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.

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Il Castelletto, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Il Castelletto, 17 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JB (nearest tube station is Holborn)
  • Date of Visit: Thursday 23rd February 2017
  • Time of Table:30pm
  • Deal Bought From: Living Social
  • Deal Price: £19 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Two Starters
  • Two Main Courses
  • Two Desserts
  • For Two People

What we ate…

Katie:

  • Starter: Insalata Caprese
  • Main: Risotto Vegetariano
  • Dessert: Tiramisu

Jess:

  • Starter: Minestrone Soup
  • Main: Tagliatelle Mare E Monti
  • Dessert: Tiramisu

What we drank…

  • Bottle of Costal upo Illuminati (not included)

What did we think?

With a love of all things Italian, when I spied this fantastic Living Social deal, just a mere 10 minute walk from the front door of my office, I couldn’t resist snapping it up and inviting my fellow foodie and twin sister to share the experience with me. Located down a peaceful side street off the main concourse of Tottenham Court Road, Il Castelletto has a real ‘hidden gem’ style vibe. Its exterior was all prim and neatness with a lick of deep forest green paint and tidy awning ballooning over the front door. Traditional checkered tablecloths adorned outdoor tables; however it was the inviting, large arch style windows showcasing a beckoning interior that had us licking our lips in anticipation.

Upon entering, you are enveloped by a sense of warmth, family and comfort, the atmosphere a pure invitation to simply unwind after a hard day, glass of wine in hand. With flickering candlelight gently illuminating the very small, yet strangely not poky, restaurant, we were placed at an intimate table for two. As I sat down, I admired the yellow brick decorated walls, checking out the impressively golden gilded mirror opposite my seat. Spinning around in the wooden dining chair, I cast my eye over the traditional and well-stocked bar opposite the main entrance. Above the bar, neatly decorated blackboards detailed the wine list, while further blackboards on the walls explained the daily specials, including some very well priced lunch deals. To me, Il Castelletto felt as if you were visiting an old friend that you hadn’t seen in a while, merely slotting in where you left off and instantly relaxing into something comfortable and well-loved.

Our deal was a complete bargain at £19 for two people, so I was expecting a set menu. The restrictiveness of the menu however took me aback briefly, with many of the items being incredibly similar, so although the menu looked extensive from afar, the choice itself was much more limited. Getting over my initial disappointment, I began to look at what I was actually going to order. With a love of mozzarella, the insalata caprese seemed like a good start, due to doorstep slices of the pale, creamy white cheese, colourfully layered against equally thick rounds of bright red tomato. Further decorated with little piles of rocket, for me it was the balsamic dressing that really made the dish. I love balsamic at the best of times, but it works exceptionally well with the soft mozzarella, the zing of the vinegar a pure juxtaposition to the dense creaminess of the cheese. Nice and light, this simple yet winning starter whet the appetite very nicely.

I did struggle to pick a main course, as nothing immediately grabbed my fancy. I decided to have risotto, as it’s something I don’t usually have at home because my husband isn’t a huge fan of this gooey rice-based dish. If I’m going to have a risotto, it may as well be done by the experts. I chose the vegetarian one, and boy was this good. Firstly, the portion size was lovely. I am normally fearful of selecting a risotto when at chain Italian restaurants, as often two tablespoons later you’ve finished your dinner before everyone else; however this was not the case at Il Castelletto, and I was able to enjoy a really brilliant and full bowl. My risotto featured a great mix of vegetables, such as peppers, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots, all steeped in a fantastic tomato sauce that inundated both the vegetables and rice. The sauce had a real garlic heat to it, which massively enhanced the flavour. The rice was perfectly cooked and soft, the vegetables also cooked to tender and therefore to my liking; I’m not really an al dente kinda girl. Ensuring to get lashings of grated Parmesan on top, I really enjoyed this risotto, even if it wasn’t something I would ordinarily pick. Stealing a bite of my sister’s pasta however has me gagging to return just to order a pasta dish, as her tagliatelle was melt in the mouth in true Italian fashion.

For dessert, when in an Italian restaurant, there is simply only one option – the famed coffee-soaked and cream laden speciality tiramisu. Now I have eaten a lot of tiramisu in my time (please don’t judge), and no two restaurants ever serve it the same; it’s one of those things! To me, that makes the dessert even more special and unexpected. Il Castelletto’s version of this dessert was much more cake like, served in a rectangular slab, again with a generous portion. The mascarpone was thick set and unctuous, the chocolate drizzle sauce a nice added touch, and the coffee flavour spot on. All in all, a lovely take on tiramisu.

To accompany our meal, we went for a mid-price bottle of white wine. Usefully, the wine menu features flavour descriptions, so we were able to better select something that we would like. The wine was light, fruity and very drinkable. At under £20 for the bottle, it was also very affordable.

Although our food came quickly, I wouldn’t say the service was spot on. Some of the other tables seemed to be having difficulty in getting their food. The servers tended to clear your plates and give you the next course at the same time, which is unusual, but it didn’t really matter as we were still getting our food. Our meal was delivered pretty promptly so I have no complaints there. Staff were polite but not over warm or chatty.

I have to confess, I fell in love with Il Castelletto. I adored its relaxed atmosphere, the really delicious food, and the whole package really. Copping a glance at the full price menu, it still seems like a very affordable venue, although on this occasion we just paid a tenner each to cover the wine, as our £19 vouchers covered the price for our three course meal each. I can’t wait to go back and try a few more menu items…any volunteers?