Several US followers on my Instagram page @theladysmaid have asked for my afternoon tea recommendations in London, so I feel it’s my duty to do some proper research. Now, I’m quite a traditionalist when it comes to afternoon tea and I’m a serious sconnoisseur. In recent years themed teas have started popping up around London and I wasn’t initially a fan. However, I’ve lately changed my tune; I admit it was the fashion themed teas that turned me. How could I resist eating a delicate Dior red velvet handbag at the pret a portea at The Berkeley? Then there’s the Lock & Co couture hat themed tea at The Sheraton. Just when you thought afternoon tea cakes couldn’t get any prettier. Other more imaginative afternoon tea experiences I’m keen to try are the Mary Poppins themed tea at the Shard, the Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit tea at Le Meridien and the Mad Hatters Alice in Wonderland themed tea at The Sanderson. Afternoon tea has become more than just scones on a silver stand in a dusty drawing room (although this will always be my natural habitat); it’s evolved into a whole new event, and I’m here for it! So The Lady’s Maid is branching out on a tea tour (time and budget allowing). I hope to visit some of London’s finest tea spots over the next year and share my reviews with you. The first stop on my #TLMteatour is The Mad Hatters Alice in Wonderland themed afternoon tea at The Sanderson.
(NB: my overall rating is not an average of the individual ratings.)
The Sanderson have fully embraced the whimsical world of Lewis Carroll for their Alice in Wonderland themed afternoon tea. With a chic theatrical monochrome tea set designed exclusively for The Sanderson by Luna & Curious, and props including a Musical box for sugar and an antique book menu, the stage/table is well set for a Mad Hatters Tea.
I loved the presentation of the tea options on playing cards and mini labelled bottles in the centre of the table. I opted for Alice (of course): a china black tea infused with notes of caramel and bergamot.
I warned you I was a traditionalist when it comes to afternoon tea, so I’m always going to scrutinise themed teas extremely closely. The big risk with teas like this is that they can end up being style over substance, and if you’re paying almost £50 for tea and cakes then it still has to taste good as well as look good. I liked the variety of savoury options on the bottom tier of the stand as a change from the usual row of sandwiches that you get at afternoon tea: a smoked salmon scotch quail’s egg; avocado and crab brioche; cucumber and cream cheese pesto bread sandwich. There was also a stack of King of Hearts ham and parmesan croque monsieur. Now, I love a croque monsieur but I’m not sure it has a place in an afternoon tea; once I’ve had a cheese toastie it takes up valuable eating space in my tummy. And I don’t want to be in a situation where I don’t have room for the sweet treats. There had to be a mini “drink me” bottle somewhere in the proceedings and here we had an exotic fruit potion served with a mini stripy straw to lead you on to the sweet tier. Also brought to the table were a couple of miniature flower pots with ice cream, honeycomb and edible flowers – very cute.
Moving on to the sweet options. These were a little disappointing and I found them all a bit overly sweet. I did, however, like the mocha chessboard gateau, the Tweedle Dee lemon curd financier and the Wonderland marshmallow magic mushrooms. I wanted to like the Queen of Hearts jammy dodgers but they were so light and crumbly I kept dropping mine en route to my mouth. On the third attempt my tea companion was laughing at my dodgy eating etiquette (and he should know, he used to serve tea to The Queen). The scones are always the highlight for me and I couldn’t fault these ones – served wrapped in a chequered napkin to keep them warm. The waiter hadn’t asked for our preference (fruit/plain), so I was relieved to find them sans raisin. I’m the unfussiest of eaters, but anything riddled with raisins is a no go for me. Clotted cream, strawberry jam: all good down the rabbit hole.
I find the setting a really important factor in enhancing the afternoon tea experience and I wasn’t keen on the courtyard setting for this tea. There was repetitive chilled music more suitable for a beach café, and a rather plodding water feature that didn’t aid relaxation. But other people may love this kind of atmosphere; as I said in my intro, I’m a drawing room kinda gal. This tea is also available as a “Tipsy Tea” in the evening served with themed cocktails.
To sum up: Good if you like quirkiness and a more casual atmosphere – maybe for a girls’ group/hen weekend type occasion.
Stay tuned for the next stop on my tea tour!