26-28 Turnham Green Terrace
Afternoon tea £12.50pp (no service charge)
No booking required
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.
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.
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.
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