FOOD REVIEW: Afternoon tea in style – but just who is the city centre’s Top Bun?

How very civilised: Afternoon tea at  Mercure St Pauls   Pictures: Martin Dawes and Steve Parkin
How very civilised: Afternoon tea at Mercure St Pauls Pictures: Martin Dawes and Steve Parkin
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AFTERNOON tea? I don’t mind if I do.

Just let me practise crooking my little finger.

How very civilised: Afternoon tea at  Browns.     Pictures: Martin Dawes and Steve Parkin

How very civilised: Afternoon tea at Browns. Pictures: Martin Dawes and Steve Parkin

It’s the sort of British ritual we love – yet how many times do we get the chance to do it?

Taking tea in the afternoon is pampering yourself without feeling too guilty, not pushing the boat out too far from the shore.

It’s a cream tea with knobs on.

There is nothing nicer than a good cup of rosie lea, dainty sandwiches, scones with cream and jam and dinky little cakes to set you up for the rest of the day.

How very civilised: Afternoon tea at the London Club.    Pictures: Martin Dawes and Steve Parkin

How very civilised: Afternoon tea at the London Club. Pictures: Martin Dawes and Steve Parkin

And there’s one other ingredient: a sense of style.

No afternoon tea in Mrs Food and Drink’s book, is going to beat the one we had at the Ritz in London some years back.

Uniformed flunkies wheeled trollies laden with doll’s house sandwiches and pastries while a lady harpist zithered away in the background.

I ended up with a big hole in my wallet – and a hole still in my tum – but the missus was replete with the satisfaction that she’d ticked off one of the major experiences of her life.

And we can’t hope for more than that, can we chaps?

We took afternoon tea at three city centre venues, Cary Brown’s London Club in Surrey Street, the Mercure St Paul’s Hotel and Browns, both overlooking Millennium Square.

The London Club, on Fridays only (3 to 5.30pm), offers a ‘standard tea’ at £12 each and a £20 champagne version, with glass of bubbly, and small box of truffles as “the naughty way to get ready for the weekend.”

My wife decided not to be naughty.

St Paul’s tea is £10.95 per person “served to you on an elegant silver stand.”

With a glass of bubbly it’s £15.95.

It’s offered all week 12 to 6pm.

The bargain is Browns at £10.95 for the two of you with two pots of tea.

Even more attractive is the ‘unusual tea’ with a couple of G&Ts replacing the second pot at £18.95. And two quid more makes it a champagne tea.

Available Mon-Sat from 2.30 to 5.30pm.

Here’s how they fared head-to-head. Scores out of five in each category...

SETTING

London Club (LC) has a gentleman’s club atmosphere, all red and leather. Odd mix of bone china and earthenware pots, cups and saucers . Paper napkins. Not Sheffield cutlery

St Pauls (SP) offers afternoon tea in the Champagne Bar and the Lounge, with views into Winter Garden. It’s light and airy with a china tea service, Sheffield cutlery, linen napkins

Browns (B) has potted palms, a giant clock, jazzy music, sturdy white tea set and linen napkins

RATING: LC 3, SP 5, B 5

SANDWICHES

LC: Nine finger sandwiches, all good, starring lovely chicken mayonnaise, with salmon and cucumber and egg mayonnaise close behind

SP: Nine finger sandwiches. Marinated salmon was lovely. Also ham, mustard and tomato and (boringly) just cucumber

B: Four each of salmon and cucumber, both with cream cheese, which livened up the cucumber

RATING: LC 5, SP 3, B 4

SCONES

LC: Two big, warm crumbly homemade scones

SP: Four small but impressive warm scones, again homemade

B: Two big, slightly doughy bought-in warm fruit scones

RATING: LC 5, SP 5, B 3

JAM AND CREAM

LC: Lashings of cream, not-quite-set homemade strawberry jam and delightful, light homemade lemon curd

SP: Good cream, decorated with strawberry slices. Six Tiptree mini jars offering raspberry, raspberry, raspberry, raspberry, raspberry and strawberry. Raspberry very seedy

B: One pot of clotted cream, another of shop-bought strawberry jam

RATING: LC 5, SP 3, B 4

CAKES

LC: Eight lovely cakes made on the premises, including éclairs, cream slices, strawberry and raspberry tarts and a chocolate fondant. Top marks

SP: Four sticky unimpressive cakes which tasted bought-in

B: Three (now that’s a nice round number between two) bought-in cakes, although lemon drizzle was good

RATING: LC 5, SP 2, B 3

TEA

LC: Plenty of choice. Served in big teapot which allowed us many cups

SP: Good choice of teas but served in small pots. Had to remind them to bring the tea

B: Only place to serve loose tea (with strainers) but one pot only gives three cups. They bring the second pot when you ask

RATING: LC5, SP 4, B 4

THE RESULT

The London Club with 28 points out of 30 won easily, although it was the most expensive. Leftovers – and with eight cakes there will be – can be taken home in a box

Browns, with 23 points, was at least half the price of the others and, while not homemade, remains a bargain

St Paul’s, which scored 22 points, was sadly let down by its cakes but was still a pleasant treat.