Afternoon Tea Review: Blake’s Restaurant, London Friday, Mar 15 2013 

blakes

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

http://www.blakeshotels.com

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Afternoon Tea Review: Intercontinental Park Lane Tuesday, Nov 6 2012 

 

I have a proper sweet tooth, and my husband is fascinated by the quite unFrench concept of afternoon tea (which is just about starting to arrive here, albeit in a bastardised form). This means we’re constantly on the quest for the next one to try – and having seen their delectable-looking sandwiches being prepared on TV one day, we were keen to try the afternoon tea being offered at the Intercontinental Hotel on Park Lane in London.

After a rainy dash there on a typically English July afternoon, we were very pleased to arrive in the hotel’s calm and luxurious lobby. We had tried in vain to reserve in advance, but the hotel website had not been terribly forthcoming in this regard, so we had in the end just turned up to try our luck. However, we need not have worried: we were greeted at the height of English politesse, which combines formality and friendliness in exactly the right balance, making you almost feel like the staff were expecting you.

The Wellington Lounge, where you take tea, is decorated in cream and replete with cream upholstery, but it is so light and airy with it that this feels modern, not like you’re at your grandmother’s house. It is instantly relaxing, and with that, you are ready to order your tea (of which you have a choice of three or four types, with increasing quantities of food involved, plus optional champagne). We plumped for the Wellington Tea, whose menu is (mostly) shown above and which costs £28 per person. To begin with you have four types of sandwiches, which come in refined yet innovative combinations: salmon and caviar, and lobster and shrimp, are just two of them. And not an egg to be seen! (Well, except in the mayonnaise. But that’s not a bad thing.)

Next comes a dazzling array of desserts served on a silver cake stand. Just a few of the cakes involved here are mango tranche with blackberry cream, and chocolate torte. These are served separately to the traditional scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream, which make you think initially that you must have been mistaken when you saw them on the menu. However, these arrive after the cakes, on their own separate plate, and make a wonderful traditional end to the tea after the stunning displays of creativity that have gone before.

As for the tea itself, the hotel provides an extensive list, of which regrettably I have no reproduction here. My husband plumped for traditional English teas, while the hotel’s own blend, the Wellington Tea itself, was relished by me for its own unique character. As the hotel is accredited by the Official Tea Guild, connoisseurs will not be disappointed.

Staff are utterly discreet and attentive while you enjoy your tea, without hounding you in the least. You feel in no hurry at all or like anybody is waiting for you to leave. Free refills of tea – even of a different variety – are also legion, with no questions asked.

At £56 this is not cheap, but is in line with other luxury hotels of this calibre. For the service, tranquillity, and high-quality food and drink, we would definitely return.

1 Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7QY

T: 020 7318 8649

http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/intercontinental/en/gb/locations/london-parklane

Afternoon tea review: Royal Crescent Hotel Sunday, Sep 11 2011 

We managed to snag an afternoon tea for two at the Royal Crescent Hotel courtesy of Maximiles.co.uk (I had been saving my points up for a while for this one). It granted us an afternoon tea for two people worth £25 each, and we were rewarded with a languorous afternoon in a beautiful setting.

You of course enter via the famous Royal Crescent in Bath, a semi-circle of Georgian houses that have been inhabited in the past by such luminaries as Isaac Pitman, George Saintsbury and Thomas Falconer. Service at the front desk is slick, polite and smart, with us being immediately directed through the door and across the garden to where afternoon tea is served. This took us across a beautiful lavender path and into a tastefully-decorated salon, where the purple theme is wonderfully continued alongside shades of taupe and green. (In spite of the sunny picture above, it was a rather blustery day when we visited, so we opted for indoor seating.)

The sleek service at the hotel’s main entrance was contrasted by the slightly more bungling service inside the salon. The waiters did not seem to know what to do with our voucher and for a brief moment I did worry that they wouldn’t accept it and that we’d end up paying the £50. Now, on the one hand, I’ve been there and done that: I worked in all manner of service professions (waitress, hotel receptionist, cashier…) while a student, and can still recall the horror I would feel when presented with something unusual that I just didn’t know what to do with and that a more experienced member of staff had to deal with for me. This is normal part and parcel of any job. HOWEVER – we also redeemed another voucher recently via the exact same method (purchased using points via Maximiles, and then redeemed via http://www.buyagift.co.uk before booking with the retailer in question) in order to book a hotel room for November with The Marquis at Alkham, and their guy knew EXACTLY what to do with the voucher. So my point is this: if the establishment is going to offer such a voucher scheme, then why not train your staff properly in how to process it?

Anyway, once we’d got settled (and, to be fair to the waiters, they did do their best), we were talked through the entitlements of our voucher and the offerings of the afternoon tea. The £50 in question got us a pot of tea each (Lapsang Souchong for me, a more traditional English breakfast for him), and a three-tiered tray of sandwiches (on the bottom tray; including salmon and egg fillings), cakes (on the second tier) and scones and buns (the crowning glory). The tea was all very well, although I have seen more care and attention taken in tea rooms in Bath town centre, which provide individually-set timers for the steeping of each teapot (for example). The sandwiches, too, were crust-free and more than acceptable taste-wise, but fairly standard fare (comparing favourably to the similarly-priced afternoon tea served at the Randolph in Oxford). The only downside was the egg filling – my dislike of eggs meant my sandwich with this filling in it had to be passed to my husband.

This didn’t actually matter, though, as we had skipped lunch in favour of this occasion and were glad we had: the amount of food didn’t look like very much on the tray, but with at least 2 or 3 sandwiches each (it may have even been more like 4), 3-4 cakes each and then a scone and a Bath bun each, the afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent, even at its most basic level, is like a meal in itself. Upgrade, and you can get extra pastries, cheesecakes, tarts, champagne and strawberries thrown in too.

The Bath bun, with its intense load of sugar packed atop it, was delicious but a messy eat – utilise your napkins to the full, people. And while the scones were served with raspberry jam (what’s up with that? Only strawberry will do for the uber-traditional scone consumer), they too were delicious and satisfying. If the hotel had wanted to continue the traditional theme, Sally Lunn buns could have also been included. However, the selection of small cakes served was delicate, beautifully decorated and not at all sickly (in fact, the whole thing went down very nicely). By the end we were STUFFED – you certainly get a lot of tea and food for your money.

Our afternoon was complemented by the discretion of the waiting staff (we in no way felt harangued, harrassed or hurried) and the views over the gardens, which were unobstructed and clearly visible from our seats. We did not experience the poor service experienced by other reviewers, either, and for the full afternoon tea and sumptuous setting, we would certainly return. However, if you want a more low-key tea and cake, try any one of the excellent city tea rooms.

The Royal Crescent Hotel
16 Royal Crescent
Bath
BA1 2LS
Telephone: 01225 823333
Fax: 01225 339401
Email: info@royalcrescent.co.uk