Afternoon tea; one of the great British traditions. Alongside a Yorkshire stuffed with roasties and topped up with gravy, and a chip butty with plenty of butter, a scone caked with strawberry jam and mounds of clotted cream is a true British treasure. It is more than just a treat. It is a strange and unique part of being British.
It is also the single most pointless and unusual meal I can think of. It’s the reason why so many women in their mid-forties just can’t understand where that extra weight around their hips is coming from. It was the reason for corsets, and now it is what keeps WeightWatchers afloat. It’s a non-meal, something that cleverly exists between lunch and dinner- because lets not kid ourselves in thinking we’d skip a meal either side of it. That’s why so many women so easily forget about it, and then when reminded will defend it as ‘well it was only a cup of tea,’ forgetting the 3000 calories served on the side. But afternoon tea is also without a doubt the best non-meal. Nobody really needs it, but judging by almost every tea room in London on any afternoon of the week there’s no chance of this tradition dying anytime soon.
Stepping through the grand double doors on the Piccadilly into The Wolseley is like stepping back into a more regal England. Here things are done the proper British way. People discuss serious matters like Fortnum & Mason hampers. This isn’t Chelsea mum’s gossiping over a fro-yo, this is British aristocracy coming down from their room at The Ritz to order Darjeeling Tea because they still feel they are the rightful landowners of it. But it isn’t stuffy here. And despite the luxurious surroundings it is relatively relaxed. Everything was perfectly calm and civilised despite the dining room being packed, and apart from Janet Stree-Porter’s gob (she was on the table next to us) the dining room has a pleasant buzz. Another reason to try The Wolseley is how reasonable the price is. At £23.75 a head it is far cheaper than the equivalent at hotels- Claridges is £45 and The Dorchester £41.
What can be said about the food? Afternoon tea is never really about the food. The finger sandwiches- egg mayonnaise, cucumber on sundried tomato bread, chicken and celery and smoked salmon- were all great. The cakes- a bright pink and yellow battenberg; a pistachio macaroon; a strawberry tart; a slice of cheesecake; and a chocolate cake with gold leaf- were again perfect. But as ever what steals the show was the scones. That extra bit of stodge you need to force everything else down. The clotted cream laughing in the face of all it’s low fat and skimmed equivalents. It’s at this point of the meal that I forget my plush surroundings and used the back of the spoon like a builder’s tool to cement the two halves of the scone together with the clotted cream, and then as if dunking chips into ketchup, I dipped the scone into the jam and pushed it up into my mouth. An offence I’d probably have been arrested for if I’d been caught. After forcing down the fourth scone (my girlfriend to my delight left me both of hers) I slouched back in my chair and glanced at my watch. Dinner in 2 hours. Perfect.
So I say be British and let yourself forget about those 3000 calories and go to The Wolseley and savour this fantastic and completely unnecessary tradition.