One of the advantages of working in London was that it was always very easy to go out and socialise. While I was working at Transport for London a group of us started going out for Afternoon Tea every few months. I think it began almost 7 years ago!
When we totted up the number of times we’d been it came to over 22 and we’ve visited 18 different places in that time. Although the afternoons have always been enjoyable, with great company, the afternoon teas haven’t always lived up to expectations. However, they have mostly been very good.
Although I retired from TfL in December, I’m still part of the afternoon tea group so I will not be missing out on any. In fact, we recently went to Claridge’s for afternoon tea, which is definitely my favourite of the 18 so far.
A Short History of Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea has certainly become a bit of an institution in England and it is now more popular than ever. The concept of afternoon tea feels quintessentially English. It is said that Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford started it all in the 1800’s.
It is said that the Duchess would become peckish in the late afternoon. The evening meal was usually served late, around 8pm, this meant that there was a long time to wait between lunch and dinner. Hence the reason for the Duchess’s mid afternoon slump. To remedy this the Duchess would have tea and bread and butter as a light bite to keep her going until Dinner.
Over time this evolved and in the 1880’s it became fashionable for upper-class and society women to invite friends around for tea. The ladies would dress up for the occasion, spending the afternoon socialising with afternoon tea usually being served in the drawing room between four and five o’clock.
“Tea rooms’ became popular in the late 19th century. The Tea Rooms were popular as they were considered one of the few respectable places for women to without a chaperone.
At some stage they started to play music at the Teas, and fashionable young people started going to afternoon ‘tea dances’, something which continued until the Second World War.
As I mentioned earlier afternoon tea is more popular than ever, especially in London where it has undergone somewhat of a renaissance.
Claridges Afternoon Tea
Claridge’s is a luxury 5 star hotel in the middle of Mayfair with a long tradition of serving afternoon tea, they have been serving it for over 150 years.
Our small group of ladies were given a table in the small section at the back of the room. Its a lovely setting in the understated but elegant dining room. The situation was perfect for us as we had a lot of catching up to do over tea so there a considerable amount of chatter.
The table setting looked so pretty with the Claridge’s bespoke bone china in it’s distinctive green and white stripe and fresh clean line table cloths.
Service is friendly and attentive without being overbearing and they were more than happy to accommodate our various dietary requirements.
We chose the Traditional Afternoon Tea with a glass of Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut, a wonderfully clean fresh champagne with lemony citrus notes, a touch of marzipan and fine mousse. The Champagne Afternoon Tea is priced at £70.
As with all good afternoon teas we started with a selection of sandwiches:
- Severn & Wye smoked salmon, brown shrimp butter, rock samphire on rye bread
- Roast corn fed chicken, lemon thyme mayonnaise, gem lettuce on malt bread
- Dorrington ham, smoked tomato chutney, watercress on onion bread
- Clarence Court duck egg, mustard cress on white bread
- English cucumber, buttermilk, French sorrel on white bread
- Cheddar & pickled walnut sable
The breads were light and fluffy, and the fillings were very tasty, I especially enjoyed the duck egg sandwiches. Our waiter ensured our plates were replenished and would have happily brought us more if we had wanted.
It was now time for our tea, as we had been drinking the champagne with our sandwiches. There is a wide range of Teas which have been selected by Henrietta Lovell of Rare Tea Company. My tea of choice was the Claridge’s Blend:
A bespoke blend created exclusively for Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s. The blend has a unique depth of flavour that combines the power of an English Breakfast Tea with a satisfying complexity. The flavour is rich and aromatic with a deep, malty finish. Perfect served without milk, partnered by a fresh warm scone.
Following the sandwiches, the waiter brought us the warm scones and handmade pastries. The scones are served with Cornish clotted cream, Marco Polo gelée and if you are fussy like us, you can also ask for strawberry jam.
The selection of pastries included:
- Gâteau opéra – orange mousseline Manjari chocolate supreme
- Blackberry lemon, frangipane tart – puff pastry tart, lemon frangipane, blackberry compote, almond streusel
- Chestnut and vanilla éclair – chestnut diplomat cream, vanilla Chantilly, marron glacé
- Honey cake – Earl grey syrup, honey comb
As with the sandwiches our waiter was more than happy to replenish the pastries and scones, although we were far too full for seconds.
We had an extremely enjoyable afternoon eating, drinking and chatting and the 3 hours that we were there flew by. Throughout the afternoon our teapots were replenished and we never felt hurried.
Before we left our waiter presented us each with a goodie bag containing a box of pastries, a pot of jam and some Claridge’s fudge.
Although it is fairly expensive I would highly recommend a visit at least once, you won’t be disappointed. With its understated elegance, impeccable service and delicious food I think it should be on every Ladies wish list, and of course Men are allowed as well.