I’ve probably written more reviews about London afternoon teas than any other genre of dining experience in the city. I can’t help it. I just feel so overwhelmingly passionate about any meal that simply consists of cake and tea and scones and cake and more tea, and can you blame me?!
It’s so wonderfully British, Afternoon Tea. There’s something refined about sipping on a cup of Earl Grey whilst politely yet forcefully debating the correct way to assemble a scone, though it is worth noting here that there is no real debate. It’s clotted cream first, jam second. No need for further discussion.
It’s also the perfect way to spend an afternoon with the women in your life that you love, and that’s the reason that for Christmas I purchased for my mother an afternoon on board the BB Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus… with me, of course!
I’ve wanted to jump on board this bus for years, ever since I saw it swinging around Trafalgar Square roundabout packed with women enjoying a sophisticated and delicious hen-do on the top deck a few summers ago. BB Bakery have a few of these buses which depart 5 times a day from Victoria Coach Station or Northumberland Avenue off Trafalgar Square. While it’s expensive at about £50 a head, it does include a plate of sammies, cakes, teas and coffees (though not too much, because there are no toilets on board and there’s no stopping during the hour and a half hour.)
Though the website states that the price doesn’t include a guided tour, our hosts, two wonderfully friendly french guides, provided some interesting information as we went around the town, pointing out interesting landmarks, stating a few fun facts, and even quizzing the guests as we went around. Sadly, I’m a total geek when it comes to London tourist facts and knew most of the answers, and took over the quiz ever so slightly. Sorry not sorry, I am a swot.
Whilst we drove around the wonderful sites of London, we began chowing down on the selection of savouries set out in-front of us on the tiered plates. The savouries included salmon and cream cheese blinis, cucumber sandwiches, a gorgeous chicken and salad roll and a fluffy quiche.
My favourite of this selection was probably the chicken salad bun. The chicken was succulent and the tomato juicy, while the slather of mayonnaise was tangy and not overbearing. The bun was bouncy and fresh and together it made for a good quality sarnie that doesn’t leave you wanting.
The quiche to my mother’s absolute delight wasn’t overly eggy (egg being one of her culinary sworn enemies) but rather light, airy and with a beautifully buttery pastry case. Little can be said for the smoked salmon blinis due to their classic simplicity, other than that they were a happy little mouthful and I only wish we could have had more.
As we whizzed around London we were served our hot beverages – we were offered a selection of teas and coffees, and from a wee bit of eaves dropping I detected that hot chocolate is also an option if tea isn’t your, um… cup of tea… The drinks arrive piping hot within a wonderful portable drinks cup which is available to purchase OR win if you answer questions correctly within the short quiz hosted by the hosts (and before you ask, of course I won a cup. London swot, remember!)
As we swung past the sites of Kensington Palace (waving hello to the Cambridge’s as we went), we tucked into the cakes. We had shown great restraint by not scoffing these first because they looked so good, and luckily for us this wasn’t a case of beauty over substance, as this was a lusciously well balanced tier of sweet goods.
I started with the profiterole look-a-like which actually seemed to have more in common with a crisp doughnut filled with delicious, creamy vanilla custard while mum chose to start with the coconut flaked covered caked topped with a fresh raspberry. Looking at this one you imagine it’ll be meringue or marshmallow fluff underneath the layer of coconut flakes, but it was actually sweet cream domed on-top of a fluffy cake base. Disappointing only because of the expectation, but ultimately very tasty.
Its difficult to decide which was my favourite of the sweet treats. Usually i’d find a chocolate cupcake a little too much for me, but these were balanced wonderfully. The ganache, while sweet was almost creamy and light, and the sponge body was *shudders and hates self* moist yet airy. Perhaps it was just the perfect size to prevent that sickly sensation creeping up on you, maybe it was just a great cupcake. I suspect it was both.
The other stunner from the sweet collection was the lemon meringue pie which was mouth-wateringly tart. The sharpness from the lemon (which I can only assume means it was made with fresh lemon juice ’cause there ain’t no way that Jiff would give such a powerful zing!) was balanced perfectly with the sweet, gooeyness of the meringue which stuck comically to our top lips. A white ‘tache actually looks quite good one me!
All of that was very sweet and so we washed it down with another round of tea (I actually had a latte) and a glug from the bottle of fresh orange juice which was gloriously sweet and pulpy as well as refreshing and the perfect digestif for a gooey lemon meringue pie!
But the sweetness wasn’t over, oh no! For no Afternoon Tea is complete without a round of scones, clotted cream and jam! Soft and fresh, we halved our crumbly scones and slathered on a big heap of cream followed by a dollop of super juicy strawberry jam. I always think the ratio of cream to jam is important to get right at this juncture. Ideally you need two and a half parts cream to one part jam to make a well balanced mouthful. Too little jam and you’re going to miss the sweetness needed, too much and it’s going to be too sugary. But as i’ve already mentioned, it is crucial that these be applied in the correct order as stated above.
The tour lasts about an hour and a half. With a few last quiz questions (answered correctly by me) we turned back into Victoria Coach Station and gathered up our possessions. Some took goody bags of the cakes they hadn’t eaten (light weights!) and others took their quiz prizes (me, I took my prize!)
For an afternoon of indulgence and tourist fun, there are few better options in London than the BB Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour. Prices start from £45 per head and Saturdays book up a few weeks in advance. If you don’t fancy the idea of a bus, you could grab yourself a place on the BB Afternoon Boat Tour coming in May, and rumour has it there is also going to be a Afternoon Tea Taxi coming to the streets soon. Or if you just want to stay in one place while you stuff your faces with sarnies and cakes, you could always visit their Covent Garden based cafe. Either way, BB Bakery know how to host an amazing Afternoon Tea.