This is part one in a series of us risking the onset of diabetes or a higher-than-recommended BMI. From The Dorchester to The Sanderson, we’ve scoffed their scones and drank their Darjeeling to bring you honest reviews of the best afternoon teas in London. First up: Claridges at £39 per person.
A five-star art deco stalwart in Mayfair, Claridges is one of London’s afternoon tea big guys. You’ll need to book weeks and sometimes months ahead to get a table on a Saturday. If you’re looking for one at short notice, Mondays are your best bet.
Setting: Sashay over the glossy black and white tiled floors in the entrance and you’ll find a large room that’s semi-separated into two parts. Elegant art deco design, grand floral displays, sage green textiles and mirrors on almost every wall are the vibe here. A pianist and a violinist provide classical background noise, but you won’t really be able to hear them if you’re sat in the side room, so request a table in the main part of the lobby if musical accompaniment will make it or break it for you. Another thing to note is the sandwiches are served first, followed by the scones and cakes, so if you’re expecting (or hoping for) an ornate three-tiered cake stand - you won’t find it here.
Tea: There’s a good selection of around 40 classic, herbal and fruit teas. Staff are forthcoming with recommendations and are quick to replenish your pot before it has chance to stew or get cold. It’s not a problem to change your choice of tea part way through and you won’t be charged extra. I started with a classic breakfast blend and moved on to a refreshing fresh mint later.
Sandwiches: The sandwiches were top-notch as you would expect. Rows of soft, freshly-cut triangle and finger sandwiches with all the classic fillings such as smoked salmon, ham and mustard and egg mayonnaise. I liked how they’re presented in a generous portion on a tray so you can help yourself. They’ll be refilled once you’ve finished and (luckily for me) you’re not made to feel like a fatty for requesting more, in fact, they seem to encourage it.
Scones: The apple and raisin scones were the only low point. They were just OK and they certainly didn’t taste of apple. They leave a strange after-taste, maybe too much raising agent? Or maybe that’s the apple finally kicking in? God only knows… Alas, they serve their scones with tea-infused jam and I prefer an old fashioned strawberry conserve. Claridges, you can do better!
Cakes: if you’ve polished off a third tray of sandwiches, you’ll be glad to know the cakes aren’t too heavy. After demolishing so much stodge, the light mousses, macaroons, panna cottas, fruit tarts, jellies and such (the selection changes regularly) are suitably delicate, delicious and easy on the eye. The cakes can also be refilled at no extra charge.
Service: we chin-wagged away for almost three hours on our most recent visit and were never made to feel rushed. The staff were upbeat and not at all snooty, despite me being way under-dressed. They spent time explaining everything on the menu and were quick to notice when we needed a cake refill or tea top-up. We did encounter one fellow who I felt was being a little patronising in his unnecessary explanation of how to pour loose leaf tea, though I’ll put that down to me being overly sensitive.
If there was a downside to the service/booking experience it was that I’d made a note on my reservation that it was my birthday, and it obviously wasn’t remembered as nothing remotely birthdayish or candle-adorned arrived. So if you’re there for a special occasion then make sure the staff know about it.
Claridges, 49 Brook Street, London W1K 4HR, 020 7629 8860