My daughter informed me today just before we went out for afternoon tea (again), that it was only our second one this year because we had been to 8 last year & hence, she said, we needed to book more!
Wow, we must really like Afternoon Tea.
It all started way back in my cheffy days in London, my mum would come up and take me out to afternoon tea – We went to The Ritz, The Dorchester, Claridges and The Carlton Hotel to name just a few. And in-between my mum & daughter trips I dragged my boyfriend along to Browns, Fortum and Mason, Harrods & Harvey Nic’s amongst others.
I loved it – big hotels, amazing service, fresh ‘as many as you want’ sandwiches, fluffy scones, creamy clotted cream, jammy jam and mini cake fancies to die for in indulgent settings surrounded by grandeur and the very best service.
It was real escapism from my life as a chef – working in some hot sweaty dungeon with a dozen guys shouting and screaming through a manic service, going back ‘wacked to the eye balls’ to our flat no bigger than a disabled loo, maybe having enough energy left for a bowl of weetabix before crashing again to a 5.30am alarm call.
Hence my love for Afternoon Tea.
Afternoon Tea is supposed to be indulgent, a real treat with no restriction on calories or time – sit back, indulge.
So, as you can see I’ve had 25 years of afternoon tea heaven, as well as making them. I even used to teach an afternoon tea cookery course – – all because my passion for the AF.
And because I love em, I feel I have the right to set some rules.
First of all, if an AF is under £10 per person in a café, there are no rules – that’s a mini treat, a pick me up, a little quickie!!! If you like.
But if it’s over £10 then rules have to be applied, if it’s over £20 then those rules increase.
It’s Simples – – it simply has to be perfect.
Rules of the Great British Afternoon Tea
- There simply must be a tea menu and that tea should always be leaf tea. Tea bags are made of dust – dust should be reserved for the hoover. I’ll accept fruit teas, even though they are wrong, but as long as there are some proper afternoon tea blends like a good Darjeeling or Assam, maybe something smokey like a Lapsang and always something light like a white Oolong tea. Earl Grey is always a good choice for something flowery and fragrant. But of course, there should always be a house afternoon tea blend.
- You then need to be asked if there is any of the sandwich fillings you would prefer to swap over – good choice is part of indulgence and who wants to be force-fed boiled eggs, I’m not a Suffragette!
- You then should be asked what scones you would prefer – because I bloody hate plain scones!
- The Sandwiches should always be crust-less – this is a treat. Freshly made, moist and flavoursome. No one wants pre-made sarnies left out to dry. I prefer finger’s but triangles are ok. Butter is best, margarine is just whipped up vegetable oil with stabilisers – nothing British about that.
- If it’s over £20 then additional sandwiches should be offered. And if one of them is Chicken Coronation I’m going to be really happy.
- The waiting staff should be attentive, offering additional tea top ups and the like. In a £20 plus AF you should want for nothing – absolutely nothing. Like when you have to look over your shoulder for 10 minutes, following the waiter around the restaurant trying to get their attention because you’ve been waiting since yesterday.
- The scones should be light and fluffy with a good outer crust, packed with fruit for fruit scones and never warmed in the microwave – that’s one of the 7 deadly sins! Scones should only be made on the day of service – day old scones are simply not cricket. And no scone should ever be from the freezer or from a packet mix – – OMG-NO!
- Butter should always be served or at least offered. Jam should be a conserve, rich and fruity. Home-made is perfect, local is a bonus – cheap and jelly like is unacceptable.
- Clotted cream is a must, whipped cream is ok for the cheaper AF but clotted cream is simply the topping of Gods. Cream from a can is nearly as bad as bigamy, weeing in the snow and burping in front of the Queen!
- A grand choice of sweet pastries and cakes is essential – this is the section where the pastry chefs can show of their expertise with a selection of colours, textures and flavours to suit every palate. I love a little chocolate number, I Love something moussey and a cake of sorts. Three to five items is gorge. It’s also nice to offer a take home package for those cakes abandoned on the tiered stand.
- With all this along with great attentive service, a fabulous setting, comfy furniture, lovely retro to fine china and clean cutlery will all embellish your experience.
- I especially like when my plate is changed between scone and cake – that’s a nice little touch.
I know I’m sounding like a diva of the Afternoon Tea or the Queen (I seem to have an unhealthy fascination for Her Royal Highness) or Maria Careys, demand list.
But – – – it’s simply the Best God, darn British tradition there is and it should be perfectly scrumptious for everyone to enjoy.
And yes, it is POSH – but posh for everyone, after all its just a cup of tea, sarnie, scone and a bit of cake BUT the best tea & cake experience there is.
I mean 50 years ago not many people went for a facial, 100 years ago not many people went to the Theatre and 150 years ago Dungeons and Dragons was literally that – – so posh or not Afternoon Tea should be the indulgence everyone can afford and everyone can enjoy and it should always be the best it can possibly be.
Because we are English and Afternoon Tea is ours
for the people by the people.
By Zena Leech-Calton © www.lovenorwichfood