Just as no trip to Venice is truly complete without a very expensive ride in a gondola, a top notch afternoon tea in London is something that should be splurged on if you can arrange it. On my first trip to London we had a cream tea at the food hall in Harrods. It was basic and reasonably affordable for a young couple. On our second trip to London we met up with friends for afternoon tea at the Selfridges food hall. This, again, was basic and affordable with the added delightful discovery of the ceylon and assam tea blend (so good).
In case you were wondering, there is a difference between cream tea, afternoon tea, and high tea. Cream tea is usually just scones, clotted cream and tea, while afternoon tea includes mini sandwiches and desserts. High tea (which is often confused with afternoon tea) is usually taken in the early evening and includes meats, eggs, and/or fish.
For our most recent third trip to jolly old England, we finally decided to go all out. In his London Foodie 5 [averagetraveller.com], TomEats suggested Palm Court at The Langham which absolutely qualifies as proper, fancy afternoon tea with impeccable service and a price tag to match. Tom also has a good review on his blog [www.tomeatsjencooks.com].
Palm Court claims to be “the place where the tradition of afternoon tea was born” in 1865. Fortunately for us Canadian savages, Palm Court is even kind enough to provide some tea etiquette [www.palm-court.co.uk] on their website. Thanks to this we solved the burning mystery of whether clotted cream should be spread on the scone before the jam or vice versa. Disaster averted!
Not knowing who would be staying in London after the weekend of the wedding, I had booked a table for 4 on the Tuesday at 2pm. As it turned out there were five of us wanting to go with two people planning to show up around 2:30. Being a fancy sort of place, I was a little worried that they would frown at our departure from the reservation. I was very impressed to find that while they couldn’t give us a larger table they did everything that they could to not only accommodate the 5 of us, but also to make us as comfortable as possible. And when we decided to only order two tea sets between three people, they even gave us a bit of a wink and added a few extra scones to the table.
Their Wonderland afternoon tea set (£38) included fancy versions of standard afternoon tea sandwiches, scones, and deserts including Salted Caramel Popcorn meringue and an English rose macaroon with raspberry and lychee cream! The Bijoux tea set (£48) upped the ante with extra fancy sandwiches such as duck egg mayonnaise with caviar and crayfish with fennel and creme fraiche! Instead of actually listing the deserts on the menu, they simply say that they are inspired by “the finest jewels from the finest houses”. If you are feeling particularly wealthy, they also have premium teas that can be added to the menu including a Chinese tea purported to be the personal favorite of Chairman Mao for an extra £40, but alas we declined.
Afternoon Tea at Palm Court was an absolute experience. The food was beautiful, imaginative, and delicious while the service was out of this world great. This would be considered a big splurge for most people but it’s worth it – much more so than paying a couple hundred euro for 30 minutes on a Venetian gondola!