moroccan Afternoon Tea is something of a novelty, it was done well and didn't feel contrived at all.  We all enjoyed this and would be happy to go back.

Pros                                                                                  Cons
An interesting twist on afternoon tea                 No refills
Good value for money                                               Limited selection of cakes
Nice setting and atmosphere                                  A bit pricey without a voucher



7 out of 10

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Afternoon Tea Review - Hotel Indigo, Kensington

Afternoon Tea Review - Hotel Indigo, London - £11 (with a voucher) for Afternoon Tea with a Molecular Cocktail

Hotel Indigo is a short walk from Earl's Court tube.  It's a boutique hotel and, somewhat bizzarely, all of its staff are Lords and Ladies.  After a refurbishment in 2012, it re-launched with an employee package that included titles for all the staff.  In 2013, the Mansion Bar and Parlour was then opened serving molecular cocktails.  We went there in February for an afternoon tea with added cocktail.
There was an interesting, but not large selection of teas.  Green, white, rooibos and herbal were all on offer, but surprisingly not many varieties of black tea.  Caroline chose the English Breakfast, Mo the Earl Grey, honorary tea lady Dave had Lapsang Souchong and Charlotte had the Organic Fog green tea.  We all liked our teas, however, there were a few problems.  Hotel Indigo generally seems to be a very stylised boutique hotel, and as such the afternoon tea had elements of that style.  The milk came in bottles more usually used for home-brewed alcohol - we have no idea why as nothing else had this kind of feel.  The teapots were very decorative but impractical - the lids didn't stay on properly and there was only enough space for a cup's worth of water.  Although we got more hot water when we asked for it, we all left feeling like we hadn't had enough tea.  In addition, the tea had been made badly.  There were far too many leaves in the pot, so the tea was far too strong, even with the extra hot water. 19/30
The cake stand was very attractive and a bit more practical than the teapots.  In keeping with the stylish theme, the sandwiches were all cut into small squares and had breads of different colours to make them stand out.  We had beef brisket and horseradish on chocolate bread, ham and mustard on tomato bread, salmon on lemon bread and cucumber and cream cheese on basil bread.  The fillings were sparse, the sandwiches were small in general, and some of the bread had gone dry and curly so they'd clearly been standing around for a while.  We also found the combinations odd and badly done.  The basil bread just tasted sour, there was candied peel in the lemon bread which didn't go with the smoked salmon and the chocolate bread didn't work with the beef.  14/30
The scones were a decent size but there was only one per person, either fruit or plain.  The texture was unpleasantly doughy and they had clearly been microwaved to warm them up.  The jam had obviously been scooped out of the small cartons from the hotel breakfast as it was still in that shape.  The cream was just out of the fridge, so impossible to spread.  13/30
The cakes were supermarket tray bakes, or possibly Mr Kipling's.  They were 3 small selections - carrot, almond shortcake and chocolate (possibly a brownie, hard to tell).  They were exactly what you'd expect from mass-produced tray bakes - dry and poor quality.  Considering how much effort they'd gone to with the sandwiches and the look of the afternoon tea, we found it very strange that they'd done this for the cake course.  8/30
The molecular cocktail was served at the end and was generally liked, although it didn't really add anything to the tea.
The Mansion Bar and Parlour is a nicely furnished room on the ground floor as you enter the hotel.   However, it is far more of a bar than a parlour and we couldn't help feeling that they've simply jumped on the afternoon tea bandwagon in an attempt to make some extra money.  They haven't thought through what they're trying to provide, and as a result they fail appallingly.  They are far more about style than substance and the food was some of the worst we've had.  Although they have decent quality tea it was ruined by the fact they don't know how to make it.  It didn't help that although the waitress was very friendly, unfortunately she was the only member of staff for both the parlour and the bar, and there were another 5 or 6 tables of people having afternoon tea.  This meant after she'd brought our teas we had to wait half an hour for the food and it was very difficult to get her attention. 
Even though the voucher we had meant this tea was only £11, we still don't think it was value for money.  You'd be much better off going there and spending the money on a cocktail or two.
Pros                                                                Cons
The teas were nice                                    Style over substance 
Cocktail mostly liked                               The food
                                                                         Only one member of staff



4 out of 10