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 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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.