Summer this year is a total washout in wet, gray and windy London, so we decided to cheer ourselves up by going and scoffing some afternoon tea. All lady-like and dainty, of course. Not really. We prepared ourselves by skipping lunch (and I substituted a lie-in for breakfast since it was a Sunday). So we rolled into Bea's of Bloomsbury at 2pm, hungry and ready to do our afternoon tea some justice.
Afternoon tea always puts me in mind of Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier because of their Devonshire and Cornish connections in southwest England, the home of clotted cream. But Bea's is also located in the heart of Bloomsbury where Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury set ruled their literary nest in the early 20th century and a stone's throw from the British Museum and the old British Library where Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto. Also down the road on Doughty Street is Charles Dickens' house which is now a cute little museum.
Afternoon tea can be an expensive affair. For special occasions you may be tempted to explore the Ritz or the Dorchester or, in my case, newly refurbished temple of art deco the Savoy with a glass of champers. Classy five star hotels with a classy price tag which can sometimes be a little disappointing. For everyday afternoon tea with all the trimmings, Bea's of Bloomsbury is perfect. You still have to book via their website as it's very busy, but when you get there, you'll understand why.
Everything is made in-house. There's probably only about eight tables inside with a couple outside. The bakery is at the back of the shop. At the front is displayed all their offerings. I took these photos after 4pm when most of their cakes had been devoured.
You can order the full afternoon tea with sandwiches and cakes for £15 per person. If you want to forgo the savoury stuff and concentrate on the sugar, then it's all of £12. Practically a steal--coz' let's see all that you get:
Your choice of tea (black, green, herbal). I went for plain Assam. My friend went for Rooibos with milk and got a sexy little jug.
I've learnt that you can't really enjoy the sweet stuff without a bit of savoury. So we went for the full tea and got served these delicious baguette sandwiches.
Chorizo, ham, brie and tomato and roasted vegetables with salami.
The sandwiches were not too big but not too small, and all incredible delicious. They were just right to prepare us for this:
Ok, so we came here for the cakes. Bea's has been steadily making a name for itself amongst Londoners. They first became known for their cupcakes as they rode the cupcake boom here a couple of years ago (we're always a few years behind the States here) and have now opened a second shop near St. Paul's Cathedral. We went to the original shop near Holborn.
Top tier had the following: cupcakes (red velvet and chocolate with hazelnut butter cream), mint and chocolate macarons, passion fruit marshmallows and pecan and chocolate financiers. The bottom layer had plain scones, mini meringues, brownies and blondies. One each for both of us. That's eight sweets EACH.
The scones came with raspberry jam and clotted cream.
I LOVE clotted cream. If my scone comes with whipped cream instead of clotted cream, I WILL throw a hissy fit. Clotted cream is thick and creamy and gives cream tea its name (i.e. tea with scones). These scones here were served warm (as they should be) and we could smell them being baked throughout the afternoon.
Now, when you eat scones, you can't be stingy. I like to put the jam on first and then sculpt the clotted cream on top. But you can be as creative as you like. Some like to make a scone sandwich.
Take nice big bites. You can't really eat scones in a lady-like manner as they're extremely crumbly, so don't even try.
The blondie and the brownie. Two small pieces but extremely rich.
We thought we were doing very well, pacing ourselves, drinking tea, chatting and catching up on what's been going on with our lives. The staff at Bea's were lovely, extremely accommodating, didn't make a fuss about giving us extra hot water when our tea ran out, didn't rush us even though our tea-time slot was for two hours and even shared their recipe for the passion fruit marshmallow, which was my favourite sweet that day. It was soft, juicy and tasted like fresh passion fruit with a refreshing tartness. I may have to go back and get myself a bag of them.
I actually thought we would finish the whole thing but we had to admit defeat when faced with the final two sweets: a cupcake and meringue each. But these were packed away for us with a smile. I had the meringue when I got home and it was very light and crunchy with a chewy centre. I gave my cupcake (the chocolate and hazelnut buttercream) to my flatmate who said it was better than Hummingbird's. High praise indeed.
We saw this cake decoration on the way out. Hand-painted wedding cake, anyone?
And we walked down the road towards the British Museum an hour before it closed to continue chatting and have a juice in their lovely great court.
Afternoon tea at Bea's is a robust rather than a delicate affair but with sterling service with a smile and excellent comestibles. So I recommend anyone visiting London to give this place a go. Just make sure to book in the weekends.