I lived in Cambridgeshire England for nearly 2 years. The old city charm, combined with the prestige of being just outside the University’s campus made living here a true privilege.
On the eve of the Referendum, where UK citizens will vote to leave or remain in the EU, I felt it only fitting to showcase beautiful traditions and experiences that have shaped Great Britain through the centuries and have become essential inclusions to many traveller’s itineraries.
First on the list: Classic Afternoon Tea.
Afternoon tea. It’s an occasion, an experience, an array of delicious and delectable fancies that everyone, not just the posh, can enjoy.
Originating in the 1840’s, and observed initially by the upper class, afternoon tea is a meal served usually in the afternoon between 2-5 pm. By the end of the 19th century, this delectable repast became available and adopted by everyone and not just the wealthy.
There are several variations of traditional afternoon tea. Back when it was considered a meal for the privileged, it consisted of mini savoury sandwiches aesthetically presented without crusts; such flavours as cucumber, egg salad, and cress sandwiches were the most popular. Following these was a selection of scones accompanied with clotted cream and jam. Once the sandwiches and scones were devoured, fancies and cakes would be presented. The favourites and most traditional sweets included the Battenberg cake and the Victoria sponge.
Nowadays, afternoon tea is typically observed on special occasions, including hen parties, Mother’s Day, and in some occasions, wedding receptions. That is not to say that a day of sightseeing in London cannot include an indulgent tasting of several pastries delicately presented on a tiered bone china dish.
During my time in England, I was spoilt with experiencing afternoon tea in many settings – the posh swanky hotel where all is served on silverware, bone china and is complete with a visit from the cake trolley; the cozy independent bakery making its version of the quintessential fancy; the deliciously different and sublime experience on a vintage bus (Yes. You read that correctly. A Moving. Vintage. Bus.); and in famous homes of iconic women whose literature has shaped the libraries of today.
All afternoon tea presentations were different, but kept up the prestige, charm, sophistication and decadence. Below are three of my favourite places I have experienced afternoon tea, which would delight any traveller, tourist, resident, or simply the curious.
1). Fortnum & Mason
Afternoon tea in Fortnum’s Jubilee Tea Room is a real treat. Frequented by the royal family, I too felt regal when I walked through the door. The ambiance of sophistication is set as the pianist plays a soft selection of jazz. Your table adorned with beautiful linens, bone china, and silver flatware awaits as you choose from a variety of over 80 loose leaf teas, some of which have delighted patrons for over 300 years.
The overall experience at Fortnum’s leaves you feeling like one of the Royals. The menu was extensive with High Tea and Afternoon Tea options, depending on your appetite. The High tea menu included hot eggs Benedict, scones with preserves and clotted cream, savouries, pastries and a choice of cake from the dessert trolley. This was the heartiest of meal choices, with the afternoon tea offering all the above minus the first course (eggs) and dessert trolley.
Presented on three-tiered dishes your scones, preserves, savouries, and pastries arrive for a second-to-none presentation; a completely sublime fusion of flavour and style. I particularly loved the rosewater eclair. Subtle sweetness of the icing mixed with the rose extract made this a delicious conclusion to my meal.
Prepare to pay approximately £100.00 for two people. If you wish to have champagne with your meal, a popular addition to the spread, this will cost you extra.
Don’t forget to make a reservation. As Fortnum and Mason is a popular for locals and tourists, it would be a shame to miss out. If you wish to have piano music as your backdrop, book an earlier time slot as the pianist leaves mid-afternoon.
2) The Berkeley Hotel
Another option for those wishing a posh afternoon tea is the Berkeley hotel. The Berkeley combines traditional afternoon tea with fashion. Located in Knightsbridge, The Berkeley prides itself in offering the Prêt-à-Portea afternoon tea menu, influenced by chic trends in Milan.
A personalized place card shaped like a stiletto welcomes you as you browse the menu detailing the season’s inspiration. When I went for tea, the featured designers included Tory Burch, Oscar de la Renta, Yves St Laurent, and Gucci. To learn more about the current selection, details can be found on the hotel’s’ website.
The tea selection here is also second to none. An assortment of about 20 to choose from, you will receive your chosen blend in your own designer bone china pot. I chose the pear caramel blend and it was incredible- definitely a tea that is unique with strong infused flavours. A gem of a beverage.
The portion here is ample and perfect for a girls luncheon, business outing, or simply a nice afternoon out. The menu doesn’t include scones or a dessert trolley, but you don’t miss those seemingly obvious items, thanks to the delicious fashion-inspired pastries you receive.
Prepare to spend £80-100 for two regular afternoon tea meals. A glass of champagne is extra.
3) BB Bakery Vintage Afternoon Tea Bus Tour
This afternoon tea without a doubt is my favourite. The uniqueness of being served on a vintage 1960’s bus, combined with a guided tour of London makes this an experience unlike any other. On the bus you are greeted with your servers who guide you through the various sites. The bold spread includes delicious savouries, partnered with such decadent fancies as cheesecake, macaroons, tarts and of course, scones with clotted cream and jam.
The selection of beverages is small, but this is understandable with the kitchen being mobile. That being said, the tea, lattes, and brewed coffees were satisfying and they are presented in travel-style cups, ensuring safety.
The tour lasts approximately 2 hours depending on traffic conditions and takes you past many iconic landmarks in London including Parliament, Notting Hill, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Harrod’s, and Piccadilly Circus.
The cost for two is approximately £100.00. Seats fill up quickly, therefore, it is essential to book in advance for the day you wish to go to avoid disappointment.