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........
Good quality tea Bland sandwiches
Relaxed atmosphere Quality of cakes
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