Academy Town House Hotel, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Academy Town House Hotel, 21 Gower Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 6HG (nearest tube stations are Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road)
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 2nd April
  • Time of Table: 2pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £25 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This afternoon tea deal includes:

  • Selection of sandwiches
  • Scones with jam and cream
  • Selection of cakes
  • Unlimited tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What we drank…

  • English Breakfast tea
  • Glass of Prosecco each

What did we think?

When spring is attempting to make itself known, with peeks of sunshine and a glimmer of warmer weather, it appears to me to be the ideal time for a civilised afternoon tea. When my sister and I spotted an offer on Groupon for an afternoon tea with a glass of Prosecco for two people, for a mere £25 all in, we just had to snap it up; especially as the location was a simple 10 minute walk from Tottenham Court Road tube station, so really central and convenient location too.

When we stumbled across the Academy Town House Hotel, it wasn’t at all what we had envisioned. It was a terraced building, with a stone pillar framed doorway, leading to a small and classically decorated reception area. A brown leather sofa snuggled by a bay window while pale peach walls detracted from a busy patterned carpet. Glancing down the hall, it was clear to see the building was a traditional London townhouse, complete with poky narrow stairwells, lots of floors to navigate, and the slight dizzy feeling of being in a rabbit warren. It reminded me of Mary Poppins for some reason, feeling traditional and old school elegant.

Announcing ourselves at reception, we were shown downstairs into a basement restaurant after a short wait. It was a bit disappointing to be shoved in the deepest, darkest part of the hotel on such a beautiful day, especially as the décor was really nothing special. A brown, white and red colour theme did its best not to look worn, faded and tired as a TV blurted in the background playing, granted, some very decent tunes. As the only ones in the restaurant, we got our pick of the tables, so we picked one for two people that was near to a curtained window as possible in an attempt to catch some rays. The table was dressed very simply with a white linen tablecloth and a white dish of white and brown sugar lumps.

Our afternoon tea experience started with the waiter bringing over our starting glass of chilled Prosecco – light, bubbly and refreshing in every sip. He also poured us some iced tap water too from a jug he then left on the table – unusual for an afternoon tea but nice to have as we were pretty thirsty. Weirdly, we had no choice of tea whatsoever. Our waiter simply said did we want English Breakfast tea, without mentioning any alternatives or even if there were any. We both like English Breakfast – and I probably would have chosen that anyway – so it wasn’t a problem, but I know Jess is sometimes more adventurous in her tea tastes, and she will occasionally opt for a fruit or green tea instead. When the tea arrived at the table, it was in a large, plain white teapot, with matching plain white teacups sitting in their partnering saucers. The teapot was a very good size and we easily got three cups of tea each from it before the waiter refilled it for us.

The afternoon tea itself was brought on a standard tiered set-up, with sandwiches fanning out across the largest bottom plate; one plain and one fruit scone each stacked up neatly on the middle plate, while the top plate housed an array of miniature desserts in bite-sized morsels. We started at the bottom with the finger sandwiches, naturally crustless and featuring an array of, slightly dry, white and brown bread. We munched on cheddar paired with tomato, salmon spread with cream cheese, ham layered over mustard, and a new personal favourite, the egg mayonnaise. We were allowed one finger of each flavour. The sandwiches were very basic and bog standard, a tad dry and nothing to write home about.

The scone layer was next. The scones were still warm which was a very pleasant surprise, and there was a plain scone and then a sultana studded fruit scone each as well. Two scones each is always a bonus, and I was also pleased that we got variety in the type of scone and that the scones were full sized. Mini scones are just sheer disappointing in my opinion. It was also so refreshing to get jam and clotted cream dishes that contained enough of each condiment to actually complete your scones. Dressing your scones can be a battle with thin layers and patchy coverage as you are hardly ever given enough toppings. We luckily didn’t have this problem here, so we could top our scones perfectly. The jam was strawberry, so very classic there, and the clotted cream was lovely – very silky and smooth with the rustic top too. The scones were probably my favourite bit of the whole tea. They weren’t the best scones I’ve ever had or anything, but it was tasty.

Last up came our cake layer. We had a selection of absolutely tiny mouthfuls, and since they were all different items, we had to try and cut them in half so we could each try each one. It would have been more useful to have two of each mini cake, or larger cakes that could be more easily divided. The cakes themselves however were really lovely. I chowed down on a chocolate macaroon while Jess ate the raspberry one. Mine was gooey and dense like a brownie in a crunchy yet chewy meringue shell, whilst Jess’s had an interesting layer of jam hidden within. One was a mini custard tart topped with a jewelled segment of peach, whilst another mini portion had a eggy set custard in the middle, bookended by a slightly soggy bottom cake layer and an icing drizzled finish on top, the custard itself home to a few stray sultanas.  A hexagon shaped mini layer cake had a chocolate orange vibe going on with its flavourings, which was very tasty, however out favourite munchie was covered in cocoa powder, and turned out to be a chocolate and hazelnut concoction featuring cake yet also decadent chocolate mousse and crispy nut like sections too. It tasted a bit like a cakey Ferrero Rocher and really hit our spot.

One thing I really did not like about the afternoon tea however was how a service charge was thrust upon us. As we were finishing our treats, the waiter arrived at our table with an envelope on a small silver dish, which he left on our table. As we opened it, we were shocked to see a note about how much service charge we owed. At the end of the day, the hotel composed the deal that was to go on Groupon and we paid our due for it, so to slyly add a charge in that manner felt wrong. Ironically, we most likely would have left a tip on our own accord as the waiter was a nice chap, however the manner of presenting the service charge in this staged way really grinded my gears and I felt it was rude to be honest.

At the end of the day, I would say that this was an average afternoon tea. It was nothing special, however the price point of £25 for two people made it a cheap afternoon treat that we could enjoy together while having a natter and a catch up. The food wasn’t top notch or anything, but it was edible with a few hidden gems among the sad looking finger sandwiches. The décor of the location needs a serious spruce up, as the basement restaurant looks fusty and old fashioned, however the bubbles of the glass of Prosecco was a nice added extra. It was a good deal, however I think to achieve the price you are compromising on the scenery and dazzle of the location.

Eating Around: Park Grand Lancaster Gate, Lancaster Gate, London

P1050521If there are two foodie treats in this world that make for a happy Katie, I would count afternoon tea and chocolate as two highly ranked, big hitting items. Imagine then my sheer delight when I spotted a very reasonably priced chocolate afternoon tea package for two people on Living Social, complete with a bubbling glass of refreshing Prosecco (certainly in the top 10 when it comes to treats). After frantically emailing the link to said offer to my sister, we purchased the deal and booked in for a lovely lunchtime delight. Opting for a weekend, I nabbed the central line into London to Lancaster Gate, where the Park Grand Lancaster Gate hotel is a mere 10 minute walk away if that.

P1050522The staff couldn’t be more attentive when we entered – we were offered hot towels to wipe our hands at reception which I thought was a bit strange but also oddly refreshing on a baking hot day. We were shown into the white tiled restaurant bar area and we were able to choose our own spot, with my sister Jess opting for an intimate table for two by the curtained window so we could grab some rays of sunshine while we ate.

The restaurant itself had a quite a modern feel with a white tiled floor, angular coloured sofas and white square tables adorned with polished silver cutlery, however the bauble of purple decorative flowers and the petal filled bubble vases on the tables hinted as a traditionalism too for a strange combination. When we arrives, it was really empty so it had a bit of an eerie feeling, but our waiter instantly P1050528put us at ease, showing us a box of different tea bags and offering to take pictures of us on our camera if we wanted.

I ordered a cappuccino and Jess went for a fruit tea while we waited for our Prosecco and food to arrive. When our tiered stand came to the table, I couldn’t help but do a bit of a double take. The white and blue patterned china was so sparsely populated, I wondered whether I would even be full afterwards – the top two plates were certainly more space than cake and I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the portion size.

Started at the base layer though, the sandwiches certainly caused a stir when we spotted what looked like pink bread, P1050529which was filled with slices of cheese and a spicy, Indian inspired chutney.  I’m not sure what this bread was exactly but it reminded me a bit of the consistency of gluten free bread. Brown bread housed a thick lashing of egg mayonnaise which I loved and the white bread went nicely with the tuna filling. Baby brioche buns had a chicken style concoction inside which was also tasty, the bun offering a varying texture to get our teeth stuck in to.

Next up was the scones and to start off the chocolate theme, the usual vine fruits had been replaced with chocolate chips. Still served with a minute amount of strawberry jam and clotted cream, it was nice to have a scone with a difference, even though I wouldn’t say the chocolate chips were in abundance. The scones were small P1050530in size and there was only one each (which is always a poor show at afternoon tea, you want a minimum of two) however they were still slightly warm and had a nice, buttery flavour despite being a little too crisp on the outside for my taste.

The cakes on offer were traditional favourites, however there wasn’t two of everything, so we either had to share some items – which is a right nightmare with tiny cocktail sized cake – or just pick and mix what each of you are having. I do find this a bit annoying as both Jess and I like to try everything, so it makes life so much easier if there is two of each item so you can both try all there is on offer. The two macaroons we were given were two different flavours; I took the muted green pistachio while Jess was left with the near white P1050527vanilla – both were lovely and chewy on the inside with a creaminess due to the filling, with that lovely crisp bite on the edge of the shell too. The hazelnut sprinkled chocolate brownie was super soft and rich in flavour, giving a dense chocolate punch which you expect from a quality brownie. We were also given two tiny fruit tarts. This consisted of a shortcrust pastry case filled with a squirt of vanilla custard and topped with slivers of fruit. Nice but again, very impeccably small!

The chocolate éclair was pretty standard, although to carry on the chocolate vein it was filled with a chocolate cream instead of the plain stuff, while the mini chocolate muffin had an impressive dome and a crumbly texture, again with a rich taste of dark chocolate. My favourite cake of the lot though had to be their take on the Victoria sponge. This mini version consisted of two typical soft and bouncy vanilla sponges, but instead of housing jam and cream, this one had lashings of lovely P1050520chocolate and nut spread which I thoroughly enjoyed. We washed down our desserts heartily with our refreshing glasses of chilled and sweet Prosecco.

Despite it not looking large on the plates, we were full afterwards although we also ended up having a two course meal again in the evening, proving that it certainly wasn’t as filling as other afternoon teas we have attended. The chocolate theme was a nice twist, however I feel they could have indulged in it a bit more to really make it unique; for example why not make chocolate scones and pair it with raspberry jam and clotted cream? The chocolate element seemed a little lacklustre but if that is your selling point, I thought it could have been bigger, along with the portion sizes.

I did enjoy my mini afternoon tea and the staff couldn’t have been more pleasant. Although I don’t think the venue has masses of atmosphere, it was a nice, calming room, clean and tidy although the tables are close together. Luckily this wasn’t a problem for us as we visited during a quiet spell. Enjoyable but needs to be supersized and thought through a little more.

Tillie’s Tearooms, Chelmsford, Essex

P1030564

Set Menu:

  • Location: Tillie’s Tearooms, Marsh Farm Road, South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford, CM3 5WP
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 15th March 2015
  • Time of Table:00pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £14 for Two (we also bought two more at full price to up our table to four people. This cost £20 for the additional two)
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess, mother Tina and grandma Hazel.

P1030562Getting More for your Money?

This deal includes:

  • Afternoon tea for two people, featuring a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes, scones and unlimited tea or coffee

What we ate…

  • Finger sandwiches, fillings included tuna, ham, egg mayonnaise, cheese and mayo combo on both white or wholegrain bread
  • Homemade scones with sultanas, served with blackcurrant jam and clotted cream or butter
  • Slices of Victoria sponge cake
  • Mini chocolate éclairs
  • Mini choux buns with coffee cream filling or custard cream filling
  • Selection of Danish pastries, including cinnamon swirls, apple turnovers and jam filled pastries

P1030566What we drank…

  • Numerous pots of tea
  • Numerous pots of coffee

What did we think?

Previous mother’s days have seen my sister and I treat our mum to a tasty Italian brunch out, an oriental Chinese meal and a slap up homemade tapas feast to name a few, so this year, we wanted to make sure we chose something different, yet delicious. We came up trumps when I stumbled across this afternoon tea deal on Groupon. Originally just buying it for two people, we then thought it would be the ideal group activity, so we booked a couple more spots at the table direct with the venue so that three generations could all cluster together for a tea time treat.

P1030569Part of the popular Marsh Farm complex, it doesn’t have the traditional glamour of an afternoon tea served in a swanky hotel. The airy open barn with large dark beams against the whitewashed walls hailed to a time gone by, further accentuated by the rustic wooden benches, a bit like old fashioned church pews, the large wooden tables simply adorned with a clear vase and some cheery fake flowers. With a distinct vintage feel, Tillie’s Tearoom is strung with pink patchwork bunting for feminine slashes across the imposing historical style building, the occasional mirror dotting the walls. It’s rustic charm and retro vibe was addictive as I slid into our chosen bench, admiring a white cabinet holding mismatched teapots, cups and saucers.

Ordering pots of tea for Jess and I, and coffee for the mums of the group, our drinks were quirkily presented in odd cups and saucers so that P1030570none of the sets matched. A large white teapot to share let our tea brew, while our mum and grandma were given a small white individual coffee pot each for their drinks. A dish on the table contained sugar sachets, as well as a jar of ketchup, which intrigued me as to the other food they serve at the tearooms. The china wear was decorated with an array of different painted flowers, the saucers arriving in a variety of colours. There wasn’t a choice of tea or coffee, it was pretty much your standard breakfast variety, with milk served in a small jug. There was only one jug between four of us, which wasn’t really enough, so we had to keep asking for this to be refilled, which took a while since the place was so busy.

P1030571When our afternoon tea arrived at the table, it definitely looked the part as my eyes instantly honed in on a massive homemade scone, peppered with large, juicy sultanas. As well as the sandwiches on the bottom tier, we were given an additional plate too, the sandwiches cut into fingers or quarters, served with soft white bread or seedy wholegrain, both of which tasted fresh and lovely. There was a really nice selection of sandwich fillings as well, in popular flavours to appeal to as many people as possible. Tinned tuna was one, classic ham slices in another, the chunky egg mayonnaise also yummy. My favourite was the cheese, which came up like the three cheese sandwich filler you can buy in supermarkets, so although the fillings may not have been that original or homemade, the sandwiches themselves were still nice to eat.

The next tier was the warm, freshly baked scones. At first, we were only given two scones – for some reason the staff seemed really confused P1030567and incapable of working out what food needed to be brought, how much food needed to be brought and, and who the food was for. Originally being given an afternoon tea stand for two people, I had to ask numerous times for the additional scones so we could all have one each, and although our waitress brought out more sandwiches, we still had to wait for the additional scones and cakes to complete our platter. This meant that the first two scones brought out had cooled completely by the time the second batch of fresh, warm scones arrived, which I don’t think was particularly fair. This also meant we had a large wait in between the sandwiches and eating the scones, as we felt rude if only two of us could eat the scones without the others having some too.

P1030572Despite their delayed appearance, the scones were delicious, not being dry in the slightest although they were really large and fat. Crumbling when cut, they were spot on. We were all given a tiny individual jar of blackcurrant jam each and I barely managed to get the jam to spread across each side, so a bit more would have been welcome, although I like the twist of using a different jam flavour to the normal strawberry. The blackcurrant jam itself was really tasty with that richer, darker berry flavour that was the perfect underbelly to the silky clotted cream. Again, we were given just one miniscule ramekin for the four of us, when really, it would only have served two, so a few of us had to be frugal here, with my mum even having one half of her scone with butter to be on the safe side to make sure we could all have enough cream to cover our scones. The scones are always my favourite part of afternoon tea, and this bad boys didn’t disappoint, I thoroughly enjoyed them.

There was a really nice selection of cakes, although again we had to wait a while for enough cakes to arrive at our table, and even then, I’m notP1030563 sure we had the right selection as there were only two slices of Victoria sponge. The cake itself was moist and crumbly – you could really tell that they do their own baking, and it does make all the difference with regards to the taste and texture. The soft vanilla hued cake was lovely paired with the sticky strawberry jam and thin layer of cream within. We were also given a selection of choux buns, which were super light to eat and a really lovely contrast to the heavier cake and scones. A mini éclair each was filled with cream, with a runway of chocolate pasted on top. Little round choux buns contained either dreamy coffee flavoured cream, or a custard version, both of which were heavenly, the creamy fillings so silky smooth and light yet packed full of flavour. I could have eaten them all day! We were also given a plate of hot Danish pastries, which is again, a nice spin on the traditional. They were smaller in size too so it wasn’t too overbearing to eat all of them! The cinnamon swirls fell apart endearingly as you bit in to them, whilst the jam centred one was really tasty when you smeared the raspberry filling across the hot, flaky pastry. Our mum and grandma also enjoyed an apple filled pastry each, licking their lips in appreciation.

P1030565Making a second reservation? As it was mother’s day, needless to say staff were rushed off their feet and unfortunately, this really hampered our experience. They seemed constantly confused, didn’t know how much food to bring out, or what they even needed to bring out, with long delays meaning we couldn’t really get stuck in to our afternoon tea. In a way, this is a great shame as the actual food itself, was really lovely, the quirky retro vibe really quaint and enjoyable, the homemade sweet treats providing good, old fashioned, delicious fun. If the service had been smoother and the staff were on their A game, it would have been a whole lot better. The scones were still out of this world though.

The dinner dates opinion:P1030573

My mum Tina said: ‘As it was Mothers’ Day, Tillies was unsurprisingly heaving with families out for the whole farm adventure.  The tea rooms were very busy and the lady looking after us quite simply didn’t have enough hands.  That being said, everything we had was lovely: the deliberately mismatched but beautiful crockery, the lovely crustless and really tasty sandwiches, the numerous little cake offerings including victoria sandwich and choux puffs, and the truly enormous home-made scones with clotted cream and jam.  All was washed down with as much tea and coffee as we could drink, and this particular Mum was thrilled with her special Mother’s Day treat.’

Doubletree Hilton Victoria, Victoria, London

Our odd looking afternoon tea

Our odd looking afternoon tea

Set Menu:

  • Location: Doubletree Hilton Victoria, 2 Bridge Place, Victoria, London, SW1V 1QA (nearest tube station is Victoria)
  • Date of Visit: Sunday 24th August 2014
  • Time of Table:00pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £17 for one person (we used three vouchers in one sitting)
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess and friend Mike

Getting More for your Money?

This deal includes:

  • Traditional Afternoon Tea including selection of finger sandwiches, current scones with clotted cream and jam and a selection of cakes, served with choice of tea
Inside Doubletree Hilton Victoria

Inside Doubletree Hilton Victoria

What we ate…

  • Smoked salmon in granary bread finger sandwiches
  • Egg mayonnaise in granary bread finger sandwiches
  • Ham and mustard in white bread finger sandwiches
  • Cucumber and cream cheese in white bread finger sandwiches
  • Current scone, served with strawberry jam and clotted cream
  • Lemon drizzle slice with raspberry coulees
  • Ginger cake slice with raspberry coulees
  • Vanilla / Chocolate / Coffee macaroons
  • Chocolate tiramisu bites

What we drank…

  • Breakfast in Bohemia tea (Mike)
  • Raspberry and Chilli tea (Jess)
  • Berry Blossom White tea (Katie)

What did we think?

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

Tidily unassuming, Doubletree Hilton Victoria, one of the many popular London hotel chains, is situated a simple five minute walk from Victoria station, the dreary mediocre blah shade of beige on the outside not much to look at, although the spiralled topiary bushes acting as sentries to the front glass double doors, hint at a concealed class, the sign above the entrance quietly indicating that yes, you are in the right place. Going through the doors, I was instantly hit by the ‘ooh’ factor, although stacks of suitcases lining the main lobby area slightly detracted from the plushly carpeted flooring and the gleaming wooden reception desk. We headed to the right, where we could see the restaurant dining area, aptly named 2 Bridge Place after the hotel’s location.

Descending some steps into the sunken seating area, the dining section was well manicured and nicely groomed; very spick and span with an elegant polish. The navy carpet was kaleidoscoped with purple and cream circles, the muted mushroom coloured walls home to large dark leather panels studded with regal purple, the sofa seating beneath in corresponding shades of grey and mauve. There was a mix of both circular and rectangular tables, all in light wood, surrounded by speckled grey-green comfy seats or dining chairs, both upholstered in the neutrally pleasing shades. The tables were dressed simply; plain white teacups sat uniformly on their saucers, teaspoons angled attractively. A small white side plate held a linen napkin and cutlery, ready for the off as soon as tea arrived. Although the atmosphere was quiet, it was regally peaceful, and we felt no need to natter in whispers. It certainly looked the part of a posh afternoon tea venue, and we were looking forward to finding out the nuances of this particular teatime treat.

Scone level

Scone level

Firstly we were presented with the afternoon tea menu – not to choose the food or anything like that, but to peruse the tea choices. To be honest, there wasn’t a large selection of black teas – I only noted breakfast tea or Earl Grey. I have breakfast all the time so I fancied something different, yet I find Earl Grey far too perfumed for my taste. This meant I had to pick from the startlingly large array of fruit teas. Although an Orange Blossom sounded appealing, in the end, I settled for Berry Blossom White tea. I’ve never had white tea before so I had no clue what that was all about really; however, I do enjoy summer berry flavours, so I thought this might be an interesting one to try. It was intriguing to have a beverage that was so distinctly berry flavoured to be a vanilla cream in colour! I’m not usually a fan of fruit teas since I find them too weak or wishy washy, however this white tea version had enough of a punch for me, whilst still being soft and smooth with a very clear flavour. Served in a typical silver teapot, the presentation was again simplistic yet did the job. Jess chose the raspberry and chilli tea, which came out a very violent pink colour, however the sample sip I stole didn’t seem to have much heat or flavour to it, but that may be because it needed to brew for longer. Mike had the classic breakfast tea, with milk and a dainty white sugar lump, which always look so irresistible.

Macaroons and coffee bites

Macaroons and coffee bites

When our afternoon tea arrived, I almost had to do a double take, as I have never seen an afternoon tea presented in such a way before – I’m not 100% sold on it, but I appreciate the creativity and design of it. It was basically a dark wooden square that could stand up by itself, the waitress carrying it by a silver handle on the top that looked like a kitchen drawer handle. The square frame had small wooden shelves within it, providing different compartments and cubbyholes for the food to be stashed away in. The bottom of the frame for example acted as the plate for the finger sandwiches. The shelf above formed three small square compartments, each end one housing the large, current laden scones, the central square balancing a small ramekin with a large perfectly formed scoop of clotted cream, complete with the crumbly curled topping. The top two sections each held a small white presentation plate with the sweet cakes to finish. The jam wouldn’t fit on, so was given to us separately, again in a small white ramekin. We all sat staring at this unique square server before we tucked in. We debated whether it would have the same sense of achievement as working our way up the traditional tiered plates of the normal afternoon tea, and we also wondered whether they could possibly fit as much food onto such small little sections. Remaining undecided about the presentation, we decided to cut our losses and get stuck in.

Lemon and ginger cakes

Lemon and ginger cakes

The sandwiches were pretty standard really, the flavours nice and generic to suit most tastes. The egg mayonnaise was really chunky and not very saucy, although I enjoyed this flavour the most, especially when paired with the super soft granary bread. The smoked salmon was also nice and not too heavy. The cucumber was surprisingly crunchy and provided a good taste contrast to the soft cheese it accompanied. The ham and mustard combination seemed a little dry to me, but on the whole the bread was nice and soft and the finger sandwiches were a decent size so that was nice. They whet the appetite very well for the main event of every afternoon tea, the scones.

Chic and comfortable

Chic and comfortable

Peppered with fat, juicy raisins, the scones were fantastic, and we all agreed we could damage to much more than the one each we were provided with.  They were large and rustic looking, not uniform in shape which gave them a really nice home-made appeal. The outsides were a beautifully baked golden colour, with a tasty crunchy bite when you cut the scone, pieces flaking off excitably. The inside of the scones were still slightly warm from the oven, and despite the firm exterior, they were light and crumbly, proving very soft to bite in to. The jam we were provided with was laughable. I did basically the whole first ramekin in my one scone alone they gave us that little. Mike asked for more jam and they basically presented us with exactly the same again, so jam was very thin on the ground for both Jess and Mike, although I think I got away with it since I went first. Odd though, as there was more than enough clotted cream for all, as the scoop we were given sat pretty on even more cream, so there was plenty of that for us all. Once our scones were somewhat unevenly laden, we were positively licking our fingers afterwards as they were so delicious. Double the scones each next time please! They were a good size though, as I must confess, a mini scone just doesn’t hit the spot in the same fashion.

The main doors

The main doors

Our top tier was the interesting cake level. We started with our sponge cake plate, each of us receiving a miniature slice of both lemon drizzle and ginger cake, raspberry coulee swirled decoratively across the spine of each tiny slice. The sponges were amazing, I don’t know if I have ever tasted cakes so soft. The lemon drizzle didn’t taste overtly of citrus, but was still pleasant, especially with the fresh fruit hit of vibrant raspberry. I absolutely loved the ginger cake though – it reminded me so much of a wonderfully soft and spongy version of a gingerbread man, lightly spiced and again with that cut of clean fruit taste. Could have done with a whole slice of the ginger cake, which was a lovely medium sandy brown in colour. The macaroons were perfect – I got stuck in to the chocolate one, which tasted identical to a decadent chocolate brownie. With an addictive chewy bite on the outside and that gloriously rich centre, it was divine – I seriously could eat those baby bad boys all day long. Ideal for chocoholics. Last, but by no means least, we hit the little tiramisu bites. At first, we had no idea what they were. To us, they were just very small stacks of intriguing looking mini layers of lord knows what, topped with a clear chocolate tiffin style glossy layer, with either a single raspberry, or strawberry segment perched on top. Delicately cutting the stack in half to make it last longer, we were instantly struck by the intense coffee flavour, the layers now seeming to be soaked sponge, reeking of espresso shots. It was punchy and tasty, although not really enough of it to really make too much of an impact on the tea as a whole. Definitely the most daintily presented though so top marks for that.

Jess and Mike

Jess and Mike

In conclusion, afternoon tea at Doubletree Hilton Victoria felt very genteel, civilised and lovely. The setting was part understated elegance and regality paired with a comfortably and relaxed vibe. The tea itself was yummy, the finger sandwiches the usual stated savoury chowed down on just to get to the sweet stuff, the flavours traditional and not pushing the boat out too much. The scones were simply the best section, really delicious and having some wonderful textures, although staff were incredibly tight on the jam. The macaroons and sponge cakes were spot on, although I’m not sure if there was enough substance to the little coffee bites to be worthy of a place in an afternoon tea. For £17 a head though, in central London, the afternoon tea was very cheap and we still really enjoyed every aspect. The presentation was quirky and made a good talking point, and although the tea selection wasn’t vast, there were still options for us to choose from. Staff were polite and friendly, even if the first guy went past our name on the reservation list numerous times! If you fancy a quiet afternoon tea out, then this wouldn’t be a bad place to start.

The Dinner Dates Opinion:

Beige building

Beige building

Jess:

“The afternoon tea at the Double Tree was lovely. Although it is quite a prestigious hotel, I found the surroundings comfortable and easy going, whilst still being luxurious and sophisticated. The choice of teas was not as extensive as some of the other places I’ve had afternoon tea, but there was still something different for me to try (I like having something that I can’t get at home). Turns out raspberry chilli tea is very nice, and with the chilli not being overpowering at all (verging on not being present if not steeped enough).

“The sandwiches were very nice, nothing too special but I still enjoyed them. They came with all the classic fillings. I think the scones were the highlight, they were still warm and smelt great! A very nice scone indeed. We didn’t really get enough jam for the table though, even after asking for more, it was still a bit on the skimpy side. Next we had mouthfuls of a lemon drizzle and ginger cake, which were really lovely. Would have been nice to get a little bit more of these as they were moist and flavourful. Macaroons came next, and I love macaroons so have no complaints! I had the coffee one; we had 3 different flavours which may have been a problem in a different group but luckily for us it wasn’t. The last thing on our tea were these little ‘opera’ cakes I think they were called. They were little cubes of various layers, which tasted like a tiramisu to me. Nothing too special but still tasty. Everything was very nice, although it would have been nice to get a bit more of it – I had saved myself for it and I left with some space left in my stomach!”

Our afternoon tea

Our afternoon tea

Mike:

“Had a very good cream tea in comfortable surroundings. The scone was the best so far – fruity, a decent size, nice and crusty, with strawberry jam (a very meagre portion, really only served one – so asked for more) and clotted cream. Shame there was just the one per serving. Still prefer a cream tea to be served on a tier of plates rather than in ‘the picture frame’ that they used. Looked as though it was meant for two, but if there was a third person in the party, then their portions were squeezed in on top/alongside. All in all, it was still a very nice tea.”

Eating Around: Richoux, Piccadilly, London

Inside Richoux

Inside Richoux

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.

Outside Richoux

Outside Richoux

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.

Jess and Mike looking at the menu

Jess and Mike looking at the menu

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.

Teapot and teacup

Teapot and teacup

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.

Traditional afternoon tea

Traditional afternoon tea

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.

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

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.

Mini scones and fruit cake

Mini 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.

Patisserie wonders

Patisserie wonders

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.

Smart and sophisticated

Smart and sophisticated

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.

Decorative features

Decorative features

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.

Pure class

Pure class

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.

Bar at the back

Bar at the back

Homeward Bound: Marygreen Manor, Brentwood, Essex

Scones and Co.

Scones and Co.

Managing the social calendar of my badminton club is something I take great pride and pleasure in, not just because my organisation and nagging skills boarder on dictatorship, but also because I get to take my shuttlecock shooting pals to all the restaurants and venues that I have been secretly hankering to try out. For this month’s outing, I decided on something more refined and classy than our usual evening booze ups – a swanky afternoon tea at impressive 16th century Tudor manor house Marygreen Manor, now a popular hotel, restaurant and wedding venue.

Originally the home of Henry Roper, a servant to Catherine of Aragon, you feel like you have taken a wonderfully long step back in time as you walk up towards this Tudor nest. Brightly whitewashed, the dark oak beams straddling the house really stand out with a quintessential charm, the diamond shape leading on the windows and the ornate wooden carved doors and frames showcasing the glamour of the Tudor period beautifully. Marygreen Manor has a sophisticated polish with bags of historic charm, so you can’t help but be transported vividly to a different time and place.

Outside Marygreen Manor

Outside Marygreen Manor

The inside of the hotel is just as elegant, the ceilings low and covered in carved artwork, the walls smoothly wood panelled with more oak beams in abundance. You would have thought that the quantity of dark wood would make it feel claustrophobic or tiny but the layout has been really nicely done, so that it simply feels relaxed, cosy and like a family home of the Tudor period. Upon entering, the main reception is to the left of the door, a welcoming committee of patterned chairs and a coffee table to the right, encouraging you to lounge around. However, our afternoon tea was due to be served in the conservatory, a delightful sun trap with views of the small courtyard garden.

Inside Marygreen Manor

Inside Marygreen Manor

The conservatory was light and airy, although it needed to be since it was actually a rather tiny room, especially since we were a large group of ten people. We were sat at a round table tucked in the corner, on dark blue cushioned dining chairs. The elaborate black iron stand in the centre of the table was currently empty, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the plates of finger sandwiches, scones and cakes to fill up its numerous tiers. It almost reminded me of a fancy, intertwining candle holder. The only problem was that it was so tall, that I couldn’t really see the people who were sitting opposite me, which made it difficult to hold a conversation involving the entire table. Other than the traditional tiered stand, the table was simply dressed with a white tablecloth and domed white napkins, small white plates ready to receive our food, and cutlery was also set, although mainly for show, as we all know that afternoon tea is finger food.

Our table

Our table

Before the food could be brought out however, we had to decide on our hot beverages, and we had a nice selection of teas to choose from, as well as the option of coffee, brought to the table in a gold topped cafetiere. The tea was brought in a large, plain white teapot if two people were sharing the same kind of tea, or a smaller, individual teapot in the same style if only one person was opting for a specific tea. For me, tea has to be the classic English Breakfast, although some of the group went for perfumed Earl Grey and the detox champ green tea instead, although coffee was also popular. Matching white milk jugs and sugar bowls with white granulated sugar lumps were already placed on the table at regular intervals around the circumference, so we could get going with the condiments as soon as the hot drinks arrived.

Drinks

Drinks

Once we were all settled and slurping, the black plates piled with food were brought out to be placed on the battlements of our fortress style central stand. The finger sandwiches formed our bottom layer, the neat rectangles using white and wholemeal bread in squidgy, crust-less cubes that transported me back to my childhood lunches. Garnished with salad, nosy nibblers plucked the pencils of bread from the plates – we had the choice of grated cheddar cheese paired with tomato, ham with round of watery cucumber, swatches of smoked salmon with a thin layer of cream cheese and a chunky egg mayonnaise. There isn’t really too much to comment about sandwiches, but they were tasty, as I decided to dive into the cheddar and tomato and egg mayonnaise options. No one really went for the salmon except my mum so there were quite a few of those ones left.

The best way to eat scones

The best way to eat scones

Next on the afternoon tea agenda were the scones – my very favourite part of this tea time treat escape. One plate housed sultana studded versions, while the other offered plain scones, both dusted with decorative flour. The home baked beauties were still warm from the oven and broke apart when you cut them with an eager crumbling submission. Two white dishes held the scone accompaniments – the classic smooth strawberry jam which I smeared on first using the back of serving teaspoon, followed by an unhealthy dollop of the luxuriously thick and almost solid clotted cream, that stuck up in straight spears on top of my jam. The scones were perfect and some of the nicest I have eaten. The only trouble we encountered was that they didn’t really give us enough jam and cream to go with them, so we were a bit careful when building our scones as we wanted to make sure everyone had enough. In the end, we asked for extras but it would have been nice to just have enough in the first place.

Cake and pastry layer

Cake and pastry layer

After the wonderful scone layer, it was time for top deck where you really hit and indulge the sweet spot – the cakes and pastries. All of the delights on offer combined all of my favourite foods and flavours, so I really was in heaven with this thoughtful mix of Katie-friendly fodder. Around the edge of the plates were small circular shortcrust pastry tarts, filled with a wobbly yellow custard, proudly supporting an Arabian dome style strawberry. Succulently oozing once you bit into it, these were divine little morsels and I must have eaten at least three. Wedged neatly between the tarts were mini eclairs, puffed out choux pastry carefully containing lashing of softly whipped chocolate cream that quickly erupted from the opposite end once you bit into it. With a thick chocolate rectangle topping the eclairs there was a nice mix of textures in this light and fluffy munchies.

Chocolate tiffin and custard tart

Chocolate tiffin and custard tart

The centre of the plate had rows of neatly cut chocolate tiffins and sponge cake. The chocolate tiffins were quite simply sensational, and I lost count of how many of these decadently rich and dense treats I made my way through. The bulk of the tiffin was a layered mix of what looked and tasted like crunchy rich tea biscuits, paired with an almost sludge like, thick chocolate goo that stood solidly around the biscuit. A shiny and glossy chocolate ganache topped the tiffin, with a pearl of hazelnut placed atop this opulent chocolate mountain. A complete indulgence and despite being so heavy in chocolate, they were very moreish and addictive. Juxtaposed with this full on sweet was the simple lemon tinted sponge next to it, topped simply with grated coconut. The sponge was light and moist, although I rather fancied smothering it in leftover jam.

Milk jug and teacup

Milk jug and teacup

We were able to bask in the beautiful sunshine glowing down in to the conservatory for as long as we wanted, waiting staff popping up every now and again to ask us if we wanted any more drinks. For £15.50 per person, I think we got a really good deal. We couldn’t finish off all of the cakes (although not through lack of trying on my part), and everyone was really stuffed, so although it doesn’t always look like much when it is brought out to you, it really is filling. The sandwiches were a tad boring but that’s just because their sandwiches more than anything Marygreen Manor had done. The scones were the highlight but the cakes and pastries were both visually stunning and wonderful to eat. On the whole, I really enjoyed the food and would recommend it if you fancy trying something a little bit different.