Made-to-order scones, perfectly fresh sandwich fingers and a bottomless champagne coupe, is London’s Intercontinental in Westminster serving up one of the best afternoon teas in town? I think so. What you can expect here is quality, a fantastic setting and impeccable service. Not too much to ask and totally what you should be getting if you are paying top end prices. But that’s not always the case, certainly in my experience. There’s a plethora of choice in the afternoon tea department in London but where do you go to get quality and value for money? I’ve tried some of the best and felt miserably cheated as I left with a doggie bag full of mediocre cakes I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t actually want. I’ve also been impressed with some I’ve paid very little for, but my afternoon tea at the Intercontinental in Westminster was well priced at £45 and by far the best I’ve had for some while.
Emmeline’s (a nod to the political activist and suffragette Mrs Pankhurst) is the room where the floral tea is usually held – it’s what they call their indoor garden – and has a feature wall with a lenticular flip (look out for winking flowers) of neighbouring St James Park. It’s also here they serve cocktails pre and post-dinner in the Blue Boar Smokehouse. Today, afternoon tea is served in the lounge and the floral displays are beautiful and plentiful, there are low tables and comfortable high back chairs with cushions, crisp white linen, bone china crockery and crystal champagne coupes add to the experience.
The tea menu is as long and varied as any decent wine list and features JING tea but to a coffee drinker these finely chosen blends are wasted so I opt for a loose-leafed Roibos. We have teabags at home and this was by far so much tastier than any I’ve tried before.
The Head Pastry Chef is Ryan Thompson and he’s worked to create a range of cakes that compliment the tea blends and it’s obvious that he loves working here. His effort and that of his team shine in the offerings on the cake tower and they taste as good as they look – as you can see the attention to detail really is exquisite.
Here’s the vanilla and raspberry macaroon and the marshmallow and white chocolate tea cake.
I don’t notice that the empty cake plates were taken away and replaced with sandwiches, cakes and petits four. The service was attentive but not over-bearing. Felix knew the menu back to front and explained what I’d be eating. The sandwich plate had sliced fingers of wholemeal bread with thickly cut smoked salmon; Basil bread with rare beef and horseradish; Ham and mustard on white bread and beetroot bread with soft cheese and cucumber. Every piece was delicious, although I felt the hame could have been improved upon.
Not being a massive fan of fruit or Eccles cake, the waiter asked whether I’d like to move on to my scones. A stiffly starched napkin arrived, folded to store four, warmed, blemish-free, worthy-of-an award plain and fruit scones. A tower of home-made strawberry jam, clotted cream and old-school lemon curd and butter. So often, I’ve had to ask for extra to finish the scones but there’s plenty for the four delicate scones, and more.
All the while, my glass is continually topped up with Laurent Perrier Rose and my teacup with fresh tea. I don’t even see that my teapot is removed and replenished with fresh hot water. But then again, I think by the time I left, and be aware, there is a time limit on your table, I had at least three glasses of champagne. I think you can do the bubbles maths here. If you were to have a glass of LPR in any bar in London, you’d expect to pay £15 a glass.
I left the Hotel full. There’s not a never-ending supply of sandwiches and cakes and frankly you wouldn’t want it. If you can’t manage any of the exquisite cakes and don’t want to leave them behind, the waiter will give you a takeaway box but my advice to you is don’t eat breakfast.
If tea’s not your thing, then they’ve got a rather large bar with craft beers. You may bump into an MP or two – the Hotel has a Division Bell on site – and a rather interesting art collection.
The floral tea – being served to mark the start of the flower season – is available from 2pm with the last sitting at 5.30pm. Each table has a 90 minute time allocation.
The Intercontinental Westminster is opposite St James Park Underground Station on the District Line and Victoria Station is a 10 minute walk away.
Thank you to the management at the IC Westminster for inviting me as their guest.