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.