At first I held off on making this declaration, but I think I should just go ahead and admit it: I had the best afternoon tea of my life at Claridge’s. Afternoon tea at Sketch is a verrrry close second, but Claridge’s wins overall.
Every inch of the place is beautiful, including the bathrooms where a polite attendant sets out a hand towel for you to dry off with after you’ve washed your hands, and offers to take your coat to the cloakroom. Even though I was early, they seated me right away (unlike the disappointing afternoon tea I had a couple weeks ago where I had to wait for a table despite having a reservation). The maître d’ kindly took me through the menu before leaving me to settle in.
A string duo (pianist and cellist) provides the soundtrack for what is ultimately a very relaxed atmosphere. Yes, people are well-dressed (I honestly would’ve felt like crap if the floral centerpieces had looked better than I did), and the place is pretty fancy, but here’s the thing: it’s not snooty. No one at Claridge’s makes you feel bad for not being a duchess or an earl. You’re spending money there — a hefty chunk, I might add — and they respect that. And you. I also wasn’t treated like a freak for dining alone (which can sometimes happen).
My dinner-jacketed server arrived after giving me an adequate amount of time to choose from their selection of teas, of which there’s a good variety available. The server then explained that he would be refilling my tea cup by cup. From then on, he continually refilled my small teapot with piping hot water, instead of leaving me a larger pot full of tea that would eventually grow tepid over the course of my meal. Smart idea.
The sandwiches I had (which are slightly different than what’s currently listed on the Claridge’s website) were Burford brown egg & watercress on onion bread; English cucumber, buttermilk and sorrel on white bread; corn fed chicken, thyme and cep mayonnaise on rye bread; Severn & Wye smoked salmon, whipped brown butter with lemon and samphire on malt bread; Dorrington ham, celeriac remoulade, smoked tomato chutney on white bread; and a piece of Quickes cheddar quiche with pickled walnut.
Biting into each sandwich, I could tell that every ingredient had been chosen with care. The bread, the spreads, and the fillings all went together so well. My favorite sandwiches were the salmon and, surprisingly, the ham! Usually the ham sandwich is the throw-away that nobody cares about, but this one was fantastic. After finishing the first round, I was offered another plate of sandwiches, which I gladly accepted. I love that at most afternoon teas, you’re offered seconds.
The string duo played “Here Comes the Sun”, bits from the Harry Potter score, the theme from Goldfinger, and “Kiss From A Rose”, among other things. It was cool to hear so many songs I recognized being played live in a simple string arrangement.
At my server’s suggestion, I switched from green to black tea in preparation for the sweets. The scones at Claridge’s — one raisin and one plain — are smaller than I’m used to. They’re just the right size to stuff into your mouth alongside a plate of gorgeous pastries, on top of 2 plates of sandwiches.
The pastries I had were a coconut frangipane tartlet with toasted meringue, pineapple & tonka; a hazelnut choux pastry with praline ganache, candied pink grapefruit & vanilla; a lemon & crème fraîche mousse with blueberry & violet; and a Kalingo chocolate brownie with raspberry cremeaux. None of the desserts were overly sweet, and each had subtly complex flavor and texture combinations. My favorite was the lemon mousse — it was covered in a granulated violet-flavored coating that went beautifully with its smooth insides.
I must have spent about 3 hours at Claridge’s. I relaxed, I read, I ate, and I had fun. No one rushed me out so they could give my table to someone else. I was left alone to enjoy myself, but never neglected. It was lovely. Without a doubt, I’ll be going back.
The Classic Afternoon Tea at Claridge’s is £55 per person, plus a 12.5% service charge. If you’d like to feel a little buzzy, there’s a Champagne Afternoon Tea option from £65 pp. And if you want to take your mini-me along, Claridge’s does an afternoon tea for children from £25 per child (which looks super cute).
Definitely treat yourself to afternoon tea at Claridge’s at least once. You deserve it.