“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
Anyone who has read this blog for a while will have noticed my penchant for tea. Whether it’s sipping a cup with the locals in Burma or searching out Welsh teashops in the middle of Argentina, I’m always on the lookout for any excuse for a tea break.
So where better place to take a girl who has just been slumming it around the world, than to one of London’s fanciest afternoon teas? Which is what my lovely friends decided to do for my 30th birthday and to say I was beyond excited about a trip to The Wolseley is an understatement.
Luckily I managed to play it cool(ish) and, aside from having to change into my nice shoes around the corner from the Ritz as I have somehow lost the ability to walk in heels since my trip, didn’t embarrass my friends too much.
The Wolseley may now be one of the city’s most well-known cafe-restaurants but it actually started out life as a fancy car showroom for Wolseley Motors Limited. It was designed by the architect William Curtis Green in 1921 and the Venetian and Florentine influences can still be seen today in the building’s sweeping staircases, towering pillars and marble floor.
You obviously needed a fair bit of cash to buy one of the cars on show, which cost between £225 and £1,300 and unfortunately it appears that not enough people did, as the company went bankrupt in 1926. After a spate as a branch of Barclays Bank, the building was sold again in 2003 and opened that same year as The Wolseley.
On a Saturday afternoon it is filled with people drooling over its signature afternoon tea, which includes an assortment of finger sandwiches (the fillings of which the waiter rolls off by rote), warm fruit scones with clotted jam and cream and a selection of miniature cakes and pastries. It was honestly like I’d died and gone to heaven.
Diners can choose from a selection of teas (obviously English Breakfast was the only way to go for me) but my friends opted for Earl Grey (which I personally consider to be a crime against tea) and, just to be difficult, coffee.
The tiny cakes – which obviously all had fancy French names, but you and I would probably call them things like: lemon meringue pie, cheesecake and chocolate cake – were absolutely gorgeous. Actually the lemon meringue may now be in competition with the best lemon meringue pie in the world.
In fact the cakes were so good that I had to smuggle a slice of their famous Battenberg out in my handbag (well, we were so full and it was too good to waste) and believe me, it tasted pretty good for breakfast the next day. Although I’m not sure The Wolseley will be using that in its next advertising campaign!
It really was a perfectly luxurious afternoon. It was also the perfect birthday present and I promise I really, really, will stop celebrating it now.