5th View, Waterstones
£15.95pp (optional 12.5% surcharge)
No booking required
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.
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.
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).
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