When I suggested going for afternoon tea to my friends a few months ago, in celebration of graduation, they jumped at the chance to spend a couple of hours linked to an IV drip of tea, sandwiches and sweet treats. It’s not something you do every day, by any means; the last time I experienced such an occasion was two years ago when friends treated Mum and I for Christmas. Before that it was four years since my Uncle’s 50th took us to The Ritz. I knew I wanted somewhere more relaxed than Piccadilly’s regimented joint and yet with the air and glamour of something special. After much deliberation and checking of dietary-specific menus, I settled upon Claridge’s.
This was all before Dad announced he had booked afternoon tea for Father’s Day (taking control over a day which me and my brother were meant to have organised…) at One Aldwych, a small hotel just off Strand. A perusal on the website revealed that they had partnered with the recently-opened stage adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory down the road to offer a ‘scrumdiddlyumptious afternoon tea.’ Who were we to say no?
Although there were only four choices of tea, they covered all bases and I went for the Lavender Earl Grey, a refreshingly different take on the classic. I also had a Smoking Charlie Cocktail – whisky, Grand Marnier Cherry, chocolate bitters, grapefruit juice, cherry syrup, and champagne – which was served in a lopsided conical flask and mini martini glass, somewhat special and very delicious. Sandwiches were soft and tasty, accompanied by a delicious tomato tart and mini-quiche. More spectacular was the sweet tray; what could only have been a specially-designed wooden block housed golden eggs with vanilla cheesecake/mango puree filling and pear and cherry candy floss. Small, warm scones and very fruity blueberry brioche had their own little basket.
The Wonka influence was everywhere and we were taken back to our childhoods again, with all of us ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ at the food before greedily digging in like Augustus Gloop in the chocolate waterfall. There may not have been everlasting gobstoppers but the wonder was certainly there with a flourish of tasty treats. Filled without being stuffed, we walked out very satisfied and impressed that all this was on offer for a mere £29.50 per person (£38 if you have champagne or a Smoking Charlie). Perfect for those who want to emerge feeling like they’ve won Wonka’s Factory rather than ate its entire contents.
If One Aldwych was Roald Dahl, Claridge’s was Shakespeare – entertaining, a little bit naughty and distinctly British. Upon entry, we were surrounded by purple and green beautiful flowers, indicating the current colour scheme to coincide with Wimbledon. However the green and white Claridge’s crockery remained intact, as did the attention to detail and immaculate service. Our waiter was very helpful in sifting through the bible of teas (the choice between Marco Polo and Pomegranate and Passion Fruit suddenly became the most complicated and pressing of our lives) and took note of our dietary restrictions – I’m allergic to nuts and Samantha required a gluten-free meal.
These dietary issues were very well taken care of; Samantha commented that her gluten-free bread was surprisingly delicious and very similar to ours, whilst every course was served on separate plates when gluten or nuts were involved. Needless to say, the cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches were soft and heavenly, whilst the salmon and egg offerings were equally delicious. The warm scones were small and broke apart in your hand as readily as slow-cooked chicken leaves the bone. After these had melted in our mouths – about three minutes – the pastries were enjoyed over about an hour. You can’t rush these things. Whilst the others had macaroons and almondy delights, I devoured strawberry and lemon curd tart, seven-layer chocolate cake and apricot choux coated in mint.
Just when we thought it was over, our immaculately-presented waiter brought over another plate of treats with a chocolate ‘Congratulations’ in the middle – he had earlier asked what we were celebrating and this was just another little touch that made the experience so memorable and personal. What I found most amazing was that we were there for three-and-a-half hours and not once did we feel rushed, hurried or pushed to move, despite other diners coming in for their DINNER and nibbling on french fries a few metres away whilst we sipped our tea. Everything was so easy, delicious and special, without the uptight stuck-up feeling that can accompany these special events. At £45 a head we wanted something to enjoy without reservation, which we certainly got – and then some.