“It’s Afternoon Tea Week, in which we celebrate the notoriously hangry Anna, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, who many years ago decided she simply COULD NOT deal with the long, long stretch of day between lunch and dinner.” The Metro
Afternoon Tea Week is an entire week dedicated to celebrating the quintessential British pastime of gorging on crustless sandwiches, jam and cream topped scones, posh teas and if you are lucky quaffing some accompanying bubbles. This year myself and a friend decided to try the British contemporary afternoon tea with a view at Aqua Shard after enjoying a rather lovely lunch there earlier in the year. Further enticement came in the form of an Afternoon Tea Week special offer of a complementary second glass of Hattingley Sparkling Wine when choosing the sparkling tea option.
Located on level 31 of The Shard, Aqua Shard’s floor-to-ceiling windows offer a stunning panoramic view across London that includes the iconic Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the meandering Thames. The restaurant is plush, as you would expect, divided into two areas, the gin wing and the tea wing. The taking of tea is offered in the tea wing of the restaurant with the oversized monogrammed chairs arranged facing towards the windows to maximise the vista.
Once seated proceedings began with the selection of one of the seven teas from the Rare Tea Company. I selected the Royal Air Force bespoke breakfast blend which is a mixture of Malawi and Darjeeling created for a Battle of Britain RAF veteran (10% of sales go to RAF Wings Appeal). Alongside the selection of finger sandwiches and scones served on a traditional tiered stand, there was two tiers of homemade cakes and sweet treats.
Although the food was fresh and well presented I was somewhat disappointed with the vegetarian selection, the choice was basic and unimaginative, the best of the bunch was the cream cheese and cucumber and the miniature goats cheese and spinach tarts. Frankly I expected more from a restaurant of this calibre and the price tag. My friend, however enjoyed her more tasty savoury selections of lobster finger sandwiches, mini cured smoked salmon brioche buns, black pudding and sausage rolls.
Two varieties of scones were on offer, the rather flat and dry vanilla and the more rugged white chocolate chip served with homemade raspberry jam, honey toffee and Cornish clotted cream. The desserts were quite unusual with marmite and mushroom flavours combined with the sweet. My favourite was the apostrophe shaped chocolate cup filled with porcini ganache, coffee sponge and white and dark chocolate button mushrooms. The marmite milk chocolate mousse went well with the fresh raspberry, rose raspberry jelly and pistachio crunch. Other sweet treats included a mini lemon meringue and a white chocolate mousse topped with a blood orange gel. The two glasses of Hattingley Valley Brut Reserve English Sparkling Wine from my home county of Hampshire were delightful and a perfect accompaniment to the afternoon tea.
This is the seventh annual afternoon tea week that has been created to celebrate this mid-afternoon indulgence that’s creation dates back to Victorian times when high tea was introduced to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. While I enjoyed the Aqua Shard afternoon tea experience overall (apart from the veggie sandwiches) I did feel that our servers, while efficient, were somewhat disengaged which is shame as most people book this experience as a treat or a celebration. It’s not cheap and the time is limited so I would expect a less robotic more guest friendly and welcoming approach.
The Aqua Shard’s triple-height atrium bar is a lively place in the evenings serving gin and tea inspired classic mixology. In a nod to this area of the South Bank’s bygone era as the centre of gin distillery there’s a wide selection of British gins that will keep you entertained and prolong your visit. Guests can choose from large banquettes in the gin wing that’s decorated in a palette of deep greens and purples or dine at regular tables in the dark wooded tea wing that also has eye-catching glass private dining rooms. All the aspects of the restaurant from its design, colour palette, artwork, food and beverage menus and of course the view reflect London’s heritage and the Shard’s location.
Afternoon Tea Weeks runs until 20th August and there are lots of lovely venues participating especially in London offering traditional and more unusual spread. For those braving the UAE summer, British hotel brand Dukes Dubai are offering their classic London Tea and Palm Tea, which includes bubbles, in their Champagne and Tea Lounge so you don’t have to miss out. If you are looking for a traditional tea with a contemporary twist and spectacular views try Aqua Shard, remember to order some bubbles too.
Location: Level 31, The Shard, 31 St. Thomas Street, London.
Telephone: 020 3011 1256
Afternoon Tea: Monday – Friday 1:00pm – 5:00pm , Saturday & Sunday (except Bank Holidays) 1:00pm – 4:00pm
All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2017. All rights reserved.