Had Afternoon Tea at The Athenaeum – they’re celebrating the first anniversary of the hotel’s living wall – a vertical garden. At £27.50 for Afternoon Tea and a glass of Kir Royal (if booked via toptable), this is a lot cheaper than the fabulous Pret a Portea at The Berkeley my favorite afternoon tea venue. To be honest though I have to say that the Athenaeums Afternoon Tea it is not in the same league as the Pret a Portea. However it is still a better than average venue to experience a typical English Afternoon Tea.
Included in the Afternoon Tea is your choice of teas, 2 rounds of sandwiches, 2 small scones, 3 items from the cake trolley and just when you think it is all over, Crumpets or Tea cakes. Rather strangely we had lots of jam for the Crumpets and Tea cakes, when we did not need it, and not enough for the scones. You may also find if you like stronger tea, that you need to ask for it, as the tea can be quite weak.
Made a pit stop at Peyton & Byrne in St Pancras Station. I just do not get it. What is the point of building up a brand as something a bit special, then cutting corners. Mass market coffee shops like Starbucks and Cafe Neros for example do not resort to using paper cups and plastic crockery for non take away customers, so why somewhere more bespoke like Peyton & Byrne has to, is beyond me. Invest in a dish washer or two please.
The 5th View @ Waterstones in Piccadilly is a real find, an oasis in the heart of the West End. It has however now “been found” by a lot of people, and has grown to handle its success. It now takes up the entire top floor. The expansion is extensive, as well as a larger bar area and more seating, there is now an attractive Champagne and Seafood Bar, which can be booked for private functions. To find somewhere stylish and quirky that delivers good quality food and top notch cocktails in a book store is unusual to say the least.
The expansion also extends to the menu in the main bar and food area, which now includes a range of breakfast options.
Plus I do love their carrot cake, especially when served with one of their lovely cocktails, a real indulgence.
The Fig & Olive in Islington is a busy venue with a nice friendly buzz. The cakes displayed by the door (which are also available as take away), look stunning, and if the bakewell tart I had was anything to go by, tasted good too.
This is not just a venue for Coffee and Cakes though. They also have a varied menu covering everything from English Breakfasts to Sunday Roast, and a selection of wines and cocktails.
We tried the Champagne Afternoon Tea at St Pancras Grand making use of the same half price offer we had used earlier at The Portrait (Normal Price £25.00 per person, with the deal £12.50). Off the two venues The Portrait easily won, with its buzzy atmosphere and friendly service. At the St Pancreas Grand, the room is certainly much grander. However the place was rather lacking in atmosphere and we had no qualms about not paying the discretionary service charge. Main complaints (apart from how dull The Afternoon Tea was) are:-
1. No one to greet us at the door.
2. Room was deserted of waiting staff on more than one occasion.
3. Very curt, disinterested waiter.
4. Getting a Tea Strainer took about 30 minutes and two attempts.
5. No offer of a top up on the tea (although the deal specifically mentioned unlimited tea), and we had 2 teapots between 3 people, so not exactly a fair distribution.
With service like this, if you were planning to catch a train…..you’d miss it!
We have been to the Portrait Restaurant, in the National Portrait Gallery quite a few times now (for breakfast, brunch and lunch). It is on the top floor of the Gallery on the left hand side, going up the main escalator and taking the lift to the 3rd floor will get you there.
The place is normally busy and buzzing, so best to book. It also has a good view of Nelson’s Column.
We went for afternoon tea, taking up a special January deal of £12.50 per person for a Champagne Tea. A Bargain!
Age & Sons is actually more than just a restaurant. It is spread over 3 floors, the top floor is the main restaurant, the ground floor is a more casual dining area (laid out a bit like a french kitchen) and the basement houses a cosy rather stylish cocktail bar. It is not the easiest place to find. We arrived on an off season Saturday night to a fully booked restaurant whose clientele consisted of well heeled locals, out of towners, people from the yacht club and foodies like us. I particularly like this places eccentricities – the eclectic range of “Granny” style side plates, the squeaky cheese trolley. It is definitely not one of these manufactured venues with catalogue decor, it has it’s own style.
I started with sweetbreads and damsons. While full of damson flavour it did religate the sweetbread to merely a texture rather than a taste. For main course I went for Kentish lamb and my companion went for the pork (as far removed from the pork I had in Harveys earlier that day, as it is possible to get). The portion sizes were huge so this was more comfort/hearty food than any pretension of fine dining.
What is also refreshing is that in such a busy place the service was professional and friendly. Taking the time for example to enquire how we enjoyed some of the more unusual cheeses in our cheese course. On that front we particularly enjoyed the whiskey flavoured variety from Snowdonia.
On leaving we noticed just how buzzing the downstairs was. This really made for a great ambience and one that most restaurants would kill for.
Marks out of 10 – October 2009
UPDATE : July 2010, Age & Sons now have a much larger outdoor space for drinks and food, it’s a good spot to relax in the sunshine. It even does tea and cakes (not a big selection – they only had muffins on our visit, but they were actually rather good, especially the marmalade and ginger one). They were also selling jugs of Pimms and Ginger Beer, which makes for a nice change from the normal Pimms and Lemonade option.
UPDATE : August 2011
We had a late lunch out in the lovely courtyard. Age & Sons has really upped its game. My Mushroom and Ricotta Ravioli was particularly good.
A friend reserved a table for the Pret a Portea at The Berkeley – the famous fashionista’s afternoon tea. Not that I qualify in any way for the description of fashionista, but there were plenty of them in the room to make up the shortfall.
The table was beautifully set, with individual stylised menus and a personalised name card. Our only criticism was the size of the font on the menu (see vent number 21). We also had some concerns when only one cake stand was set on the table for four people – there was only two handbags!. However the waiter quickly reassured us that the plates would be swapped out as and when we finished them. He was true to his word as we discovered following multiple plate changes.
The sandwiches (we had 3 rounds each and were offered more!), savoury spoonfuls and cakes were all of a very high standard. In fact I actually enjoyed the afternoon tea more than the lunch we had a few months back in Marcus Wareings restaurant!
We also had a few glasses of champagne – they offer standard or couture. The waiter serving the champagne was particularly proficient as he single handedly poured the champagne, smoothly swapping from one hand to the other. He also used a small laser pointer to individually identify and describe the sandwiches and cakes! I jokingly commented that he put on a better show than the Fat Duck. So you can imagine my shock when Heston Blumental walked by a few minutes later. The Berkeley will be a rival to his planned new Restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental just around the corner (see Foliage replacement – the gossip!), so I guess he was just being neighbourly!
5th View Bar & Food is a standout for a cafe/restaurant.
Surprisingly it is also located in a book store. It does really good inexpensive cocktails. We spent a couple of hours there relaxing over cocktails, sharing a meze plate and finishing with coffee and cakes (the carrot cake has to be one of the best I have had – sweet, light and moist).
The menu choice is limited, but what they do provide is simple, good quality, nicely presented food.
There are two dinning areas, one of which has a lovely view over the roof tops.
For a bit of everything Del’Aziz the Mediterranean Delicatessen and Brasserie is great, they have their deli counters (of course) and a really good selection of cakes (portion control is a problem though, sometimes bigger is not better!). I have only been to the ones in Bankside and Fulham.
UPDATE : September 2010 – I passed by their new outpost in Bermondsey Square yesterday during the annual Bermondsey Street Festival and it looked good.
UPDATE : May 2011 – Finally tried the Bermondsey Square branch, it has outdoor seating at the front and in the Square, which is a great little sun trap. Identical formula and quality level as the other branches of Del’Aziz.