Monday, 9 July 2007

Browns and Claridges, Mayfair

Afternoon Tea is one of those strange ironies - a supposed British institution that most British people have never tried. Instead, we seem to leave it largely to American tourists and wedding parties to sample the delights of ludicrously dainty cucumber sandwiches and cake, which is a shame because it was actually rather good fun.

Brown's is as close to a London institution as it's possible to get without being a palace. Founded in 1837 (according to the website), it was refurbished a couple of years ago and certainly does look very grand in its position on a gleaming white Mayfair terrace. Inside, the decor is actually more 'comfortable' than 'opulent', but an in-house pianist lent the atmosphere a certain sophisticated edge, even if he did occasionally spoil it by playing The Bee Gees.

Eventually, after making our selection from a list of more than 20 different types of tea, the much-anticipated selection of sandwiches, scones and pastries arrived on a dainty little tiered serving thingy. From memory, we had a choice of cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon, cheese and tomato, egg and cress, and peppered ham. All were perfectly good, but nothing spectacular. We made sure we got our money's worth though with five refills on this tier alone - more fool the waiter for offering, I say.

Scones were nice too, with clotted cream and jam (3 refills), and finally the pastries (2 refills) were delicious - including a pimms jelly, a tennis-ball shaped passion-fruit mousse, and a little strawberry shortcake. Some sort of Wimbledon theme going on I think. Also, after making sure we'd stuffed our faces on these courses, they surprised us with extra cake at the end, which was either a bit underwhelming or we were just so full we couldn't really do it justice.

The bill was £32 each, which is a lot for sandwiches and cake, but we did have a lot to eat and the service was generally of a high standard. And this is Mayfair after all - it's more or less compulsory to pay through the nose in these parts.

Speaking of which, a short waddle away up Bond Street is Claridges Hotel, where we decided to entertain ourselves with a £14 cocktail each before the long journey home. This is a spectacularly impressive place, from the art deco grandeur of the lobby to the intimate plush luxury of the Bar, where every drink is exquisitely prepared and the gorgeous homemade nibbles delivered by faultless service. On this occasion I had something called a Barb Wire (for such a classy place, they have a slightly worrying habit of naming cocktails after Pamela Anderson vehicles. Another item on the menu was Bay Watch). The moral of this story is, you get what you pay for - my drink consisted of fresh rhubarb and Chambord with vodka and lemon juice. It was superb. Overpriced is a state of mind.

Brown's Afternoon Tea 7/10
Claridges Bar 9/10

English Tea Room at Brown's on Urbanspoon

Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's on Urbanspoon

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