Fortnum & Mason Afternoon Tea Review

fortnum and mason afternoon tea london

Having now spread around the world, you can have an afternoon tea in Fortnum & Mason in either London or Dubai. They have the same basic design, with a few small differences. However, the location of its second store in Dubai tells you everything you need to know; its luxury.
We’ve visited Fortnum & Mason’s perfect afternoon tea before, so let us take you on the journey too.
fortnum and mason afternoon tea london 4

The Ambience

You start in the reverse of a Disney ride, by going through the ‘gift shop’ of Fortnum & Mason. The fourth floor if your stop, before you have to walk up the remaining flight of stairs (there is a separate lift for those not able to take the stairs). You’re greeted by a grand piano playing, with a small desk in front. You’ll be shown to your table where you’ll afternoon tea. This however is the draw of Fortnum & Mason to me; there are different areas. Each time we’ve requested a different area, meaning we’ve now gone ‘full circle’ and gone to each. There is a large open well lit area which most are taken to, which feels airy and light, featuring a large window fronted area, which if you’re lucky enough to be sat by you can people watch to your hearts content. There’s also the tea tasting room, seating 8, hidden away and much quieter, this area can be booked out by a party. Finally, there is the tea bar, as pictured below, it’s the area teas are made, in a small but very well lit room, dripping with class (this is where the famous people go).
fortnum and mason afternoon tea london 2
Finally, you see the tables, all laid out in white, with white and blue porcelain, making an icon image. The class and sophistication coming from their table setting is breath taking. When they bring out the teas you get specific tea strainers, tea spoon holders and pots, making you feel special. The golden lines on the edges; remind you that it’s a pure luxury to be here.

The Tea

Tea is where Fortnum & Mason really shines. Long ago, the tea importer supplied a series of teas for the Royal family, and they haven’t stopped since then. As a result, when you tea at Fortnum & Mason you get the best tea experience you will find in London. With 55 teas, from all over the globe and flavours to please any palate, it’s a perfect list to read. They know their tea, they talk you through them, if you’re unsure about which tea they can make up small pots to try. Simply put, if you love tea, then afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason is the best place to go. We tried countless teas, with and without milk, and got jolly tea drunk in the process.
Fortnum and mason afternoon tea London 3
However, to end there wouldn’t be appropriate. You see, Fortnum & Mason have a secret menu. Ask to see the rare teas list and you’ll be presented with a series of truly remarkable teas, with remarkable costs, which you can also sip to your hearts content. Charged by the pot, these teas are only for the true connoisseur.

The Food

Unlike many afternoon teas, you have a large choice about your style of tea; you can have a simple afternoon tea, a savoury afternoon tea (without scones, but with savoury tarts), or a high tea. My personal experience is the high tea is best. You start with a main dish, a meal, all of which are made in the Michelin star kitchen, which on its own is probably enough. Then the cakes, pastries, sandwiches and desserts come out. However the pacing of the high tea is perfect, they let you sit back and the food go down whilst they talk through teas, by the time the sandwiches come out, you feel peckish again.
Fortnum and mason afternoon tea London
The menu is constantly changing, so much so they don’t even print it, it can change day by day, to make sure the best ingredients are used. In addition the pastry chefs are let loose to do as they please, making fantastic combinations which are always different.
The plates themselves though look small, they don’t hold much, edging you to finish. Then they ask if you want more; say yes and you get a different set of tasty treats.

The Service

White gloved servers, knowing their menus inside out, moving around almost on air; service at Fortnum & Mason is best described as happening without you noticing. They spend time with you, but you don’t feel like they’re on top of you, they’re aware of you’ve gone through most of the food, and will offer more in a polite way, when conversation between your guests pauses. Perfect.

Price

Depending on your choice of menu, it can vary from £44 to £50, with additional cost of champagnes, or extra drinks on top. This almost perfectly matches that of The Ritz, and in my opinion is better on many levels, such as tea choice, food choice and atmosphere.

Shopping

Fortnum & Mason has one difference over most of the other afternoon teas in London; there’s a shop downstairs. In the shop you can get all of the blends (and a few more), along with more cakes, sweets, biscuits, etc. Going to the shop is an experience in itself, decorated in a palatial style, and full of sumptuous treats.

Overview

The Fortnum & Mason experience is by far the most decadent of the afternoon teas in London, with the best tea selection. Its ability to charm time after time with a changing season menu and different seating areas makes it a perfect mix of charm and confidence.

The Ritz Afternoon Tea Review

the ritz afternoon tea london food

When you think of an afternoon tea in London, you think of the Ritz. Long known as the best of the best, The Ritz offers a very traditional afternoon tea, it’s in tea rooms used since the 1700s.
I recently went for an afternoon tea in The Ritz. Despite living in London for 15 years, I’d never actually dined at The Ritz. It’s well known decoration and service level led me into thinking I knew it better than I actually did; having now gone, I’m not sure it’s all it’s cracked up to be.
the Ritz afternoon tea London room

The Ambience

The Ritz afternoon tea is in their palatial palm court, a lofty gold and white themed room. One wall has a vast golden statute depicting the ‘balance of power’. The domed ceiling is decorated nearly as well, with large square windows, letting light stream in (we suggest doing in the day, in summer, when the sunlight reflects off of every golden surface) hovering over a massive vertical flower display, changed daily. When it comes to design, The Ritz cannot be beaten. The room may seem very familiar, as it’s been regularly used in movies, such as Bond in the past.
At different times in the day your ears will be treated either a pianist or string quartet (note you’ll only get one for your sitting, so pick a sitting carefully).
the Ritz afternoon tea London room 2
It should also be noted that there is a dress code in The Ritz. Men wear jackets, women dress mostly in smart dresses, leaving you feeling like it’s a special occasion. Its tourist heavy, but thanks to their strong push on dress code, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a tourist hotspot. But be warned; they are super strict about this, you will be turned away if you aren’t dressed right.

The Tea

The Ritz has their own list of teas, supplied by a series of different suppliers, making a list of 15 teas, mostly focuses on traditional black tea blends. Each has a signature Ritz edge, such as the Ritz royal English, or the special red (rooibos) blend. We tried 5 of the teas, requesting a different tea at each course, something they were happy to do, but seemed out of character in most cases. The brews were strongly made, really bringing out the flavour of the tea, seeped the first time only (which for the likes of the oolong we had wasn’t ideal). The quality of the tea was great though, leaving us feeling a little tea drunk following the visit.

the Ritz afternoon tea London menu
The Ritz tea menu – June 2017

The Food

Up until this point, The Ritz supplies a fantastic offering, and I was excited to get stuck into the food. However, disappointment creeps in. The offering is clearly traditional, however also uninspiring. Simple sandwiches and a savoury cake menu leave you feeling a little let down, even if it’s traditional.
However, the quality of these sandwiches is shockingly good. Of all the afternoon teas we’ve reviewed, you can taste how well selected the ingredients are. Whilst they’re are a little uninspiring, the quality makes them feel like you’re getting something quality.
the Ritz afternoon tea London food

The Service

We once again move back to a positive about The Ritz; the service. The Ritz has a style, and this permeates through to their service level. There are ample staff, however they do always seem super busy, and are willing to help you with anything you may want. However with their slightly stuck up English/French appearance, you feel shy to ask them anything, and there’s rarely enough time to ask a detailed question about the food or teas.
That said, if you get them on a quiet day (like we did), their knowledge is fantastic. They can tell you where the teas come from off the top of their heads, they can talk you though the palm room, they can even go into detail about where the cucumbers came from in the sandwiches. They know it all. I would try to get a quiet day as the whole experience is greatly improved.

Price

Pricing for afternoon teas in London is a tough thing. With drastically different offerings, prices vary highly. The Ritz marks itself as one of the most expensive. I would say the price is probably spot on, however if you’re going to spend the money, think about the alternatives as well, which may get you more bang for your buck.

Overview

The Ritz afternoon tea is a classic, and worth a visit, however its success is its downfall. It’s full of tourists, and its lack lustre menu is clearly made to appeal to a tourist’s idea of the English palate, and as a result, misses the mark. With Fortnum & Mason taking a strong lead on tea, and sketch taking a strong lead on food and service, The Ritz may have been surpassed on every level.

Sakurayu: Pickled Cherry Blossom Tea

Japanese sakura Kyoto

There are literately thousands of tea types out there, from Assam to Z Tea, however with a little online searching, you can find almost all of those. One major exception is Sakurayu.

Pickled Cherry Blossom Tea

A tisane, Sakurayu or pickled cherry blossom is, exactly what you expect it to be. During Japan’s cherry blossom season the whole country goes crazy for the cherry blossom trees blooming almost over night. They schedule their whole year around it, having blossom parties, visiting their hometowns and importantly, making cherry blossom tea.

The tea is picked directly from the tree before it falls in the peak of the season, which lasts just 1 week. As a result, finding this tea out of season, even in Japan, is incredibly hard. We sourced ours from Tokyo Match Selection, who offer a fantastic selection of rare Japanese teas. If you’re looking for an expensive tea, pickled cherry blossom truly is it, with a single blossom costing roughly £3 or $6.

Sakurayu pickled cherry blossoms

What is Sakurayu?

Once picked, the cherry blossoms are soaked in plum vinegar, before being flattened in hand presses. Following a few days of pickling, they’re sprinkled with salt.

Preferably drunk fresh, the blossoms open in the cup, a natural flowering tea. Unlike most of these tied teas, the cherry blossoms hold their form perfectly, sitting peacefully at the bottom of the cup.

sakura Sakurayu tea

Flavor

I did my research before buying this tea, so the flavor was expected, however by looking at the pretty flower in the cup, you wouldn’t expect the strong salt flavor. In Japanese culture, the umami flavor is prized above all others, and the pickled cherry blossom is the height of this (hence the cost).

The initial flavor is a sharp salt, however once this dies away (quickly I may add), the delicate flavors of plum vinegar (very similar to plum wine) and cherry blossom really come forward. The salt does have its purpose though, as without it, the plum and cherry would be very sweet, meaning you couldn’t taste the whole palate.

A Daily Brew?

As a unique tea to try, Sakurayu were high on my list, and to be honest, I’m very glad I tried it; but I won’t be trying it again at home.
In the Japanese cherry blossom season, sweets and drinks are about, and all are over sweet, meaning the pickled cherry blossom would be a perfect break. Next time I intend to try it under the Japanese cherry blossoms themselves.

japanse cherry blossom tea party

Sketch Afternoon Tea Review

sketch afternoon tea london cakes

Afternoon tea in London can be an odd affair; with either the strict yet touristy feel of the Ritz, or a more tea oriented yet still stifling Fortnum & Mason. However there is an alternative.
I recently went for an afternoon tea in sketch. Despite living in London for 15 years, I’d only ever heard of it in passing, like one of many ‘in-the-know’ places in London. Located on Conduit Street it’s far from hidden, in fact for a tea lover its hard to miss, it’s right next to the East India Company, a fantastic pre or post tea visit. However, having finally taken the plunge to high tea there, I realised I’d been a fool for never going before.
sketch afternoon tea london green room

The Ambience

You start by walking though a rather nondescript door, into a dark corridor, filled with super modern art, like pain on stairs, and linen moving on a weird machine. You start to think that maybe this wasn’t what you wanted, where was the pomp?
However, down a small flight of stairs your ushered into a small room, where you can wait, or tea if you’re a ‘drop-in’. This room gives you an idea about what sketch truly is. Its floor is covered in moss, its walls are painted with trees, it ceiling holds up a mass of live flowers, greenery or branches (dependent on the season), and the tables and chairs feel like they reach up from the ground. All whilst a bright pink piano gently plays classical music in the cover.
You don’t have long to wait though, as the tables are orchestrated perfectly so when you arrive, your table will be ready, by hook or by crook. You pass through some doors that almost appear from nowhere (almost every door in sketch is hidden without signs) and you’ve reached your place for the evening. A converted masonic hall, square and painted in a pastel pink. You’re shown to your table which is always a booth, although some have chairs as well. These are all in keeping with the pink theme, puffy and structured like lady fingers. A trio of highly accomplished sting instrument musicians play in the corner, playing an almost personal performance to you and 30 or so other people in the room.
sketch afternoon tea london
You don’t sit at your table long before someone introduces themselves as your personal waitress for the evening (each waitress has 5 tables), they talk you through the menu and what to expect before advising they’ll return with the tea expert. You sit back and admire the surroundings as you suddenly realise the walls are plastered with funny doodles (some more risky than others).
As the evening goes on the trio of strings are replaced with soothing classical from hidden speakers, at a low level to promote conversation. I personally went in summer and so got an artificially altered sense of time, it was still blaring with sun light at 6 when I left.
sketch afternoon tea london toilets
Whilst the story carries on below, there is one remark I’d love to make. At a point in the evening a time will call you to push through a pair of hidden doors in the corner of the room, and from the outset you think you’ve made a wrong turn. In front of you is a sunken pod, with a small bar inside, with stairs curving up around it. You walk up and see a dozen 8 foot white eggs in a room filled with multi colors from the stained glass ceiling. You feel somewhat in a sci-fi movie, but you’ve simply make it to the loo. One of the best in London, this room was actually used as a film set on many occasions. A small addition to the male half (left) is a dark black room, about 6 foot by 3, with water gently dripping down the walls. It feels mesmerizing and you can’t help but stand their in awe as you suddenly realise this is the urinal; despite feeling like a walk in water feature.

The Tea

One main point about afternoon tea in sketch is the tea. It’s far from an after thought. In fact, its very creation was thanks to French tea lovers wanting to reinvent the traditional British afternoon tea. A tea expert greets you at the table and asks what you like, before offering some tea to smell and select. Initially you get one of 15 fantastic Jing teas, however from the outset there is something different. Choice. Our review of the Thornton & Mason afternoon tea showed they had far more choice when it came to blends, however in sketch they want to you keep coming back for a different brew. They suggest one tea for opening, light and refreshing, then another for sandwich, another for cake, another for scones, and a different one to re-energize before you leave.

sketch tea menu 20177
sketch tea menu – June 2017

In addition the knowledge is insurmountable, even questions from myself, a self titled tea expert, they handled they with ease, understanding my level of knowledge and adding their own stories and tasting notes.
If you’re particularly interested in tea (as I assume you are reading a tea blog) then I implore you to speak to the tea master. After my 4th tea and the night started to slow down I started trading tasting notes with the expert, and they produced a series of ‘off menu’ teas which I could try, such as Pu’erh mini cakes and a smoky white oolong.
Their menu constantly changes with seasons and supply

The Food

Where would any afternoon tea be without great food? sketch is no different, and as a Michelin stared kitchen, you can expect nothing but the best. You start with egg and soldiers (in Michelin stared style of course), where a ‘caviar man’ comes to offer you some of the most expensive caviar you’re likely to lay eyes on. Whilst many in the party had tried some before and turned their nose up, after trying it, they soon changed their minds; it truly is worth it, even if an extra 5g spoon would cost £30.
This is followed by the usual sandwiches, scones and petis gateaux, however with unusual textures, tastes and mixes it makes for a very moorish menu.
sketch afternoon tea london cakes

The Service

To add to the quirky atmosphere, all servers are dressed in irregular outfits. Grey boiler suits for the men, strait out of an even henchman’s lair, and Bollywood inspired polka dot short dresses for the ladies makes spotting them rather easy against the puffy pink backdrop. However, don’t let this fool you as there is someone constantly to take you ever whim, but it more tea, more cake (its truly never ending) or asking to take some cake away (which they do free of charge). They all know their stuff too, with perfect tea pairing notes by all. Their snappy service, polite manner and knowledgeable offerings are somewhat expected with afternoon teas in London, however sketch is different in one specific way; they talk to you. If you start a conversation, they’ll talk back. In the Ritz it feels they’re scared to talk to you, as if they should only be seen and not heard, but in sketch they talk about London, tea, food, the art on the walls; part of the service is face time, and they’re happy to give it to you, with almost as many servers as there are guests.

Price

Price is always a concern when it comes to anything in London, but especially a known tourist trap of afternoon tea. I’m very glad to see however that sketch is one of the cheapest out there ranging from £34 to £78 per person. This, combined with fantastic tea, Michelin star food, perfect service and a very quirky atmosphere have to make it by far the most lavish tea in London, so the low price makes it even more enticing.

Overview

I wasn’t really sure what to expect with sketch, however having done, I know, that without a doubt, its the best afternoon tea in London. A title it should hold strongly, as there is massive competition.