Whether it’s to catch up with friends, to celebrate a birthday or anniversary, or even to try something new – there’s always a good excuse to have a traditional afternoon tea.
And what better excuse than to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday?
Afternoon tea dates back as far as 1840, where the seventh Duchess of Bedford complained of feeling hungry mid-afternoon.
The practice of having tea and a snack at 4pm became so popular that the Duchess invited friends to partake in this activity, and soon it took off across social circles in London.
Since then it’s become incredibly popular in Britain, with restaurants and hotels across the UK serving tasty square-sandwiches, warmed scones with clotted cream and jam, as well as wondrous baked goods.
I’m a huge afternoon tea fan, and have enjoyed sampling teas across the country. I even had an afternoon tea at my wedding!
A very British and traditional afternoon tea
So of course I was absolutely delighted to be invited by a friend to try out the ‘Right Royal Afternoon Tea’ served at the Royal Horseguards Hotel, just a short walk from the Queen’s residence in London.
Designed by 2012 British Bake Off Winner John Whaite, a professionally-trained chef who is a successful author and TV presenter, and now runs his own cookery school in the North of England.
The afternoon tea features beautifully-British pastries and cakes, as well as some more unusual pieces that have been inspired by the Queen and her travels.
Arriving at the five-star Royal Horseguards Hotel you are greeted by a doorman who kindly shows you in to the grand entrance.
Located just off the Embankment, and a stone’s throw away from Whitehall and the Prime Minister’s home, it’s really conveniently located but situated on a relatively quiet street.
The afternoon tea is served in the lounge, which is a beautifully quiet idyllic spot to while away a few hours.
The service here is formal and exactly as you would expect from a five-star hotel such as the Royal Horseguards, along with the beautifully crisp white table cloths, spotless cutlery and gorgeous vintage china tea cups and saucers.
It’s wonderfully peaceful too, and with comfy plush chairs, as well as sofas and arm chairs to choose from, it’s not surprising that my friend and I spent 3 hours here.
To my delight there was a real mixture of teas on offer, so I opted for the fresh mint tea while my friend went for the rather special ‘strawberries and cream’ tea.
Shortly after ordering, our afternoon tea arrived on a wonderful traditional stand.
My eyes were immediately drawn to the cakes at the top. I absolutely love traditional cakes and was really happy to find a modern-twist of the strawberry jam sponge.
I was tempted to start digging in to the cakes, but as my mother always says, best to save the best until last…
Over-indulging on scones
So we started at the bottom with the rather gorgeous sandwiches. All cut to perfection without crusts, as well as a more unusual mini-brioche bun and roll, the savory part of the menu was delicious and incredibly fresh.
There was a mixture of fillings, all traditional, including egg mayonnaise and smoked salmon.
The scones on the next level up were incredibly tasty, and were still warm (despite there not being a napkin to cover them with). They tasted really soft and crumbly, and the strawberry jam and clotted cream was to die for.
I’m a bit of an over-indulger when it comes to clotted cream so it was lovely that our host spotted this and regularly topped us up with fresh cream and jam.
Finally, after starting to feel rather full, I allowed myself to sample the incredible baked delights at the top of the stand, and I was not left disappointed.
As you would expect from an award-winning chef (who has won a TV programme based on his ability to bake!) the cakes were fantastic, and unlike anything else I had sampled before.
Cakes to die for
From a chocolate hazelnut caramel tart with maple mousse (apparently a favourite in the Royal Household) to a lemon macaron (dedicated to the colour of the outfit the Queen wore to Prince William’s wedding) and the spectacular raspberry and rose crumble choux bun, I literally overindulged in these beautifully-created pastries and cakes.
Each one had amazing flavour and taste. As a macaron fan, I know too well how difficult it is to get the right level of crunchiness and softness and this was possibly one of the best i’d ever had.
The strawberry jam sponge was delicate and soft, and the white chocolate, coconut and lime cake had an incredible taste that left you wanting more.
Once we’d finished our delicious delights, we were left to enjoy a tea and a chat, without any pressure or rush to finish and leave.
Our tea pots were regularly topped up to ensure the tea didn’t over-brew and we spent a lovely few hours watching the world go by from our very comfortable chairs in the corner of the room.
I left feeling completely relaxed (and rather full!) having totally overindulged on John Whaite’s creations.
If you’d like to sample this traditional afternoon tea – cost £39 per person, or £49 to include a glass of Tattinger Champagne, available 1pm – 6pm daily.
You can book here or ring 0207 451 0426