Downton Abbey mania has swept the world and I for one am not ashamed to count myself a fan. As a tea enthusiast, some of my favourite scenes are those when tea is either served or mentioned – and those scenes are plentiful. I make no apologies for fantasizing about what it would have been like to live the Downton lifestyle. “Tea is served, m’lady.” Sigh.
Perhaps one of the reasons I love going for Afternoon Tea is because it gives me a sense of ‘another time, another place’. Whatever the reason, love it I do and on Saturday I had an opportunity to dine like the Crawley’s and the Grantham’s at a Downton Abbey inspired Afternoon Tea at Grosvenor House, London.
To create a special Downton variation on our award winning Tea was easy for me as I am a huge fan of the series! – Nigel Boschetti, Executive Chef
Upon arrival for our 4 o’clock reservation, we were escorted to The Park Room which is where Afternoon Tea is served at Grosvenor House. I really, really liked this space – it was wide and open and tables weren’t jammed close together as often is the case in hotel tea venues. Sunlight was streaming into the room, adding a beautiful golden glow to the already opulent surroundings. A pianist was playing a piano in the corner of the room.
I didn’t take any photographs of the room in order to preserve the privacy of other diners, but afterwards I popped out and snapped the above picture to show you the table where we were seated. Window tables are smaller than most of the other tables in The Park Room; nevertheless, we very much enjoyed looking out over Park Lane and Hyde Park, and never felt awkward even with a fairly steady stream of outside passers by.
The tea tables in The Park Room at Grosvenor House are lovely and welcoming. Instead of white table-covers, theirs are a warm shade of what I would call ‘tea green’, and nicely match the green-and-gold edged design on the pretty white china. There was a small flower on the table to add colour. Altogether, the appearance was one of understated elegance.
After reviewing the extensive tea menu, we decided on Lady Grey, and English Breakfast. The tea was Twinings loose-leaf and it was perfectly brewed. As an ardent tea drinker, I can honestly say that this was a superior pot of tea. In fact, when we did our weekly food shop the following day, we made a point of purchasing a box of loose-leaf Twinings – it was that good. As we finished our respective pots of tea – and with precision timing – our waiter returned with hot water for a second infusion, which turned out to be just as tasty.
I will take a moment here to mention the excellent service we received. Our waiter was super-efficient, very friendly, and obviously trained to a high standard. He was able to answer every question I had about the tea and food, and he truly did seem to enjoy what he was doing.
Before the tea food arrived, we were served a mouthwatering fruit salad of mango, pineapple, and melon – a lovely, unexpected surprise. The fruits – diced into little bitty pieces – were in just the right amount of juice. After a long day of traipsing about London, it was the perfect appetizer. Very refreshing!
The sandwiches, a nice selection of ‘above stairs’ and ‘below stairs’, were fair. We felt that the cucumber could have been sliced a bit thicker and that, generally, all the sandwiches could have used more filling. But overall, they were tasty, and extra sandwiches were provided when we asked. (The bread seemed to taste a bit fresher with the second round.)
I was looking forward to the Baked Bread Buns, and they did not disappoint. Although rather un-dainty to split open (I had to use my fingers; too dense to cut with a luncheon knife), once spread with butter and jam, they were quite enjoyable – true comfort food. I could just imagine a scrubbed pine table below stairs bearing a plate of these freshly baked bread buns, a sturdy Brown Betty on stand-by ready to serve up enough tea to wash them all down.
The scones, on the other hand, did disappoint. As soon as I saw them I knew something had gone wrong in the kitchen. They clearly had not risen and just didn’t look right (this from a woman who has baked many a scone in her day). I wanted to at least try to eat the plain scone, but it crumbled everywhere when I gently eased it open. I had better luck with the fruit scone, but the taste was mediocre at best. I realise that these things happen, but scones are at the very heart of an Afternoon Tea; I question the decision behind putting them on the plate to begin with.
The dessert tier was sheer perfection. Every pastry and cake was fresh and full-flavoured. Mr. Tea pronounced Carson’s Bread Pudding to be exceptionally satisfying, and I found the Lemon Chiffon to be an excellent finale to Downton’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Afternoon Tea at Grosvenor House.
Mr. Tea and I have had Afternoon Tea at a number of London venues. Following today’s tea at Grosvenor House, we discussed whether or not Downton’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Afternoon Tea was good value for money (£34.50 each). We talked about what makes an Afternoon Tea – for us - GOOD. We determined that if we were in pleasing, comfortable surroundings; were served good food of a fair portion, and tea that was properly brewed; were waited on by staff who were friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable; and at the end of it all, felt full and satisfied, then – regardless of the cost – we had experienced good value and a satisfying Afternoon Tea.
Downton’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Afternoon Tea at Grosvenor House in London ticked all those boxes mentioned above, and earned our approval. With some minor adjustments to the tea sandwiches and scones, we think Carson would approve, as well.
Grosvenor House’s very own 1920’s Afternoon Tea price (1920 is the year in which Downton Abbey series 3 is set) of £2.25p for Downton’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Afternoon Tea, is available to the first two telephone bookings received (for two people only) on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday until November 11th.
Downton’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Afternoon Tea is £34.50 per person at all other times and will be served in The Park Room at Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel, overlooking Hyde Park, 2pm – 6pm daily from Sunday 16 September until Sunday 11 November. To be in with a chance of securing a 1920’s priced Tea, call reservations from 11am on +44 (0) 207 399 8452 and quote Downton’s ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Afternoon Tea.
Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary services for review purposes, which has not influenced this report.