In April I celebrated a pretty huge milestone birthday. I’ve been celebrating throughout – with celebrations still to come – as one should for such an occasion. The best part? They’ve all involved food (thank goodness I calorie count, or I’d have ballooned by this point!). Since I’ve done more eating than writing I’ll be catching up in due course, but perhaps this month’s best birthday celebration was at Claridge’s, for traditional afternoon tea.
I’m somewhat of a connoisseur of afternoon teas, having tried several of them throughout London, but none of them have topped Claridge’s (although the Langham was a respectable second choice, and the Ritz for all its glory and fame was possibly the worst, but that’s for another blog post!). It has a strong heritage of afternoon tea, and offers the highest calibre service which tends to every detail: when my coat was taken to the cloakroom the key was placed in an elegant Claridge’s envelope, every time a pot of tea was finished a new tea pot and cup were provided, and similar details set it a step above the rest. Before you can think it, they have got it covered.
Upon being seated you’ll find a charming menu that includes the afternoon tea menu, a selection of teas to choose from, and a bit of background into what makes Claridge’s afternoon tea so special, down to the stand and the china, shown below. For first-timers, this adds a layer of depth to the warm, friendly welcome you receive on arrival.
Because the afternoon menu is mostly fixed, there are very few choices to make, fortunately. It comes down to a choice of having champagne or just tea (I opted just for tea, because calories!) and then selecting your tea preference. I’ve learned over time that my favourite teas are white teas, so it was an easy choice to go with the white silver tip tea. All that was left to do was relax and enjoy the atmosphere, which was easy to do: as others arrived, my friend and I were joined by other well-to-do, nicely dressed, respectable folk (no disruptive hen parties, no cacophony of sounds from any rowdy bunches). And, when the cellist and pianist began to play in the Foyer, it really did create the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy such a special occasion.
The first part of our experience arrives swiftly: the collection of finger sandwiches (as described far better in the menu, above) included options for ham, egg and smoked duck, cucumber, chicken and salmon on their respectively matched breads. Also served were finger-sized almond, olive and pecorino cakes with lemon thyme, the latter which were my favourite of them all. But, unlike other afternoon teas where there are some sandwiches I like and others I don’t, each finger sandwich was absolutely delicious!
I think my favourite was possibly the chicken (I have a fondness for malt bread) and salmon – (after the aforementioned savoury cake of course – they’re as delightful as they are beautiful). Although I’m still on the fence about cucumber sandwiches in general; I don’t really understand them, and while I appreciate they’re traditional, I don’t think anyone would miss them if they were gone. Still, they have the best cucumber sandwiches among their competitors! Oh, and the best part? You can have as many as you like. Once you finish you can request more until you are satisfied…and while a couple more were requested, I’ve learned my lesson in the past and know that if I overdo it on the sandwiches I won’t enjoy the rest!
Once the second round of sandwiches was finished and a small pause was had, it was time for the scones, served with the freshest clotted cream and a jam which, as the menu more accurately describes, was more of a gelee’ that was flavoured with a tea infusion – a nice change from the typical, overly sweet jams. The scones themselves were the perfect texture and flavour, but dare I say it, I do have a point of critique: they were not, as the menu describes, served warm as they should have been! I know, a minor point in an otherwise perfect experience, and I am sure that if I had said something they would have been mortified and replaced the scones in a heartbeat, but I let it go because everything else was just so darn delicious.
I’d like to make a quick point on the highly contested matter of whether you put the clotted cream over the jam or the jam over clotted cream. I know this matter has divided families, put towns at odds with each other, and is nearly as heated a topic as Brexit, but in my opinion, there is really only one right answer. Once the scone is split horizontally in two, the clotted cream is applied first: this is because it will catch all the nooks of the scone and grab on, so that the jam or gelee’ can simply be dolloped gently on top – all in a mess-free way, producing perfectly balanced flavours. Have you ever tried to spread clotted cream on top of jam? I rest my case.
Now, by this point, after all this food and several pots of tea, one is likely to be quite full, but no – space must be saved for the pastries! In every afternoon tea I’ve attended, there are always pastries which I like more than others, and some which I will outrightly leave. But at Claridge’s? Every pastry is heaven sent!
The orange and grapefruit tart is refreshing and light, not at all particularly sweet (thanks to the grapefruit), and I chose to start with it as it served as a kind of palate cleanser. The almond macaron with passion fruit cream was heaven sent: a macaroon as light as air, with the most delicate, chewy consistency and a cream that was bursting with flavour in an almost deceptive manner (with a white tone to match the almond macaron rather than the deep pink that one associates with passion fruit, it’s almost an unexpected wave of flavour). The opera cake with coffee and chocolate ganache may sound heavy, but it too was remarkably light – right down to the paper-thin chocolate wafers that encased it and snapped at the touch. Finally, the Paris-Brest with caramelised hazelnut was pure joy: perfectly baked pastry, the caramel in the middle was a delightful surprise and the hazelnut flavouring gave this long-time Nutella fan a soft, light and delicious way to end the experience.
But oh, this was not the end! As I had mentioned it was a birthday celebration, out came an unexpected surprise: a beautiful chocolate mousse treat decorated with flower and gold leaf, complete with candle and personalised birthday message. It was unexpected, touching and brought me much happiness. How beautiful and special…
All in all it was a wonderful experience, but then again I knew it would be: it wasn’t my first time, and Claridge’s always gets it right. I love that they send you off with a little parting gift of clotted cream fudge. And, if you can’t finish your pastries, you get to take them with you in the beautifully designed box, below.
I’ll be back in the summer for more, and I can’t wait! I’ll just make a point of checking the scones are warm next time.
*Calories: Every time I go to afternoon tea I know I’m in for an experience that won’t be less than 1500 calories, so I plan for that by avoiding breakfast beforehand and skipping dinner.
Food taste: 4.8 / 5 (warm scones aside, I cannot imagine any way this could have been more delicious)
Food/table presentation: 5 / 5 (care and attention to detail at every stage)
Service: 4.5 / 5 (exceptional; they were a little busy and had a delay in getting our tea in one round, but that’s hardly an issue)
Atmosphere/decor: 4.5 / 5 (A blend of traditional with modern, in a comfortable and inviting setting that feels both rather cosy and very special.)
Value for money: 4 / 5 (With gratuity included, we paid 73.13 GBP per person for London’s best afternoon tea. Other afternoon teas at the same level – or so they wish! – are priced similarly and those priced notably below are not in the same calibre. So yes, it’s good value for money. )
Overall rating: 4.6/ 5