I’ve been a guest for two afternoon teas within a week in London. It was a great opportunity to compare and contrast (and to eat clotted cream).
Fortnum & Mason’s tea was easy to book on opentable.co.uk. The tea salon is on the top floor of the Piccadilly store; there are two large rooms on either side of the central waiting lounge. The two main options are afternoon tea and high tea (high included a choice of savory main, with options like welsh rarebit and lobster omelette). We both had the afternoon tea and agreed that the highlight was the tea sandwiches. Coronation chicken usually isn’t one of my favorites, but this version tasted fresh and bright. Scones were tender and served warm.
Cakes didn’t impress me as much as the scones or sandwiches; despite the enticing jewel-like colors, the flavors felt muted. I could see from other tables that there must have been a large prepared selection of patisserie in the kitchen–other tables received different cakes, so perhaps it was just luck of the draw that we got a few that weren’t to my taste. Overall, the vibe in the salon was tourist/fancy day out; the servers asked each table if they wanted a photo snapped, and most tables did. Afternoon tea was 44 pounds with classic blend tea.
The Grosvenor advertises a Victorian Afternoon Tea you book by phone. Tea is served in a beautiful, sun-lit room linked to their bar and buffet breakfast room; on the wall of the tea room are portraits of various famous Victorian women–actresses, royal mistresses, all the greatest hits.
Because the servers were shared between the tea room and the bar/buffet, service was scattered. The food was delivered almost immediately, but we had to repeatedly hail a server to request tea. We never got a top up of hot water. The tier felt sloppy–some of the sandwiches had fingerprints; others had bread sliding off. Scones were dry and cold. Cakes didn’t impress. Champagne afternoon tea was 37 pounds. Though the price is a good bit cheaper than Fortnum’s, the value felt much less.
After eating my weight in clotted cream, it will probably be some time before I book another afternoon tea, but only the Fortnum’s will linger pleasantly in my memory.