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