The Wolseley Afternoon Tea, The Wolseley, London (££) – review
160 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EB
Summary: The Wolseley Afternoon Tea is the hidden gem that’s been right under my nose all this time. Apart from a slightly tardy service (but it was packed), every element of the tea was delicious and generous, from the fresh sandwiches to the decadent hot chocolate. For the ambience, quality, and value, this is one of the best afternoon teas around, and a new favourite. Verdict: 9/10.
Value for money: 10/10
There are two afternoon teas available: the Traditional and a seasonal one, both priced at £29.75 (excl service). I tried the seasonal Chocolate Afternoon Tea, and this changes every quarter, so I’d recommend calling ahead and checking what the seasonal tea is. Replenishments of all items included. The meat is free-range. Reservations essential.
In my social circle, I aspire to be like the Wolseley: nobody has a bad word to say about me. And with reason. The Wolseley is London’s most well known and beautiful Grand Café, situated on the plummest part of Piccadilly near the Ritz and Fortnums. Walk inside, and you are swept up in the majesty of the Art Deco interior, either original (the domed roof and beautiful floor) or part of the sympathetic refurb when The Wolseley opened in 2003. It is the perfect setting for good food, which thankfully the Wolseley does well.
I have been for brunch several times (very nice, would recommend) but never afternoon tea – until now. It was actually the Wolseley Chocolate Afternoon Tea which enticed me, launched to coincide with National Chocolate Week.
When I called to make the reservation, I asked several questions about how the meat was sourced. A lovely lady called Natalie called me back with some answers, and sent me a follow-up email with more information, which impressed me. If you’re interested, the beef is from ‘Angus, Hereford and Limousin cross breed cattle which are raised…on a number of farms, all within an 80 mile radius of Bedford. The farms are all BRC accredited and operate to high welfare standards, and the cattle are free range and predominantly grass fed’.
Tip: I didn’t think of doing it when I booked, but next time I would ask for a table on the upper balcony which overlooks the dining area.
A great solo dining experience
The Wolseley Afternoon Tea gets bonus points for being an excellent solo tea experience. I was offered a fresh, crisp paper on arrival, seated at a nice table right in the middle of the bustle, and felt totally at ease munching away, reading my paper, and – of course – people watching. It was absolute bliss.
The Wolseley Afternoon Tea: Traditional vs Chocolate
The Wolseley Chocolate Afternoon Tea differs from the traditional tea in the following ways: small variations to the breads used for a couple of the sandwiches; a white chocolate cream (with a whipped, aerated texture) served with the scones instead of clotted cream; and chocolate-based pastries instead of miniature traditional British cakes. You can see both menus here.
For a chocolate lover like me, the Chocolate Tea is a no-brainer, but the traditional tea also looked very nice as I took a nosey peek at other tables. You also get to try the Chocolate Tea from the Wolseley tea collection – an Assam base with hints of cocoa. Even I, as a non-tea drinker, had to try that to start off. Unusually for me, it needed no sugar or milk, but was enjoyable as it was.
Soon enough, out came my tiered stand with all the goodies…
I would normally have reservations about bringing out the scones with the sandwiches (as they will probably get cold) but when they’re covered with a little silver dome to mitigate that risk, then I can overlook it.
The sandwiches covered all the main bases:
Cucumber & herb cream cheese
Montgomery cheddar & pickle
Roast beef and horseradish (I was meant to get this on pumpernickel & cocoa bread but somehow I got the regular bread)
They all looked lovely, and were indeed fresh and incredibly tasty. I loved all of them.
The sandwiches, like all of the other elements – yes, all of them, hooray! – are replenished, and I was offered a refill halfway through my scones – perfect timing *grin widely*. Who doesn’t love alternating between savoury and sweet?
The scones are served warm, and are perfectly firm on the outside and soft on the inside. The white chocolate cream is quite sweet, so some might find it a bit much with the jam – but not me, oh no.
Both the plain and the fruited were equally delicious.
The menu actually lists six pastries, but I got three on my plate. Perhaps they offer a selection from the list of six, but in any case I don’t mind because I loved the ones I got.
I got the chocolate and salted caramel macaroon, the mini Black Forest gâteau, and the pistachio financier.
All. So. Good.
The macaroon was light and crisp, and when opened gave way to a beautifully sweet and salty gooey centre.
The mini Black Forest gâteau was light, and a good balance between chocolatey, fruity and creamy.
The pistachio and chocolate financier was probably my favourite (just!) – the nutty chocolatey texture was actually divine.
Hold the press. If you haven’t tried the Wolseley hot chocolate, you should probably stop reading this (and finish it later), make a reservation, and head over there as soon as you can. Luckily you can swap out tea for any hot drink as part of the Wolseley Afternoon Tea, and I had to get the hot chocolate after the chocolate tea.
The hot chocolate is basically warm chocolate fondant with hot milk – in other words, heaven. This time it was served in a glass, but I have also had it served in little jugs which I can mix myself. Either way, it is incredible, and a perfect accompaniment to the merriment of the food.
Service and ambience
The place was packed, and so understandably at moments the service drifted a bit. They also didn’t serve the tea, which a five-star hotel would do, but that’s not a major issue, all things considered.
Otherwise, the service was friendly, obliging, and polite. There were also enough staff circulating to get somebody’s attention. I was asked several times if I wanted refills of anything. The staff are happy to pack leftover scones and sandwiches into a takeaway box. They also did not rush me to leave, which I always love. All-in-all, great service and atmosphere.
The Wolseley Afternoon Tea caught me by surprise – in a good way. I’m not sure why: I expected the food to be good, but for the quality and the quantity, it blew me away. Coupled with the beautiful setting, elegant atmosphere, and great service, I think this must be one of the best afternoon teas in London. For the price, I think it’s also one of the best value afternoon teas in London. It knocks other comparably priced teas out of the park.
Before I left, I asked how long the Chocolate Afternoon Tea would be served. They informed me it would be around for the next quarter, until the seasonal menu changed again. I told them I’d be back next month – and probably the month after. I’ve started making a mental note of the friends I could invite as an excuse to return…but then again, I might just come by myself and relive this experience.