34 Norfolk Place
Afternoon tea: £14.95* (no service charge)
Booking may be required
I am reliably informed by a number of windows using the England flag as a makeshift blind that sports season is upon us. I am also given to believe that summer, in theory at least, has officially started. It occurs in brief flashes between 16:00pm – 17:00pm, long after you have been caught in a downpour that causes your tights to cling to your legs and your hair to frizz into a style last modelled by Kate Bush in 1978. I reject both concepts. I don’t enjoy downing Piriteze like they are Smarties, nor did I appreciate England losing against an Icelandic 5-a-side team who formed the night before the match down the pub or the occasional cry of ‘Come on Tim!’ wafting across Wimbledon’s centre court by someone either desperate to be on TV or on a ten year time delay.
So with this in mind I retreat indoors for tea and sandwiches garnished with that most inexplicable of foodstuffs: watercress. My oh my, how I wish someone would explain the reason for this innocuous weeds’ existence. I am convinced it is a plot by Flora to ensure their butter tubs get exposure on primary schools windowsills. However, with the weather being what it is (i.e. typically British) and life in general being rather strange at the moment, I expect others to be seeking refuge in this most comforting of traditions.
Imagine my surprise then to observe that everyone taking tea in ROBA today could have all gone home in the same Dacia.
The dining room is immaculate. ROBA is part of the Norfolk Towers hotel, and is therefore like the dining room of every boutique hotel in the country: smart, modern, and utterly without atmosphere that it feels as though you are sitting in hermetically sealed Tupperware. This sounds like a complaint. Normally it would be, but nowhere is it written that afternoon tea must take place amongst doilies and mock Clarice Cliff china, anymore than it is compulsory to eat pasta in restaurants with photos of Sophia Loren and Al Capone decorating the alcoves (also avoid if they have murals on the walls depicting Tuscan seascapes. They are visual distractions to shift focus away from the bland Arrabbiata). The restaurant of ROBA is a bright, clean and trendy place to be, and so relaxed it verges on the catatonic.
And then I hear something magical. The waitress – a charming woman who actually seems to enjoy what she is doing – informs me that if I would tea AND more sandwiches, all I have to do is ask. MORE FOOD? No questions asked? I love you, ROBA, and I want to come back every week for seconds and thirds till I have to be rolled through the door like Violet Beauregarde after she turns into a blueberry. Of course I have no way of knowing at this stage if I will want extra savouries or if I’d happily pay more to have them remove the food they have already given me, but my expectations have now been raised to ridiculous heights.
Thankfully for my stomach they don’t disappoint. The obligatory egg horror gives way to a hearty selection of salmon, cheese and tomato and a rather delicious cucumber and hummus option, but of course I must run the all-the-sandwiches-you-can-eat-until-you-explode-like-Mr-Creosote test. I therefore order two additional ham and mustard which, though my head is saying yes, my belly is saying ‘Oh God, no more, pleeeeese. We canna takes no more, Captain.’ It’s okay though. I’m on the cusp of the big 3-0. I don’t have to clear my plate or risk being sent off to bed without pudding. In fact, I could go completely mental and eat the mini éclair BEFORE I succumb to the hummus, but for me this would be a step towards pasting tin foil to the windows to stop the MI5 stealing my brain waves. It really does amaze me sometimes that I am able to walk properly given the broom handle I have permanently lodged up my backside.
The scones are big and warm and served with jugs of cream and rich strawberry jam (no, it isn’t pouring cream. I think they just ran out of pots). Yet it is the mini patisserie of cakes and éclairs and macaroons that my eyes are drawn to, complete with miniature bonsai trees used to decorate the (rather bland) lemon tart and spiced nut and raisin cake, while the display is given a liberal dusting of ice sugar. It is all very pretty and feminine, though I do take umbrage at the chopping board used in lieu of a stand. Presentation should never take precedence over taste and substance, and this certainly succeeds in the latter two qualities to ensure that this is a favourite of the teas I have indulge in so far in this scone-based odyssey, but given that for the two hours I am occupying chair space there are only two other ladies partaking of tea (leaving most of it untouched, the unappreciative wastrels) it would hardly have been a great sacrifice to have served mine in a similar manner to theirs. I just hope they gave the board a good going over with the Domestos first. Chocolate caramel brownie laced with Salmonella does not read well on a menu.
Verdict: Excellent value for a delicious afternoon tea, though the atmosphere (or lack of it) may be too sterile for some.
*Prices correct as of 16.7.16
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