For me, there is something incredibly indulgent and attractive about an afternoon tea. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are meals in their own rights, with set, allocated times when we eat them during the day to satisfy hunger pangs at regular intervals. Afternoon tea on the other hand brings back the sheer upper class enjoyment of having your cake and eating it, just because you can. Picture tapestry laden, studded sofa style drawing rooms, home to the delicate silver tray of chinking tea cups rattling on their saucers, sweet treats and cakes ready for the munching at 4.00pm sharp, just because a day without custard is simply not a day with any value.
With a sweet tooth and a penchant for scones, I headed to London eatery Richoux with my sister and good friend to sample an exclusive afternoon tea at their Piccadilly venue (they also have restaurants in St John’s Wood, Knightsbridge and Mayfair – very swanky I know). Founded in 1909 and based next to decadent grocery haven Fortnum and Mason, Richoux can’t help but have a subtle wow factor, with its post box red exterior that screams classic London. Despite being long and narrow, Richoux still feels incredibly spacious with a mix of secluded silver studded booth seating as well as traditional dining table layouts. Duck egg blue paint highlights the tops of walls, echoing the elegantly Edwardian feel, with the golden streaked ceiling the perfect base for the musky yet stylised chandelier lamps.
The mixed marble walls are framed with pillars, the alcoves covered in a cream and red floral wallpaper bedecked with framed paintings and china vase ornaments, creating a uniquely homely feel despite the dusty extravagance. Richoux is quietly refined and private yet also really relaxed and completely comfortable, striking the ideal balance of impressive yet intimate. A heavy dark wooden bar is the focal point at the far end of the room, the booths around the edge of the room housing interesting green marbled tables.
We decided to go for the Richoux Traditional Afternoon Tea, which at £18.80 per person included a selection of finger sandwiches, mini scones, a slice of fruit cake and your choice of treat from the famed patisserie selection. You were also entitled to tea, coffee or hot chocolate, or even a glass of champers if you didn’t mind stumping up a little bit extra. We started by picking our hot beverages, and as much as I love a cup of coffee when I’m out and about, the clue is in the name when it comes to afternoon tea. I thought I would try something a bit different this time, venturing away from my usual English breakfast, and instead trying the Dajeeling – an Indian black tea that has a reputation of being the champagne of teas. Served in a plain white teapot stamped with the Richoux brand and accompanied by a matching plain white tea set, the teapot was chipped on the lid, taking the shine off and making it feel like you were visiting a friend.
I tried my first cup with a splash of milk, and I couldn’t overly taste the difference to my usual cuppa, however when I had my next few cups black, I was able to enjoy the subtle differences in flavour more. Darjeeling has a lovely vanilla aftertaste, a smoother and lighter texture that does seem more full-bodied as well. I was really glad I decided to be brave and try something new, and I will definitely be tempted to sample this tea again in the future.
Whilst our tea was brewing in individual teapots however, we had the opportunity to select the cakes for the top tier of our afternoon tea stack. A waitress bearing a white tray descended on our table, swooping in with the tray chock-a-block full of a variety of different cakes to whet any appetite. To me, it was more appealing than a jewellery case full of gems, and infinitely more beautiful, our eyes wide at their renowned patisserie selection. Domed chocolate shelled mousses peeked out next to an oozing layered tiramisu cake slice, dusted in coco powder. A short crust pastry fruit tart was bejewelled in glistening sugar laden segments, various flavoured cheesecakes wedges slotted together across the centre of the tray, a creamy colour indicating lemon, a pale pink showing raspberry tones. A mini mount blanc bomb lay encased in white chocolate, while the larger slice version brazenly showcased its layers of blackberry mousse and cake, topped with a curl of white chocolate. A fluorescent pink macaroon was thrusting forth raspberries, struggling to hold in lashings of custard like cream. As a platter, it was vivid and enticing with something for everyone whether you were a chocolate lover or a fruit fan. As I gazed across the selection, it seemed impossible to me that we were restricted to a mere one cake each. I soon honed in on the mount blanc slice however – I had never tried one before and it looked simply stunning. My sister Jess has a developing penchant for macaroons, so quickly opted for the tantalising pink option, while Mr Mike, our friend from our badminton club, swiftly settled for the fruit tart, curiously wondering about the filling.
After making out choices, we were more eager than ever to get down to business, so when our traditional three tiered silver plate stand arrived, we instantly zoned in on the delicious, delectable treats sitting atop plain white plates. Oddly enough, the finger sandwiches were on the middle tier instead of the bottom, with thick wedges of lemon plonked on top, maybe emphasising their savoury nature. The sandwiches were cut extremely thinly and more slender than the norm, but I actually liked this. It made them a lot less dense to eat and less filling, meaning we had much more space for the important stuff – ie the cake. However, the sandwich fillings were very moreish and I really enjoyed the combination provided.
Smooth and squidgy smoked salmon lay in granary style bread, whilst creamy egg mayonnaise sat happily in plain white fingers. A British teatime would be remiss without the classic cucumber sandwich, and despite disliking cucumber, I gave these a bash to be pleasantly surprised. It was actually crunchy and refreshing, the lashings of butter and white bread making this boring veg bearable. The chicken sandwiches were probably my favourite, served in a kind of mayonnaise in the granary bread. We soon demolished this central savoury selection, and were ready for the next stack – the bottom deck of scones and fruit cake.
The scones were mini scones, so they were very small, a touch smaller than I would have liked although we each had two. They were speckled with the odd sultana and decorated with a light dusting of flour like all good traditional baking. We each received a small individual jar of strawberry jam and a mini white ramekin filled with clotted cream to accompany our scones. There was plenty of cream but the jam had to go on a bit thin, so it’s a good thing the baked goods weren’t normal sizes. Crumbly and buttery, the scones were tasty, although in my opinion needed more sultanas or raisins – one of my scones literally only had one sultana hidden within. The jam was smooth and seedy, whilst the clotted cream was Cornish, and therefore suitable for lashing on with joyful enthusiasm, as it was thick, silky and perfectly peaked once placed over the tentative red jam layer. Despite being on the small side, they were lovely and I really enjoyed the tasty little scones.
Also on this layer was the unusual fruit cake – not something you usually see on an afternoon tea, Rammed with dense and dark moist fruit (perchance this was where the scone sultanas found themselves?) the cake was earthy and sublime, featuring large studs of cherries and topped with crunchy flaked almonds. Spiced and succulent, it was a beautiful bit of cake, and the full on intensity of the fruit was a nice juxtaposition to the gooey cream from the scones and the lighter strawberry tones from the jam.
After clearing the fruit cake, we gazed at the final tier of our tea with reverence – our hand selected cakes were now due for devouring. I lowered the mount blanc slice on to my plate, peeling back the protective clear plastic layer carefully. An abundance of white chocolate swirls and curls coated the top of the slice, which had a vanilla cakey bottom, supporting a light and fluffy blackberry flavoured mousse that was a wonderfully ruddy lilac / purple / pink shade, a splattering of the seeded blackberry compote smothered in the centre. It was pure heaven and there is no other way to describe it. The punchy berries worked wonders with the understated creamy and light white chocolate, the flavours further married by the absorbent cake at the bottom and middle. Absolutely delicious.
Mike’s fruit tart was also a hidden treat. Beneath the sweet jellied covered fruit, featuring strawberries, kiwi, orange and grapes was an unapologetic mountain of bubbly custard mousse. Flecked with tell-tale vanilla pods, the custard was voluminous and sweet, being incredibly light to eat. The short crust pastry was pretty standard, hitting the spot nicely and not falling apart at the seams. Jess’s macaroon also impressed, filled to the brim with a similar custard mousse that housed the additional raspberries as well as squirts of decorative cream. The bold pink top and bottom were wonderfully chewy with an outer crunch, with an almost meringue like consistency and flavour. Very moreish with gorgeous presentation – and let’s face it, presentation is half the battle with afternoon tea.
Sneaking in a couple of glasses of Prosecco to pair with our treats, we promptly polished off every available scrap of food. Seeing other tables with cake left untouched as they departed left our jaws hitting the table in amazement, and I confess I even contemplated trying to steal the disregarded cake it was all that delicious. Waste not want not in my view after all. On the whole though, Richoux was a massive success. Its afternoon tea is not only a decent price, but it is quirky too. The addition of fruit cake is something I have never seen before, yet really enjoyed, and the novelty of choosing your own patisserie cake for your top deck is brilliant, although would be ten times easier if you could actually make cake based decisions…needless to say, I think we frustrated the waitress. The quality of both the sweet and savoury foods was spot on, and I couldn’t have been happier with our opulent lunch.