It’s often claimed that having afternoon tea is one of the most quintessentially British things you can do but as a Brit myself it’s passed me by throughout my 28 years on this planet.
I’m fairly sure the image many foreigners have is one of us all sitting around in the afternoon sipping from fine china cups whilst nibbling away at freshly-baked scones with clotted cream and jam. I can safely say this is something I’ve never taken part in due to the fact I think tea tastes like boiled piss.
However seeing as Kat had come all the way from Canada it seemed only right to do the proper touristy stuff, so after a quick stop at Buckingham Palace we made our way to The Dorchester Hotel (I can be swanky when it suits me) for afternoon tea.
Tables are booked for the very specific time period of one hour 45 minutes, so arriving on time is key for the full experience! Also important is the dress code; it’s a smart-casual do so no sporty stuff, ripped jeans or beanie hats. Their words, not mine!
Upon arrival we were greeted very formally, had our jackets taken and guided to our table. Being addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr Oldham’ was something of a novelty, and it took every ounce of willpower not to refer to the waiters as ‘mate’ or something equally as informal!
We were given a menu from which we could each choose a pot of tea. There were teas with names such as ‘Imperial Pinhead Gunpowder’ and others which were described as ‘malty’, ‘smoky’, ‘floral’ and so on; make no mistake, I was out of my depth.
In the end, I opted for the Ceylon Pedro Pekoe largely because it came from Nuwara Eliya – a place I visited in 2014 – while Kat went for the Traditional Karak. There was also the option of green and oolong teas as well as coffee for those who aren’t fans of tea. Although I would’ve much preferred a nice pot of coffee, it would surely defeat the point of afternoon tea if I was to do that, wouldn’t it?!
I could go on and describe each tea in detail, but I took photos of the menu for a reason. Kat’s was nicer, for what it’s worth. Sort of tasted like a chai tea. Mine was a little bland.
Alongside our pots of tea we were served our first food course: a selection of finger sandwiches with a variety of fillings. Don’t imagine kids party tuna mayo triangle sandwiches (which is what I thought when I heard it) – these were seriously good.
There was a bit of everything, and in total we had five sandwiches each. The fillings were (from memory) poached salmon, tender beef with a red onion jam, egg and asparagus, baby cucumber and cream cheese as well as a creamy chicken one too. We both agreed that the beef was the runaway winner, as the jam in particular was to die for.
After this we were given a palette cleanser of The Dorchester’s own brew ‘vanilla dreams’ tea. And no, I barely recognise myself either.
Next up it was scone time, something Kat was very much looking forward to more than I! Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike scones but they just seem like a bit of a crumbly pain in the arse to me.
It has to be said however, that the scones we were served here went a long way towards changing my mind. Still warm (hopefully from the oven – not the microwave) and accompanied by clotted cream, strawberry jam and apricot jam, they really were delicious and I even found myself eating them slower to savour every bite.
There was still room for one more course as cakes were swiftly brought to the table and our ever-friendly waiter gave us the rundown on what they were and even the correct order in which to eat them. I have no idea why they were to be eaten in a particular order, but that’s probably why I’m teaching English and not serving afternoon tea at one of London’s poshest hotels.
For what it’s worth, the cakes were (in order): strawberry tart with a champagne mousse, peach melba, lychee and raspberry tart and finally black forest with chocolate mousse. The lychee cake was a little too fragrant for me, but the others went down in record time.
Before we knew it our time slot was rapidly reaching its end and the waiters were ever so subtly hinting at us ordering the bill. It’ll come as no surprise to some to hear I got my full hour and 45 minutes worth of afternoon tea!
Although I was initially a little pessimistic – probably because the last time I visited London it was a solo trip and it would’ve seemed a bit lonely – I have to say we both really enjoyed the experience. It’s not cheap with packages starting at £60 per person but the service is great, the food is even better and let’s face it, everyone enjoys being treated like royalty from time to time don’t they?