Tea for Two: Reviews of TLSee (Swissôtel the Howard), The Chocolate Bar (Harrods), & St James Restaurant (Fortnum & Mason)

The very first time I came to England, the thing I anticipated most was afternoon tea. I love tea, food, presentation, and atmosphere, all of which adds up to the perfect afternoon of relaxing deliciousness. Over the years I have visited many a tea house, and now consider myself a connoisseur of the concept. In this new segment, tea for two, I will review afternoon tea venues and include comments from my partner in tea-ing.

Last weekend my mom and I tried three tea places in London. Here are our thoughts! [Note: a lot of our opinions cross over even though we didn’t read each other’s reviews before writing our own!]

TLSee at the Mauve Lounge at Swissôtel the Howard

Xandra: This swanky venue offers a Classic Afternoon Tea with champagne options. They call themselves “a new afternoon tea concept,” clearly pushing the edgy modern side of high tea, as evident from the shiny black surroundings, plush armchairs, and clear tea cups. Overall a nice place to celebrate something fancy, but they seem like amateurs in the tea business – the service was friendly enough, but a bit off, with servers appearing to lack confidence in handling teapots and not knowing how to fit plates onto the tables. Nonetheless, the food was very good, and the tea among the best I have tasted – I sampled the chocolate tea and my mom the caramel – both just the right blend of bitter and sweet. Afternoon tea is supposed to be a “light afternoon snack,” and while these days it can be far more filling than that, TLSee pushes this to the limit. We were both quite hungry when we were seated, but still only finished about half of the food provided, and unlike other venues, the staff were very reluctant to let us take leftovers with us. The London-inspired cookies kept nicely, however, and were probably the highlight of the visit. They are offered on the menu a la carte, and I would certainly visit again for some cookies and tea without the excessive albeit delicious sandwiches and treats that came with the Classic Afternoon.

Tea: 4/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 2/5
Ambiance: 4/5
Average: 3/5

Mama: The service did not quite equate the delicious treats, tea, and the beautiful mohair furniture with contemporary flair. The cutout cookies of London were nice for tourists like us – you can order cookies a la carte with tea after dining elsewhere.

Tea: 4/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 1/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Average: 3/5

Cost of Classic Afternoon Tea: £32/person

The Chocolate Bar at Harrods

Xandra: Harrods. Now famous for being a massive department store that sells everything imaginable, it’s sometimes hard to remember that it started out as a tea merchant that expanded to food halls that expanded to…everything else. There are several afternoon teas to experience at Harrods, and on this visit we visited the one I would recommend as a must-visit to chocoholics: The Chocolate Bar. Luxury hot chocolates and afternoon tea sandwiches and pastries (the actual sandwiches are much daintier, but our server was kind enough to accommodate my vegetarianism by substituting in a delicious panini!). Mom and I had enough foresight to request one portion to share, and it was just the right about for the two of us. The pastry dish in particular was delectable – the standout option being the green macaron. I tried the Ecuador hot chocolate, rich with an orange twist, while Mama sampled two different singles. The Chocolate Bar’s dedication to flavor and preciseness is commendable! This lovely establishment treads between casual and fancy – really anything goes, as it is in the middle of a department store, but still takes care to provide the best in the world of chocolate.

Tea [Hot Chocolate]: 5/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Average: 4/5

Mama: This is the perfect tea outing for all ages and genders since it’s reasonably-priced and there’s a hot chocolate substitute. They were so accommodating to substitute the sandwiches! I would order the creamy white chocolate tea [the Trinidad], but in the small size, then try a lighter one for a second small cup.


Tea [Hot Chocolate]: 5/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 3/5
Average: 4/5

Cost of Chocolate Afternoon Tea: £25/person, sharing options

St James Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason

 

Xandra: By far the most immersive of the three, the St James Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason provides the elegance and sophistication that high tea deserves. Impeccably gracious service, some of the the best sandwiches (delicious vegetarian option!) and pastries I’ve ever sampled, and delicate matching china created the tea experience I so crave. With just one catch: the tea. I ordered the Regency blend, which was bland and uninspired despite a promising description. Mama ordered the classic afternoon tea blend, which was fine, but no better than a Twinings tea bag. Quite disappointing considering how perfect the rest of our visit was! Everything else about this venue is about detail – the descriptions and explanations on the menu add a careful touch – and the room itself is a charming treat. Perfect for a special, calming afternoon, I can only hope that there is a much better tea option on that menu.

Tea: 1/5
Food: 4/5
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 5/5
Average: 4/5

Mama: The right English tea experience with a traditional feel – what we looked for while in London. My first cup of tea was good, but not so good afterwards (perhaps a different type should have been ordered?). The details (matching menus to the wallpaper, silver platter full of desserts, the unique tassels…) were all lovely and just ornate enough. I would still choose the less expensive option, but go there with an appetite because there’s a lot to eat (although the take out box and bag are matching and pretty).

Tea: 2/5
Food: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Ambiance: 5/5
Average: 4/5

Cost of Fortnum’s Classic Afternoon Tea: £34/person, no sharing option

Rating key:

5 = flawless

4 = nearly flawless

3 = recommended

2 = passable

1 = awful

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s