From traditional settings to old-fashioned grandeur to minimalist affairs or even quirky alternatives, Afternoon Tea is an institution in itself. The quintessentially English tradition is one of my favourites, so receiving an invitation to the Afternoon Tea Awards and the launch of Afternoon Tea Week 2016 (8th to 14th August) was well received, as you can imagine.
Before I made my way to the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane with my friend Anna, I looked into the origins of afternoon tea. I found out that it was a surprisingly new tradition. The seventh Duchess of Bedford, Anna, introduced it in the nineteenth century. The evening meal in her household was not served until 8 p.m. She started a habit of asking for a pot of tea and a light snack of bread and butter to be taken to her boudoir around 4 p.m. and before long, she was inviting friends to join her. It became a fashionable social event in the 1880s, with afternoon tea served in the drawing rooms of fashionable society.
I also found out the meaning of ‘high tea.’ I had always assumed it was a synonym for ‘afternoon tea,’ but I was wrong (in a way). Afternoon tea or ‘low’ tea would be served in upper class households around 4 p.m., before a walk in the park. ‘High’ tea would be a more substantial meal later in the day in middle and lower class homes, at 5 or 6 p.m., instead of a late dinner. ‘High’ and ‘low’ refer to the height of the tables on which the tea and food are served. High tea would be served at the dinner table.
To go back to yesterday night, Anna and I arrived fashionably late, but it went unnoticed as guests were all standing in groups and chatting. The representatives from over 30 of London’s finest hotels and restaurants were eagerly awaiting the results and mingling.
The evening, despite its grandeur, was organised in an informal way, with all elements of a traditional afternoon tea set out ‘buffet’ style. The downside of this set-up was that we did not get to chat to anyone. It would have been awkward to disrupt conversations by approaching people. I find that sitting at a table generally facilitates networking and chatting to people come a lot more naturally, but that is my personal preference.
There were finger sandwiches.
There were exquisite tartlets.
There were choux buns filled with the lightest cream and fruit purée you could dream of.
There was no tea, but Lanson Champagne was flowing. No one complained.
I love the wide range of options available for afternoon tea in London, and I have been lucky to try a dozen or so in the past decade, from the classy, sophisticated feel of the Royal Horseguards’ Hotel to the Ritz, the simplicity of afternoon tea in a small tea room, the decadence of a ‘pink’ afternoon tea or the exuberance of a themed one.
The inaugural Afternoon Tea Awards really set a benchmark for the best afternoon tea options available to the general public. The panel of independent judges is unbiased and the restaurants and hotels shortlisted for the awards represent ‘la crème de la crème’ of afternoon tea experience, from the moment you set foot in the restaurant to the moment you leave. The focus was on food, drink and service, but creativity also had a part to play in the judging criteria.
Four awards were presented by Martha Collison, the youngest ever contestant on ‘Great British Bake Off’ and Keith Newton, Managing Director of AfternoonTea.co.uk said “The standard was extremely high and we are delighted that the hard work that venues put into their afternoon tea has been recognised by the judges”.
- Best Traditional Afternoon Tea – Claridge’s
- Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea – Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
- Best Themed Afternoon Tea – Sanderson London
- Best Family Friendly Afternoon Tea – Grosvenor House
The judges also awarded the following ‘Highly Commended’ and ‘Commended’ certificates.
· The Ritz
Would it be an overambitious quest to make my way down the list and really see what I think about each and every one of these venues? I wonder whether I could call it research…
Afternoon tea week (8th-14th August 2016) promises to be a grand celebration of all things teatime in the world. Amongst confirmed activitiesJust some of the activities already confirmed include Newby Tea Tasting at Grosvenor House Hotel; Flower Arranging Afternoon Tea at Harrods; Epicurean Tea Tasting at The Ritz; Open air film screening & afternoon tea on board R.S. Hispanola, River Thames; Afternoon Tea at Handel House Museum. Many hotels and restaurants will also be offering an exclusive picnic version of their afternoon tea to take away and enjoy al-fresco, or at home.
Disclosure: My friend Anna and I were invited to attend the event free of charge. I was not compensated for writing this post or asked to do so. The photo and all opinions are my own.
Sources for the origins of afternoon tea: