It’s nearing the end of July and the summer is in full swing. The sun has got its hat on and us Londoners are feeling rather pleased, as we wind up outside beer gardens, terraces and rooftop bars swigging beer/cider/rosé (delete as appropriate) by the gallons. This is one of the my two most favourite traditions of this great nation. The other is afternoon tea.
Thanks to the 7th Duchess of Bedford’s lightbulb moment in the 1840’s, we now all have the option of an extra meal in the day, to head out and celebrate our many occasions over. I know I’ve indulged in many a lavish afternoon tea across the capital in some of the finest establishments; the Palm court at the Langham, Fortnum and Mason, the Spatisserie at the Dorchester and one of my all time favourites – Prêt à Portea at the Berkeley Hotel.
So I was rather curious when I was invited by the UK’s leading hospitality guide – Square Meal – to a tea at Boyds Brasserie, a relatively unheard of dining venue in the heart of London, and only a few steps from busy Trafalgar Square.
Interestingly, for the Duchess afternoon tea was a matter of sustenance before it became a cause for social occasion. In that spirit, I was keen to see what the “unashamedly British” (Food and Drink Guide 2014) Boyds Brasserie had to offer the everyday Londoner and passing tourist, on its recently launched and modestly priced menu. Certainly at £19.90, it’s one of the most inexpensive afternoon tea prices I’ve seen around the city. A steal, some would say.
On arrival, myself and a handful of fellow foodie bloggers were swiftly handed a glass of Ruinart rosé champagne. Don’t worry though, regular afternoon tea diners can also upgrade, to include a glass of equally fizzy Veuve Clicquot, for an extra £10.
Thirst quenched, I was able to take in the plush surroundings of the bar and restaurant as we all mingled away. No expense has been spared by owner-manager, Charles Boyd, and guests are afforded a 360 degree vision of opulent marble pillars, silk floor-to-ceiling drapes and kitsch chandeliers aplenty. There’s even a grade II listed cabinet, which has been kept to house the red wine. This really is a venue out to impress.
On to the menu itself, which on the night was nicely personalised and rolled up into a scroll – a pleasure I could well get used to. There is a great emphasis on Britishness and whilst all the usual suspects are present; salmon and cream cheese sandwiches and freshly baked scones, there are also a few interesting twists paying tribute to Britain and it’s lovely produce.
Butter rich potted shrimps from Morecombe Bay were an unusual starting dish but very much a pleasure to devour. The zingy lemon finish and a pleasing crunch from the accompanying crispy bread almost prompted me to order a second pot but I kept true to my mantra that evening “pace myself, pace myself, I have to get into that teeny tiny dress for the wedding on the weekend.”
Sandwiches arrived next. Forgive me for not getting overly excited by this course. I feel I’ve eaten my whole life’s share during my pack-lunching childhood and having since been exposed to the pleasures of London gastronomy, would happily live in a sandwich free world henceforth. Nevertheless, here we are. The variety includes salt beef (not tasted), an edible egg, cress and mayonnaise and a credible Scottish salmon and cream cheese sandwich selection. My only criticism being that the bread for the latter two sandwiches was slightly on the dry side. I’m assuming this is because we were dining past the usual afternoon tea hour (6 going on 7pm).
The main event, eagerly anticipated by the table, comprised of warm scones which passed the twist and tear ‘this is a good scone’ test. This is something I had previously no idea about (and I’m guessing you don’t either) but will be enforced on every scone I now meet with. Debate ensued amongst our table of bloggers, on the merits of the Cornish and Devonian way to spread cream and jam. For your interest and intrigue, I myself prefer the latter approach on account that it is the ‘normal’ way of spreading condiments onto bread. And yes I’m fully aware this is about to lead to a hellfire of Cornish rage in the comments section below. Knock yourself out.
Light as air chocolate eclairs were gobbled in one go, with an almost Nesquick aftertaste. It took me back to my younger days, when I used to sneak in spoonfuls of the powder whilst no one was looking! The strawberry tart perfumed the air around our table and was indeed a beautiful thing to look at. A light, vanilla-flecked cream held the ripe fruit together, however the pastry case was a little tougher than I’d have liked it to have been. These delights were accompanied by a rich and surprisingly moist fruit cake – something I’ve not seen on a tea menu for some time. And a lemon drizzle cake topped with lemon curd, which was unfortunately on the dry side and in need of a little more drizzle.
Just when we thought we’d seen it all, the menu twisted back again to end on a playful note. A glass holder featuring four mini chocolate-wafer vanilla ice cream cones, topped with a rainbow of hundreds and thousands. A giddy treat for the inner child in us all.
I must say, on the night it seemed that the objective of this afternoon tea was to deliver yet another traditional take on British food heritage at a reasonably affordable price, to appeal to a non specific audience of tourists, business clientele, and passing footfall. But in hindsight and despite some minor kinks, it did a little more than just that. The small playful twists insisted on by the chef, put together with the lavishly-kitsch ambience, and the venue’s central location, offer a unique experience without breaking the bank. Making it a tea menu to be seriously considered in the capital.
*As declared, this review has been written up following an invitation from the venue. All views are objectively expressed and have not been previewed or edited by either Boyds Brasserie or Square Meal.