A friend recently visited me in London. We talked on and off for weeks about what we could do while she was here. One of the things that topped our "to-do" list was a traditional British "Afternoon Tea".
For anyone not from the UK, it's important to understand that Afternoon Tea isn't really a thing for the general population. Office workers don't put their laptops to sleep come 3 PM every day to enjoy soft triangle sandwiches and bottomless tea. The Tube doesn't shut down for an hour while everyone nibbles on pastries. I'm even pretty sure that Queen Elizabeth herself probably doesn't do afternoon tea on the daily.
That said, the traditions of high tea and afternoon tea have been tipped to have come about from both the working class and the royalty; the working classes "high tea" came from the notion of a drink and scone consumed standing up in the middle of the afternoon by working men as early as the 1700s. Later, afternoon tea became more of a way to add a social event between lunch and dinner. Now you're more likely to find afternoon tea service being enjoyed by tourists, people celebrating birthdays, engagements, baby showers, and those who need a break from shopping "in town".
So, my friend and I were keen to do an afternoon tea, but we were yet to decide on where. London has a bloated market of hotels, cafes, tea shops, and department stores who offer an assortment of afternoon teas, in a wildly wide variety of price brackets. We tossed up our options in the trendy North London suburbs, the up-and-coming East London, the Wealthy West, and the Eclectic South. Eventually, we settled on two choices: The Ritz or the Savoy. Two of London's most central, beautiful, and exclusive hotels.
We poured over the menus, we examined the dress codes, we even talked about trying both– she was going to be here for more than one day, you know... But, eventually, we decided that our special afternoon would be hosted at the Savoy.
So we booked it in and that was that.
Then the big day came. For those not well-acquainted with the London hotel scene, the Savoy sits on The Strand, a short walk from Trafalgar Square in one direction and Covent Garden in another. It is grand and oozes status if you ask me.
As we approached the door we were ushered in by some handsomely dressed and very helpful doormen who led us straight into the dark, rich, and sensuous feeling reception foyer.
A short walk further into the building, past some exquisite art, and we found ourselves at the Thames Foyer, where afternoon tea is served daily. We were greeted warmly, and almost immediately taken to our table.
The Thames Foyer sits in the heart of the hotel, and while I admit we didn't explore all the rooms, we did very much get the benefit of being seated below the large glass domed roof and by some immaculately clean mirrors, the combination of which meant the natural spring light that flooded in above our heads left the room feeling light and airy.
We were convinced that either we had scored the best seats in the house, or that there are no bad seats, as not only did we have the light and the mirrors, we also had a great view of the gazebo in the middle of the room and of the live pianist who serenaded us for our entire stay with a mixture of pop and classical music.
After taking a moment to feast on the scene in front of us, our waiter introduced himself and let us know what was on offer with our package of choice (we were given two options, a totally sweet afternoon tea or a savoury tea that included a "main course"). We opted for the later, for fear of a sugar coma!
To start, we were offered a choice of tea. The team menu alone spans across a number of pages. Once our tea had been selected it promptly arrived in two huge silver teapots that took pride of place on our table. Then a selection of sandwiches arrived, followed by two scones and some Battenberg cake.
We were already having to adjust our seats by the time our main course of asparagus and poached egg arrived. Our waiter, seeing that we were slowing down our food intake then let us pause and enjoy the ambiance for a while before delivering the finale; a tower of sweet treats.
By the time we were finished, we quickly decided that dinner would not be required that evening as we were full but happy.
Would I recommend tea at The Savoy? Certainly!
The food was tasty, the service was warm, the decor beautiful, and the company was pretty great too. Whatever you do, make sure you arrive at your afternoon tea booking a little bit hungry!