Monday, 13 June 2011

Afternoon Tea on a Budget

Bea's of Bloomsbury
Last week my best friend, Larni and I celebrated becoming another year older (she is a whole three days younger than me) with a week-long marathon of fun and frolics. This tradition began 11 years ago and we are reluctant to give it up. This time around we found that food and alcohol featured highly, as did the fabulous West End show Legally Blonde and yet more alcohol.

We naturally celebrated with our own family and group of friends too, but our first treat, was just for the two of us and just about sums us up together - Champagne Afternoon Tea - in other words an afternoon of cakes and sweet things with a good glug full of bubbles - perfect.

It has to be noted that we were actually planning on doing outdoorsy, sight-seeing activities, mainly visiting the Tower of London, but good old England in June let us down and on the morning as the rain came and came we wondered what to do instead. Afternoon tea was suggested but I was doubtful we would find a slot anywhere, early, being so last-minute, and I didn't want to go for a late sitting as I was booked in to eat at Les Deux Salons on the evening.

As luck would have it, I had noticed a few days previously something on Twitter about Bea's of Bloomsbury doing Afternoon Tea, so I called, and we were in. I've long been a fan of Bea's, having previously worked just off of Theobalds Row, where the original resides, so I was quite keen to try out the newer addition to the family in the new shopping centre at St Pauls, One New Change.

I was delighted to find the decor modern, quirky and stylish. There was a brown theme throughout with the odd splashes of colour, and the ceiling was adorned with various lampshades in the guise of teapots, ingenius.

Many visits to the original had been on seriously stressed out days when only the thought of a coffee cupcake, a cup of tea and a natter with one of the girls could get me through the day, it almost represented a safe haven for a certain trio of friends, and the friendly staff at this branch with the delicious array of cakes was one of the reasons why we often returned.

I was immediately impressed that the owner of this establishment have clearly kept their staff selection skills up to scratch, the waitress who served us was accomodating, friendly and informative. We ordered our tea and informed her that Larni is a vegetarian, and she immediately went off to check if all of the cakes were veggie-friendly and to change the savoury sandwiches of hers to meat-free.

The sandwiches were actually small sections of crusty, white baguette and mine were a chorizo and cream cheese with a little green leaf. They were lovely, the smokey saltiness of the chorizo was complimented perfectly by the cream cheese.

One small complaint that we had was that actually, the meaty sandwiches were side by side with the veggie ones, to the point that one of them was actually touching the other, while this may seem a trifle point, let's face it if it was an allergy we were talking about, those wouldn't have been placed on the same plate at all, and really I don't think this should be treated differently. However as we were laden down with goodies, we ploughed on, I had the offending sandwich and found it didn't offend me in any way. It was a buffalo mozarella with tomato and a basil pesto - the pesto had seeped into the bread a little and given a magnificent flavour. It was like a little sandwich taste of Italy, lovely.

Next was a plain scone, the original, quintessential part of any respectable afternoon tea. It was lovely, buttery, light and crumbly, had a good moist texture and excellent seasoning so as not to be so sweet, which I often find scones can be. These were lovely with our pot of fresh clotted cream and strawberry jam too. They were however rather large, and I only eat half to make sure I had room for all the other goodies.

Two signature cupcakes were included in the tea, and as I've tried a number of these before, I was pleased to see two that I'd yet to try. One was a vanilla cupcake with a cassis topping, beautiful to look at with a pinky-purpley icing. The other was a chocolate base with a pistachio cream finish which was the minty green you would imagine, side by side they looked so pretty, it was almost a shame to crack into them. Somehow we found the strength though! We halved them both so we could try everything, and found that not only did they look good, they tasted great. The icing on both was immense, the kind where you'd happily stick your finger in and eat a little minus the cake. The cupcakes were both light and fluffy and in keeping with my favourite coffee ones of old.

The top layer of our tea was a selection of brownies and marshmallow. The marshmallow were just for me as these contain gelatine, which our friendly waitress kindly informed us of. They were lovely, the stuff of childhood memories, only better.

The final three treats I've deliberately left till the end - brownies. Those who know me will know I'm not a fan of brownies, I find that whenever I'm confronted by one they tend to lack flavour and be quite dry. I have been known to voice my irritation when they seem to always end up on dessert menus these days in some format too. However I will openly admit defeat where neccessary, and after trying this trio of brownies, I can say that I may be fast converting to the brownie-lover brigade.

The first was a Valrhona, or in other words a rich chocolatey affair, which I can vouch was very, very far from dry. The dark chocolate flavour was lovely and for the first time ever, I was left wanting more. The second was a Belgian Blondie, or in other words my favourite flavour of any cake - white chocolate! It was heavenly. I kept awaiting the moment where I could nod to Larni and say 'See this is why I don't like brownies!'. Perhaps it would come with the final treat - a peanut butter brownie - perhaps not. This was actually my surprise dish of the day, it was incredible. Not only was it not dry, it was creamy, it was chewy, it had a glorious nutty flavour running through the almost caramel like texture with chocolate, this was like food heaven. It reminded me a Snickers bar, but a bite size portion in glorious, wonderful cake format and all in one perfect texture.

On top of all of this wonderful confectionary we had a pot of Jing tea, and to mark the occassion of our birthday a glass of Moet & Chandon - we felt it'd be rude not to.

We both thoroughly enjoyed this very English tradition and it has to be said that if anyone is looking to experience a real Afternoon Tea without the expense of The Ritz and the like, this is a top-notch, quality alternative.

We had the Champagne Afternoon Tea which at £22.50 is very cheap for the capital. However if Champagne is not for you then it is only £15 per person for the standard Afternoon Tea - definitely a bargain.

Bea's of Bloomsbury's is a quirky, sophisticated venue with cakes to die for and great service. I'm hoping to see more of these around the capital, and hope they retain their excellent staffing and high quality food.

One final note: if like Larni and myself you enjoy the Champagne Afternoon Tea at Bea's and find that one glass of bubbles is just not enough, copy our style and pop a few doors along to Searcy's where you can enjoy one of their Champagne cocktails. They have daily deals on, but as we were feeling flamboyantly decadent after our fun afternoon we ignored these and went for a Strawberry Bellini and a classic Kir Royale and both were fantastic.

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