Brown’s is a luxury five star hotel in Mayfair and was opened in 1837 as London’s first ever hotel. I thought it would be the perfect place for a spot of “legendary” afternoon tea with my Mum and sister and although it was a pleasant experience, we were all a little disappointed.
The hotel wasn’t much to look at from the outside but the inside however was very attractive. We were seated in the first of three rooms where the afternoon tea takes place which saw dark wood panelled walls and plush carpets. The chairs and table (which was far too small for the three of us) were rather low which made sitting comfortably a bit of a chore – we felt like giants sitting on children’s furniture. A poorly placed armchair at the table next to us meant my view throughout the afternoon was of the back of a chair. Hmm.
We opted for the traditional afternoon tea priced at £39.50 per person. We avoided the champagne option which added a glass of R de Ruinart making it £49.50 per person – I’ve never really understood the combination of champagne with tea.
From an extensive list of teas (over twenty in fact) we chose the Cornish one which is grown at Tregothnan Tea Plantation near Truro. It was pleasant enough; light and delicate but it was the cup we were drinking out of that rather ruined the experience. It was massive – I wanted a dainty tea cup that I could raise my little finger as I sipped from it. This cup was the type you might give a plumber as he fixed your leaky tap.
We were then brought a selection of sandwiches and sweet treats in the traditional afternoon tea tiered stand which barely fitted onto our tiny table. The scones were held back so they could be enjoyed warm and fresh.
The sandwiches were all pleasant enough and tasted of their said ingredients; the cucumber tasted of cucumber, smoked salmon tasted of smoked salmon and so on but nothing particularly stood out or excited us. The grated cheddar and ham sandwich was less afternoon tea at a five star hotel and more something you’d find in a five year old’s school lunch box. We were suitably underwhelmed.
The scones were then presented and tasted as enticing as they looked; rich and buttery if not a little misshapen. The accompanying strawberry jam and clotted cream were plentiful and gladly replenished – as was everything we ate which is a positive about the experience.
The top plate of desserts totally lacked any flavour whatsoever – which in itself was quite impressive; how is it possible to make a macaroon, a raspberry tart and even an elderflower jelly taste of completely nothing?
A trolley was then wheeled over to us from which we were offered a slice of sherry cake or Victoria sponge, I went for the latter. It was fine – pleasant at best, boring at worst.
I was slightly surprised by our disappointing experience at Brown’s as I’d heard from many people that it’s simply wonderful. I was expecting elegance and sophistication but instead it was all a bit cumbersome and the food was bland. I couldn’t help but compare it to afternoon tea at The Goring which seemed in a different league altogether – but it’s a similar price.
The service throughout our visit however was lovely, in particular our waiter – who had been working there for over eight years. He proudly told us that in 2009 they had won an award for London’s best afternoon tea – I think I experienced first hand why it hasn’t won the award since then.
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