Monthly Archives: March 2016

Afternoon tea at 5th View, Waterstones review – Piccadilly

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5th View, Waterstones

203-206 Piccadilly

London

W1J 9HA

£15.95pp (optional 12.5% surcharge)

No booking required

Takes me back to lunchtime at my school cafeteria

Takes me back to lunchtime at my school cafeteria

I love cafes in bookshops. I love sitting amongst literature (and Jeffrey Archer) and allowing my thoughts to flow and expand and ultimately frighten me to death. I blame 90’s megaflop ‘The Pagemaster’ for my gravitational pull towards these churches of knowledge and storytelling (and Jeffrey Archer), but today I am in serious need of refreshment. I have found myself in Piccadilly at Bank Holiday, and as I am allergic to tourists who sprawl at the base of Eros unaware that they are actually sprawled at the base of the Angel of Christian Charity (I guess that didn’t look so snappy on the road signs), I take myself up to the 5th floor of Waterstones, the biggest bookstore in Europe with a world of amazing, awe-inspiring works by some of the greatest minds to have ever put pen to paper (and Jeffrey Archer).

The restaurant is big. And loud. Very loud. Not due to music because there isn’t any. The soundtrack is made up of parents telling off their offspring; the kind of delinquents who delight in sharing their food by throwing it at you. It isn’t always like this. I’ve been in when peace reigns supreme and adults enjoy fish fingers ironically. This is a nice place to be. But it’s started to rain, and a wet child is basically a Mogwai without the fur but all the attitude, so this has become a sanctuary.

Waterstones

The pud. Where’s the gravy?

I sit in the far corner away from two – well, let’s be polite and call them energetic – youngsters playing a set of tennis with two spoons and a lot of sugar cubes. I’m excited. I expect afternoon tea to come with a twist. Everyone is putting their own spin on the tradition to make it stand out from the crowd (I suspect the concept has undergone so many permutations over the last few years that the only twist left is to have no twist at all). Waterstones is no exception, and as far as I know this is the first place I’ve come across that promises me a Yorkshire pudding with my Twinings blend.

The promise of a Yorkshire pudding is enough to sell this particular afternoon tea to me. I, like many a susceptible pillock, am overly excited by miniatures of food I don’t particular like when it is served in its standard size (and often at the same price as its miniature counterpart. Novelty sells. Look at Micro pigs). I don’t ask what the sandwiches are, or in fact how many I will get. It turns out I will receive three slivers, one featuring what is fast becoming a nightmare food: mashed-up egg. As someone who could eat scrambled eggs and salmon every day if I could afford to replace all the saucepans I destroy in the process my aversion to boiled and mashed eggs in sandwiches is odd. The problem is these are cold, and somehow just that thought alone is enough to make me retch, even though mashed egg and mayonnaise has all the taste and sustenance of fresh air. ‘Why not ask them to substitute the egg for something else?’ I hear you ask. ‘Cucumber or ham or something that doesn’t make you stare at your plate in horror as though you have been served syringes wrapped in nettles?’ Because I am a grown woman, and therefore I cannot allow myself to be defeated by an egg. Besides, my fan (note the use of the singular at this stage in my “career”) might adore eggs, and therefore I have lost someone from my target audience to go with the gazillions who have already abandoned ship after my snidey asides about Jeffrey Archer. For art’s sake I’m prepared to give them up as a bad lot.

Just to confirm, the white powder on top of the cakes is definitely icing sugar. The budget wouldn't stretch to the real white stuff.

Just to confirm, the white powder on top of the cakes is definitely icing sugar. The budget wouldn’t stretch to the real white stuff.

So I eat half of the egg mayonnaise sliver. Then I eat the cucumber and salmon slivers as my reward for suffering the egg sliver. And then, behold: the Yorkshire pud! It makes me smile. I like that this little pudding with its paper-thin slice of beef and moreish dollop of tangy horseradish is sitting next to my clotted cream. It’s delightful. I’m a sucker for novelty and this little fella has no reason to be sitting there amongst my scone and sandwiches, other than to add to the hodgepodge effect of what a chef imagines tourists think of when they picture British cuisine. It could easily have been a miniature kebab but there is no Special Brew to wash it down and no tattoo parlour for diners to stumble into afterwards (a new twist on an old favourite: the authentic South London afternoon tea! Trip to the emergency room and three points on your driving licence thrown in).

Waterstones 5th View

A scone so large it has its own orbit

The rest of the tea is fairly standard. The scone is warm and plentiful, as is the cream and jam which, though far from bad, is difficult to spread and has the consistency of the Flubber Jerry Lewis / Robin Williams created in their laboratory. I suspect that if a blob fell from the scone during the transition from plate to mouth it would bounce off the table at lightning speed and ricochet around the room. I’d like to say that it does but my delusions only go so far. There is a light Madeira sponge to follow, along with a chocolate brownie and a mini macaroon of indeterminate flavour. Almond, possibly, but still a nice way to finish off the meal, washed down with a tepid cup of Twining’s English Breakfast served in a unattractive metal pot, the kind guaranteed to leak most of its contents onto the table before a drop has hit the bottom of the cup.

Verdict: A sweet mismatch of pleasant if unexciting treats. Avoid the children trying to score an ace with hardened lumps of sugar.

P.S. The official website for 5th View lists the afternoon tea at £14.95pp. You may also find yourself using your head to keep the toilet door shut, as the locks on most Waterstones stalls tend to be faulty or just plain not there. Pictures of the afternoon tea online will may vary from what you receive.

Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx

Afternoon tea at Maison Blanc review – Chiswick

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Maison Blanc
26-28 Turnham Green Terrace
Chiswick
W4 1QP
Afternoon tea £12.50pp (no service charge)
No booking required

Scones

One for Cornwall, one for Devonshire. Proof that at SITC we never discriminate

It is the first hot day of the year. Properly hot. The sun is burning the tops of my legs through my tights. This is my first afternoon tea with the aim of capturing the essence of the occasion. I have notepad poised and camera phone at the ready. I’m slightly nervous. People will see me taking pictures of scones and think I’ve never seen one before, as though it is a novelty or that I normally eat from a bucket with my fingers, eschewing cutlery in preference to  opposable thumbs. Silly, of course. Taking pictures of everything and nothing is the norm these days, like the tourists who stand in the middle of Oxford street snapping pics of the 159 bus that is about to knock them over.

Anyway, back to the tea. I’ve chosen to sit out on the sunlit porch at the front of the cafe, something I don’t normally do as a) I get chilly even in heat waves and usually have to reach for a shawl and b) as soon as I sit outside fifty people nearby decide to share their emphysema with me, puffing away until the area looks like a Kate Bush video from 1978. At the moment though the area is quiet, one alone female sitting directly in the sun going red in the face and fanning herself with the menu. There is no music so I create my own background music with my trusty Ipod playing Billy Joel on a random loop. There is something incongruous about playing ‘Goodnight Saigon’ outlining the horrors of the Vietnam war while sipping Clipper English Breakfast tea and watching a child being pulled along the pavement on a pink Trunkie case. Still, I’m happy and after ordering my first afternoon tea in the guise of blogger/reviewer/Jeremy Clarkson of the tea strainer etc. I sit back and enjoy the moment, which means hiding the ashtray somewhere on the floor and straightening the daffs and flowers on my table, the leaves of which have given up the ghost and are drooping lifelessly across the salt and pepper pots. I think the heat has zapped them of their strength.

Maison Blac 2

Flowers after my skilful rearrangement. Note how I tucked the drooping leaves into the vase. Clearly I missed my vocation in life as a florist

The tea is served a few minutes before the stand arrives. This can often be a problem as by the time the food does arrives the tea has become stewed tepid sludge. However, the goodies arrive shortly afterwards on a three-tiered stand. I hadn’t seen a picture of the tea before I went in so I didn’t know what to expect. It was fine, though I’d be lying if I said it filled me with delight. It looked… well, it looked what it was: a scone, a sandwich cut into small squares to give the illusion of the plate being much fuller than it actually was and chucks of cake that had obviously been hacked from their much larger cousin somewhere in the kitchen. And this, I realise, is the problem. It all seems like an afterthought; a quick attempt to cash in on something Maison Blanc know is popular and that they want in on, without giving much thought to what it should consist of. ‘What can we shovel on these stands to make them look full?’ chef in white floppy hat demands of his pastry minions, hurling whisks and skillet pans at the wall (in my head chefs are tortured geniuses prone to swearing and throwing kitchen implements at unprotected heads) ‘I know,’ pipes up plucky sous chef, brandishing a chopping board as a makeshift riot shield, ‘let’s cut up the end of this bland cake we can’t sell and toss the misshapen bits onto a plate’. There is something impersonal about this and very, very lazy. When you consider its price rival is Patisserie Valerie (of which more shall be written later) there is no comparison. Where there is a sense of Valerie creating treats specifically for the afternoon tea market, going above and beyond with the quality, style and taste of its selections, Maison Blanc appear to be plugging a gap in its menu (and revenue) in the cheapest why it knows how, with minimal thought going into the actual food or the presentation. I don’t want to feel that I could have made far better if I’d stayed at home with a chocolate roll and a Breville toastie maker. If I of all people can make better myself with only the most rudimentary of ingredients I know something is seriously amiss with where I’ve chosen to eat.

Maison

Uninspiring, though the heat of the day made the brownies taste like they just came out of the oven

Now, before the answers on the ‘About’ page come back to haunt me I need to point out in what seems to be a vitriolic rant that I did actually enjoy the experience, despite the lack of energy expended on the enterprise. The sandwiches (once I had taken the slices of boiled egg off two of them and wrapped them in tissue. Not the fault of Maison Blanc. I just can’t stomach boiled eggs) were nice, the salmon particularly pleasant despite the overzealous use of lemon that masked the taste of the actual salmon. The scone (cold) was filling and the jam and cream was plentiful, even if leaving the cream in the original plastic Rodda’s tub seemed to be another sign of disinterest in how the tea was presented. The cake “bits” as I have come to think of them were nice-ish. The plain sponge wasn’t offensive and the two types of chocolate brownie were rich and gooey, though this may have come from sitting out in the sun too long.

Maison Blanc afternoon tea

Tea and cake “bits”

Verdict: A lack of thought, effort and originality. Also, don’t expect a doily if you happen to be on your own. The couple next to me got doilies so clearly I am perceived as a table-hogging spinster draining them of additional income. Underwhelming.

P.S.  Googling pics of ‘Maison Blanc afternoon tea’ brings up images that bear no resemblance to what you actually receive. It seems these are pictures left over from a time when mini lemon meringues were on the menu, roughly around the same time that dinosaurs roamed the earth.

Feel free to share stories, views and tips in the comments section below. Always fun to hear from fellow teaholics xx