Birthday Treats: Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s, London – Review

Claridge's Afternoon Tea review

Afternoon Tea, The Foyer, Claridge’s (£££)
Brook Street, London W1K 4HR

Summary: simply put, this is the gold standard of afternoon teas in London, the UK, and possibly in the world as far as I know it. Every detail of the menu is well thought out and has unique touches, and the service is impeccable. This is a decadent treat worth booking ahead for, and one of my top three afternoon tea experiences in London.  

Food: 9.5/10
Atmosphere: 10/10
Service: 10/10
Value for money: 8.5/10
Overall: 9.5/10
Recommend? Yes – if you go for one afternoon tea a year, make this it

Practical information: £60pp (exc 12.5% service charge) for the Traditional Afternoon Tea, consisting of classic sandwiches, plain, and apple and raisin scones with clotted cream and preserves, a selection of four pastries (selection changes every week), and a selection of twenty-four teas/Workshop coffee/Claridge’s hot chocolate. Unlimited refills on everything. Halal and other dietary options (including gluten free) available on request.

Note on booking: Afternoon tea at Claridge’s books up very, very quickly, and they only take bookings up to three months in advance. Who wants to book three months in advance, you ask? Quite a lot of people, actually. If you want to book for a specific date, especially the weekend, call in the morning exactly three months before that date and book – and even then you might get it. I’m serious. The weekends get booked up rapidly, you might have more luck for a weekday booking.
Note also that for certain periods they will only offer a seasonal afternoon tea, typically a Wimbledon-themed one in summer, and a Christmas one in December – and these will cost about £80, so if you don’t want that, wait to book after they revert back to their traditional menu.
Time-wise, I personally prefer the later sittings after 5pm because you’re not normally rushed to leave as the dinner sitting starts from 6pm.

*****

I have been for afternoon tea at Claridge’s several times now. Just saying (with my smug face on). At the latest count, I have 99 photos of afternoon tea here, captured over several visits over the past three years. Does this make me a Claridge’s Tea Groupie? Quite possibly. It seems to be the perfect occasion to share with with a single family member or my entire family, with a friend, with a group of friends. Actually, I really should book to go by myself and see how that works out. I’m sure it will be wonderful. It seems to be more difficult than ever to book a table now, but with each visit I can understand why it is so perennially popular: it is just so damn good.
My most recent visit was last weekend, when I was fortunate enough to go to celebrate my birthday with my family (all photos in this review are from this recent visit, for accuracy). It was a special treat for a number of reasons, and I could have chosen no better place than Claridge’s for the quality, and the comfort of knowing what to expect (scroll down for a little sneak peek on something from the à la carte menu as well).

Afternoon Tea is served in the beautiful Foyer, which is straight ahead of you as you enter the main lobby of the hotel. You might be distracted by the exquisite and gigantic floral display on your right as you approach the Foyer, but you can sneak out later to take photos on your way to the cloakrooms. This time they had sunflowers, which are my favourite flower and always make me smile – so you can imagine me beaming at the sight of these:

Claridge's Afternoon Tea Foyer Flowers

Joy in floral form – the display of the week in the main lobby at Claridge’s

On being seated at your table, you peruse the menu – and here’s when you realise that afternoon tea is not a laughing matter. An extract from the menu reads as follows:

DELICATE BALANCE
You might notice there is always a consistent balance between the thickness of the bread and the filling in our sandwiches, so that the filling is the same depth as the carefully sliced bread. Unlike bread sliced for toasting, ours is laterally sliced so that it retains its shape, and is a pleasure to look at and eat.’

Any institution which includes a paragraph like this in its afternoon tea menu deserves to be taken as seriously as it clearly takes the thickness of its bread.

Claridge's Afternoon Tea review menu

The famous striped crockery, and the menu, where it all gets very serious…

The staff are all trained on the extensive tea menu, and some visibly enjoy being asked about the teas and for their recommendations. I would recommend asking for their advice on a tea to accompany the sandwiches, which are brought out first (the savouries and sweets are brought out separately, as they should be). As I’m not a big tea fan, I almost always go for an iced coffee to start, and switch to a hot chocolate later. More on that below.

The savouries

The sandwiches are normally brought out on a group platters or individual plates. We got both this time, One of the staff came to explain what the sandwiches were, a selection of five in all, plus a savoury scone. The standard menu includes ham sandwiches, but we had that swapped out for sweet pea, asparagus and mint. The chicken was halal.

Claridge's Afternoon Tea review sandwiches

The sandwich selection for two (first round): even-sized fingers of perfection, standing to attention

What I loved about these sandwiches is that they are all thoughtful twists on a traditional variety, and they were all incredibly tasty. No curling edges or soggy middles here: these were perfect. When I asked somebody to explain what the sandwiches were again, and tell them how delicious they were, they also offered another variety, a butternut squash with asparagus (see below).  Some more detail on the selection:

  • Cucumber with buttermilk spread, lemon verbena and wild rocket on white bread – the rocket and lemon in this sandwich really gave it a lift
  • Poached Scottish salmon, dill and rock samphire mayonnaise on malt bread – not my favourite, only because I’m not a fan of poached salmon, but the filling was generous
  • Clarence Court duck egg, mustard cress, heritage tomato on white bread – I don’t eat egg mayo at all, and I found this delicious! It was well seasoned, and the beautiful yellow heritage tomatoes added another delicate layer of flavour
  • Chicken, asparagus, avocado, crème fraîche on rye bread – very nice, could have done with a bit more seasoning for me, but these were the favourites at our table
  • Sweet pea, mint and asparagus – these might be my favourites. I wasn’t expecting peas in a sandwich, but these were sublime – sweet, tender peas with the flavour of mint and asparagus to give it more complexity. I loved these!
  • Butternut squash with rocket – very nice sweet and savoury combination
  • Heritage carrot brown butter cake, pickled walnut, carrot butter and goats’ cheese – another favourite. This was like a mildly sweet carrot cake topped with a more savoury goats’ cheese and carrot butter. Another table favourite.
Claridge's Afternoon Tea review sandwiches

Another unusual combination: butternut squash with rocket and asparagus on white bread

Claridge's Afternoon Tea carrot cake review

Replenishment of the savoury carrot cake

The staff was fantastic in providing refills, and there was no rush to finish our sandwiches to move on to the scones. The challenge is always to not over-fill on sandwiches so you’re not full before the sweets arrive (and they’ll leave the sandwiches on the table when they bring out the sweets)…

The sweets – scones and pastries

The scones and pastries are brought out together, and the first impressions are impressive:

Claridge's Afternoon Tea sandwiches scones review

The scones and pastries for a tea party of three

Scones: Claridge’s scones are very good, and served warm, which is great; I would expect nothing less. But what makes them outstanding is the incredible Marco Polo gelée, which is unlike any other jam or preserve I’ve tasted. It’s a delicate preserve flavoured with tea, with a jelly consistency, and it’s Claridge’s secret weapon to winning the Scone War. I ate THREE scones this time because I loved this jelly/jam so much (and you can buy a jar to take home if you like – it costs around £16, but there really is nothing else like it). I’m a cream first then jam (or jelly) girl, but you can do it however you like – I understand, scones are personal.
Tip: if you ask nicely, the staff may give you a box of scones to take home for later. Those plus a jar of the Marco Polo gelée = a mini Claridge’s tea experience at home.

 

Claridge's Afternoon Tea scones review

Scones, clotted cream and the incredible Marco Polo gelée, standing to the ready

Claridge's Afternoon Tea scones review

Scone smothered with cream and Marco Polo (tea infused) jam-jelly – I can’t remember whether this was my second or third…

 

Pastries: I’ll be honest, this time I was so full by the time I got to the pastries (read above – three scones!), I had to have most of these packed to take home. The selection changes every week, and although I was a little disappointed that the selection this time did not include any rich chocolatey items (my favourite), what was there was a very good consolation prize. The selection this time was (and I enjoyed some of these the following day):

  • Passion fruit tartlet topped with Chantilly cream – delicious (I love passion fruit, and this was nice and zingy)
  • Raspberry brownie – this was more like a délice, quite firm to break into, and not overly fruity in taste (good for me, may not be if you like fruity pastries)
  • Strawberry macaron – I don’t normally like fruity macarons, but this was delicious. I could taste the almond in the macaron more than the strawberry, which came through more in the delicate mousseline filling.
  • Orange and almond cake topped with saffron infused cream – I never normally eat citrus-flavoured cakes, especially orange-flavoured anything, but I got a whiff of the fragrance of this cake when I was giving one to my dad the next day, so I pinched one for myself – and it was lovely. The citrus was offset by the almond in the cake, it was lovely and disappeared in seconds!
Claridge's Afternoon Tea pastries review

The dainty and picture-perfect pastry selection

Claridge's Afternoon Tea pastries review

The delicious passion fruit tartlet

They also surprised me with a little treat for my birthday…

Claridge's Afternoon Tea chocolate cake review

How did they know I love chocolate?! Perfect!

This looked small, and I thought it was a cookie, but it turned out to be an incredibly light brownie-cookie-macaron which was crisp on the outside, smooth and soft on the inside, and filled with a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cream and topped with a blob of airy buttercream. It was heavenly.

Beverages

The tea selection at Claridge’s is legendary, and includes some very rare varieties: for example, the ‘Malawi Antler’ cannot be found anywhere else in the UK. Tea is also served the way it is meant to, i.e., it is brewed for one cup and then filled with fresh water for your next cup, so it doesn’t get bitter from steeping for too long. In their own words:

As for preparation, we’ll measure out the correct amount of tea, and make sure the water is at the perfect temperature before serving it at your table, steeped to your preferred strength. Once served, we’ll then drain off the water from the leaves ready for a second infusion – which experts regard as being even better than the first.’

 

Out of some unfounded sense of duty, I try a tea, make my way through a cup, and then give in and ask for what I really want: an iced coffee or a hot chocolate. The staff at Claridge’s are only too happy to oblige, and like everything else, refills are complimentary, so you can switch drinks as often as you like.

I ordered the iced coffee, which is made with Workshop coffee.

Claridge's Afternoon Tea iced coffee review

The iced latte

I got simple sugar syrup on the side to sweeten it. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the best iced latter I’ve had: it was a little too watery and not creamy enough for me. I think it was better last time I came and ordered it, but it was decent enough.

Now, the hot chocolate. If I can make one recommendation, it would be this: even if you weren’t planning on it, order their hot chocolate. Ask for the proper Claridge’s one with different pots, and when it arrives start drooling when they pour molten chocolate into your cup, followed by steamed milk. Stir, drop in a marshmallow or two (they’ll bring a stick of toasted ones with the hot chocolate), sink back into your chair and sip indulgently. It is one of the best hot chocolates you will find anywhere, and certainly one of the best hot chocolates I’ve had with afternoon tea, if not the best hot chocolate. And don’t worry if you have chocolate left in the jug and no milk – they’ll bring you a freshly steamed jug to stir into the remaining chocolate.

Claridge's Afternoon Tea hot chocolate pastries review

The hot chocolate – like Ikea furniture, it requires some assembly, but tastes infinitely better (photo from last year, but it’s still exactly the same!)

Claridge's Afternoon Tea hot chocolate marshmallows review

The indulgent, luscious hot chocolate, complete with toasted marshmallows

Claridge's Afternoon Tea hot chocolate marshmallow review

Marshmallow, meet hot chocolate

Last time I came with friends, our waiter offered us their house chocolate shake, which looked delicious. I didn’t try it then, and meant to try it this time, but forgot – aargh!

Claridge's Afternoon Tea review milkshake

The chocolate shake which looked amazing (and tasted it, too, I’m told) – next time!

Service

The service I’ve experienced at Claridge’s any time has been truly impeccable, and I don’t say that lightly. I have been here for brunch, tea and dinner, and the staff have always been obliging, polite and accommodating. I don’t think I have had tea anywhere where the waiter runs to your table to make sure you don’t pour your own tea – except at Claridge’s.
On this occasion, I think the service fell slightly short of the platinum mark, only because our waiter was a little curt sometimes, but that may have been his style. For example, when my brother asked what coffee was available, the waiter rattled off a list of coffees – latte, macchiato, Americano etc, and said ‘it’s in the menu’, like we should already know that. Minor gripe, and I observed it only because the service is normally so obliging. The staff overall were fantastic, including the manager who explained what all the sandwiches were – twice – and brought out a different variety for us.
When you go for afternoon tea, it is usually expected that the whole party will order tea, but Claridge’s were brilliant at accommodating a special request for one of our party to order à la carte due to dietary requirements. The result was we were not only drooling over our own food but also eyeballing my dad’s epic burger:

Claridge's Afternoon Tea burger review

A hefty burger, complete with fries and onion rings

Claridge's Afternoon Tea burger review

We left happy, stuffed, and with a big bag of leftover goodies to enjoy at home:

Claridge's Afternoon Tea review goodies

And if you want a sugar coma to take home, you can fill up a cone with traditional sweets (including yummy chocolate umbrellas) from their stand at the Foyer entrance (ask which ones are vegetarian/halal, not all of them are)…

Claridge's Afternoon Tea review sweets

The sweet stand with traditional sweets to take home on your way out

Overall…I would recommend Claridge’s for afternoon tea in a heartbeat to anybody who wants a truly indulgent treat and wants to be well looked after with attentive service. It is one of my top three places for afternoon tea in London (others to follow soon…!), and the only real downside is how far in advance you need to book (although you’re more likely to get lucky during the weekdays), and also the price, which makes it an occasional treat for many. However, for what you get, and the overall experience, I think it’s worth it.
All I have to do now is call up tomorrow and see if they have a table for one – or more – in three months’ time…

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