Being tea and cake aficionados, we seek out new afternoon tea experiences at every opportunity, whether that’s by choosing a new tea to drink at home or by opting for a new establishment when we’re out and about. When in London a week ago, we went for Blake’s Hotel, which is found off an unassuming residential street close to Gloucester Road tube station. It is so discreetly located that we wondered initially if we’d got the address wrong, as we walked past row on row of terraced Victorian houses that have now been converted into flats. However, a dark facade spreading over several of these houses soon looms into view – so ultimately the hotel is not that tricky to find after all.
We had booked in advance, but this probably wasn’t necessary, as when we got there we were one of only two or three parties taking tea. Tea is served in a basement chamber (the Chinese Room) that could be described as a little poky: more effort is needed with some of the furnishings, such as the flooring (which is comprised of grubby white tiles), and the adjoining room, which is reserved for private functions, is proof that the hotel can provide a high standard of fixtures and fittings, as this area is far more sumptuously decorated. However, the colour scheme of black, orange and gold, is far more original than the red and black which seems to proliferate among more modern establishments. A piano also sits in one corner of the basement, which suggests that live music is a possibility at some times of the day or week. Tea can also be served in the hotel garden (unfortunately for us, it rained throughout the duration of our stay in London, making this an impossibility on this occasion).
Back, however, to the tea. At £19 per person, this is considerably more affordable than some other afternoon teas being served in the capital, and an upgrade to champagne would still only bring your total bill to £26 each. This was served by courteous and discreet staff who made every effort to ensure that we were comfortable, offering us a choice of tables, asking about any allergies, and advising us that the thoroughfare passing our table would be busier than normal due to preparation of the function room, giving us the chance to move if we wished.
Unusually, the tea at Blake’s Hotel is served almost in two separate courses. The sandwiches are brought first, served on a slate platter and with a small undressed side salad of lettuce and cherry tomatoes. Knives and forks are also supplied with which to eat them. The sandwiches ranged from the classic (egg/cress, salmon, cucumber) to the slightly more innovative (beef/horseradish; chicken/ginger), and while the salmon and cucumber came up trumps (they are classics for a reason), the chicken and ginger also comes highly recommended, and is something I would seek to recreate at home to jazz up my work lunches.
Following this came the scones and cakes. The scones were plain ones (i.e., without raisins) but were well-made, and were served with a more unorthodox choice of vanilla cream (rather than clotted cream) and fresh strawberries (as opposed to strawberry jam), which made for a refreshing and light change from the scones served traditionally with afternoon tea. So far, so lovely. The other cakes, however, were a little more of a letdown, as they were lacking in innovation and refinement. Higher quality ingredients could have been used to achieve a better result – two separate types of loaf cake were virtually indistinguishable from each other, and the chocolate mousse was not made with a chocolate that had a high percentage of cocoa solids. All of this gave a distinctly home-made effect – which is fine when you have made them yourself, but perhaps less so when you have paid £19 each.
With our sandwiches and cakes we had a pot of Lapsang Souchong and a pot of Chinese green tea, which came in impressive-looking silver pots. Our one complaint with the tea was this, and it’s far from unique to Blake’s: too many establishments do not use adequate systems for the filtering of loose-leaf tea. If left in the pot too long, the tea becomes overstewed and tannic, meaning you have to drink up quickly for the best flavour. A better system is a removable filter, which means that loose leaves can be removed all in one go before serving. It’s a pity that high-quality tea can be as good as ruined by the use of inadequate systems used by those purporting to deliver a superb standard of afternoon tea.
Ultimately when we go for afternoon tea we look for a ‘wow’ factor, and unfortunately Blake’s did not provide this. We will, however, continue to shop around various establishments and let you know if we find any hidden bargains.
33 Roland Gardens, London SW7 3PF