Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Langham: Afternoon Tea

Tea, cake, cake, cake...and more cake. Such are the habits of a very pregnant me, and I was about to have my first 'posh afternoon tea' experience.

Afternoon, or 'high', tea at London's fancy hotels has been a tradition amongst the social elite for hundreds of years. Nothing could be more British, so they are often tourist traps, but Londoners have recently starting succumbing the charms and pleasures of wiling away an afternoon indulging themselves in elegant surroundings, particularly given the current cupcake craze. But, all this comes with a hefty price tag.

Most five-star hotels in London offer afternoon tea menus, and all range from £20-50 per person. We were keen on Claridges, Bea's of Bloomsbury, Sketch, The Orangery, The Dorchester, or The Wolseley (all of which have stellar reputations for their finger food), but alas they were fully booked. The only place we could find an availability at 2-weeks notice was The Langham Hotel. Five minutes from Oxford Circus, at the top end of Regent Street, it is one of the oldest and largest hotels in London. I'd heard very little about it, so arrived with no preconceptions or bias.

The entrance is undoubtedly impressive, in a grand old-fashioned way. The scent of flowers was strong enough to send me giddy. Immediately accessible from the lobby is the elegant Palm Court, but it was the empty Artesian Dining Room we were destined for, as the Palm Court was full. It remained empty for the 4 hours we were there.

We chose the 'Wonderland' menu at £35 per person: 5 types of finger sandwich, 5 cakes/pastries, and scones. Unfortunately the restaurant waiter was unfamiliar with the tea menu, so the 'tea sommelier' was non existent, and hence our tea choices were pedestrian: the Langham Blend, and a delicate Chinese tea. I'll keep it brief on the food:

The scones were dense, dry, and dull. Over 4 hours, three of us didn't manage to polish off the basket you see below. And we have impressive appetites. Warming them up before bringing them to the table might have helped, a bit.

The sandwiches were also mediocre. The cucumber sandwich needed more delicate slices of cucumber, and a grind of pepper. The smoked salmon was very 'M&S', and the beef and mustard was tough (no sign of the advertised watercress, which could have livened it up a bit). The only sandwich that worked was egg and cress. Not hard to get right, that one.

The cakes and pastries were also mediocre, particularly the 'Langham Cupcake' (below), which committed the mortal sin of looking impressive and tasting anything but, as cupcakes so often do. The cake was dry, the icing just whipped butter. A let-down and confusion for the senses.

The whole menu lacked finesse, and was instantly forgettable. It was a wonderful afternoon, despite the food, not because of it. Let me know where you've had wonderful afternoon tea, and I'll be there in a shot: I'm not giving up on the concept just yet.
Palm Court at the Langham on Urbanspoon


  1. When you get all psyched up about going for a posh tea, it's rather disappointing to find that it's just the name that is being traded on. We went to the Ritz once - long time ago and that was a big disappointment. Dry and starchy was how I remember it - the waiters and the food! By contrast a group of us had tea at the Dorchester to celebrate getting our degrees - it was a hard hitting £7 then (or maybe that's false memory syndrome)! It was fantastic, the ambiance was good, the waiters helpful and the food was really well done.

  2. I just stumbled across your blog (via your comment - arigato!), and am in love. Finally, a blogger who doesn't wax lyrical about any old place they went to.

    I think the afternoon tea industry in London is a RIP-OFF and am glad you've pointed out flaws. I did have an amazing lunch at a place in Maida Vale today though, but am based in Cardiff so my recommendation ends there I am afraid. It was called Vicki's - do try. No afternoon tea, but decent food.

    BTW - my cupcakes are never disappointing. The key is to make, not buy!

    I'll be back! :)

  3. Hi Choclette, I'm told the Dorchester does a better job of high tea than many of the others. Sounds like it's time for you to make a return visit.

    Mr P, welcome. Will investigate re. Vickis. I want to try Bea's of Bloomsbury, but
    I tried Hummingbird Bakery's cupcakes last year, and they were dreadful. Home baking is definitely the way to go, and your Pear Cupcakes are first on my list.

  4. I definitely vote for Bea's of Bloomsbury, I take my out of town visitors there. Book ahead though, it's a tiny place. They don't serve sandwiches with their afternoon tea, it's cakes and cupcakes only!

    I also love going to The Wolseley for afternoon tea. Beautiful surroundings and a reasonable price, compared to most of the other hotel/fancypants places. Bea's is a bargain as well, actually.

    Enjoy your pregnancy! I kind of miss being a big beach ball...

  5. Hi Erin. Thanks for the tip - I'd heard it's a rather small operation. The Wolseley seems to be the only afternoon tea hotel destination that gets the thumbs-up from Londoners. I'd love to have breakfast there, too. Something to enjoy during my maternity leave, perhaps!