The main purpose of our trip to London was to go to Claridge’s for afternoon tea. Now, this is not something that we would normally do, but we had friends staying with us last summer during the Open golf at Muirfield – 17 miles (27K) up the coast from Dunbar, and they very kindly bought us afternoon tea for two, with champagne, at Claridge’s as a present. Claridge’s is of course, very posh and expensive. To give an idea of how expensive, I have just checked about staying there next week and I have the first choice of the Mayfair Suite, available from £1400. Expensive? Hey, this is a bargain, given that Claridge’s Suite is from £2100. Afternoon tea, even with champagne, is not as expensive of course, but for most people, it’s a something that you buy yourself or others as a treat. People often refer to “how the other half lives”. Well, when you are at Claridge’s, you are the other half. The phrase is a nonsense of course, as when people refer to the “other half”, they really mean the privileged 10%. As soon as you walk into Claridge’s and similar top hotels, what you notice is firstly the opulence of the décor e.g. there are always lots of mirrors, which I’m sure is an aspect of interior design, which tries to appeal to the vanity of customers who don’t just want to be in Claridge’s, but want to see themselves (and be seen by others) in Claridge’s. See photos 1-3 for the décor. The second feature is the number of staff. There are staff outside the entrance to hold the door for you or greet cars or taxis, and then there are many staff inside who are there to either greet you, help you or, it would appear, just to smile at you reassuringly. I’m sure that there must be a PhD study which would look at the different smiles given to different customers and the importance of the smile in hospitality management. There were lots of smiles for us as we approached the area for afternoon tea – the website refers to it being “Set in the splendour of Thierry Despont’s magnificent Foyer” – and I was told, in a very charming way, that our table was not immediately available but would be soon, and would we like to take a seat in the foyer. When I followed the other 3 afternoon tea partakers, I joked with then that we had been offered a free bottle of champagne while we waited, but I’d turned it down. We sat for probably 10 minutes, just taking in the décor. Then, one of the well dressed staff came up to us and apologised profusely, saying that our table was further delayed, but would we care to come into the lounge and have some champagne while we waited? I’d like to say we refused what was obviously just a patronising offer to people who were deemed not to be used to such surroundings, but we smiled back and rose slowly from the sofas (settees? – what do they call them in 5 star hotels?) and made our way into the bar, although I’m pretty sure that the female member of staff who accompanied us, never actually used the word “bar”. We were given a bottle of Laurent Perrier champagne – a pleasant surprise.
The afternoon tea itself was a delightfully decadent, hedonistic experience. The young Italian waiter explained that we would have our rosé champagne with the selection of sandwiches (click on gallery for photo) and then we would select our tea from the list of 30 presented to us. There is a bewildering choice of tea but I settled on the Single Estate which was from the ” Thyolo Mountains of Malawi” and, the menu told me that ” It is heady and bold with notes of malt, caramel and chocolate”. The sandwiches – chicken, ham, smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise and cucumber and rocket (for more detail search for Claridge’s afternoon tea menu) – duly arrived with one tray for 2 people. I stopped myself from betraying my humble origins by not asking the waiter why he had cut off the crusts of the sandwiches, as my mother had always said that I would never grow up to be tall if I did not eat the crusts. The sandwiches were delicate and very tasty. We were offered more but declined, knowing what was to follow. The waiter then brought the scones and cakes (see photo 4) and explained about the scones, the clotted cream and the jam, as well as about the range of cakes on offer. There then followed a cultural discussion about whether one (Note: We’re in Claridge’s, so one uses the term “one” and not “you”) should put the cream on the scone first and then the jam, or vice versa. The conclusion was that one should try both, and one did and one was pleasantly surprised by both. The cakes (see photo 5) were a mixture of light fruit cake, lemon cake, raspberries and cream, and chocolate gateau and were superb. My favourite was the lemon cake (see photo 6). The waiter brought a trolley with the teapots, with the tea leaves in them and water pots. He explained, as he filled our individual pots, that the water had to be put into the (unwarmed) pot at 97 degrees, in order to get the maximum taste from the tea. Mmm – so no boiling the kettle and no warming the teapot – sounded a little deviant me. What we discovered of course was that, while the tea was indeed very tasty, it was lukewarm. However, when in Claridge’s, do as the Claridgeans. All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend an early evening – we sat down at 6pm.