Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
I bet you never realised that I have a tendency to repeat myself. I bet you never realised that I have a tendency to repeat myself. This personal flaw worked in my favour when I left my job. After enduring months of my talking about the big exciting trip that I was going on and all the amazing places we were going to go, my colleagues had a pretty good idea of what to get me as a farewell present. I think I may have mentioned my intentions of having a fancy high tea at The Ritz London or Claridge’s about a million times…and so, I was absolutely delighted when I opened up one of my farewell presents, a gift voucher for afternoon tea at The Ritz!
“The Granddaddy of afternoon tea, the Ritz has earned itself the reputation as the one to beat. It’s held in the almost cartoonishly opulent Palm Court, which is all gold leaf and crisp linen, flowered plates and immaculate service. The food is what you’d expect – finger sandwiches, scones and sponge cakes – and as good as you’d expect, too. There is a fine selection of teas. A pianist in the corner adds to the sense of occasion. In short, the Ritz is a place to impress, and to be impressed.”
Excuse me for quoting from the Evening Standard newspaper, but everything about this quote is true. I’ve had my fair share of fancy afternoon teas, including at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong and the Metropole in Hanoi, but they can barely hold a candle to the luxurious opulence of the Ritz London.
With a strict dress policy, K and I had to scramble a bit to make up Ritz-appropriate outfits. While packing for nearly eight months of travel, we had decided to jettison the three piece suits and evening dresses as inappropriate travel gear. I managed to get by with a long-sleeved dress and a pair of flats (plus a pair of tights from Primark), but it was a bit more difficult to dress K on a budget. Finally, we managed to find a nice dress jacket at H&M on sale for $30 AUD, and picked up a tie from an op shop for another $4 AUD. Paired with his one collared shirt and navy pants, he managed to pass the dress code!
Once you enter the Ritz, it begins to all make sense. The plush carpets, the gold gilding, the velvet lounges, the chandeliers…it’s like something out of a high society novel from the turn of the century when old money still ruled the United Kingdom. You need to dress up to make it feel special, to fit in with your surroundings. Even the cloakroom is a bit more special – you don’t just get a plastic tag, you get an embossed enamel and gold tag on a silken tassel.
As you approach the maitre d and give your name, he won’t need to look at his list to confirm your booking as he’s already memorised the names of all his guests that day. “Ah, Ms Chan, we’ve been waiting for you. We have you at Table 4 today, please follow me.” It’s personal touches like that which make you feel like not just a customer, but an actual guest – the Ritz goes out of the way to ensure that you have a positive, personalised experience. Other guests who were celebrating special occasions like birthdays had small customised birthday cakes brought out to them during the course of service – another nice touch.
Taking personalisation a step further, everything at the Ritz London is custom-made for them. The crockery used is a floral forget-me-not print made specifically for the Ritz London by Royal Worchester. The heavy silverware tea set is by Heritage Silverware, again made just for the Ritz. If I was a betting person, I’ll even bet that the paper they print the afternoon tea menus on is also probably custom-made for the Ritz as well, and the linen tablecloths are probably embossed with their logo. When you dine at the Ritz, you get a full Ritz experience.
With sixteen different loose-leaf teas on the menu, it’s hard to decide what to order. My instinct is usually to order a green tea as my go-to, but I choose the house blend of the Ritz Royal English, a blend of Kenyan, malty Assam and Ceylon Orange Pekoe. It’s an unusual choice for me as I don’t often opt for black teas, but I enjoyed the soft muted flavours of this tea – the perfect blend to have with just a mere dash of milk. K had the Earl Grey which he found a bit strong – he didn’t want to add in milk as a good Earl Grey blend should really be served with lemon and honey instead.
What’s on the menu for afternoon tea at the Ritz London?
- Ham with Grain Mustard Mayonnaise on White Bread
- Cheddar Cheese and Chutney on Tomato Bread
- Cucumber with Dill Cream Cheese on Caraway Bread
- Chicken Breast with Parsley Mayonnaise on Malt Bread
- Scottish Smoked Salmon with Lemon Butter and Black Pepper on Rye Bread
- Egg Mayonnaise with Watercress on Granary Bread
Scones and Pastries
- Freshly baked Raisin and Plain Scones with Cornish Clotted Cream and Strawberry Preserve
- Assortment of British Tea, Pastries and Cakes
The photos in the gallery below are deceiving – while it may look like you only get a few sandwiches and two scones each, the reality is very different as the Ritz London works on a (theoretically) limitless principle. They bring out small quantities of the sandwich and scones to begin with to ensure that the scones stay warm and the bread doesn’t dry out. Once you finish your first plate of sandwiches or scones, they’ll whisk it away and promptly replace it with a new batch of warm scones, or freshly made sandwiches. As a result, there’s no sad dry cucumber sandwiches to be found!
Out of all the sandwiches, I’d say my favourite were the smoked salmon on rye (thick-cut, generous slices of strong smoked salmon, yum!) and the egg mayonnaise. Most people would think, “egg mayonnaise? how boring!”, but it was truly delightful – not too eggy and very fresh. It’s the type of egg salad I wish I could make at home as a protein-rich salad!
I loved the scones (light, quite fluffy) but I’m afraid that the Cornish clotted cream has spoiled me forever. I don’t think I could go back to having the whipped cream that normally comes with scones in Australia, as the clotted cream is a much better match – creamier, more buttery, richer and naturally sweeter. Nothing but clotted cream on scones for me from now on!
The same could be said for my afternoon tea experience at The Ritz – I think it’s spoiled me forever. There isn’t a single tearoom in Australia that can offer the same all-round experience that the Ritz offers. Furnishings, surroundings, personalised crockery and silverware, impeccable service by men in smart jackets with gold buttons and tails, perfect finger sandwiches, light and fluffy scones, a dessert trolley that rolls around the tearoom to offer you additional slices of cake…the Ritz has it all. Nothing in Australia will ever come close. I guess I’ll just have to return to London for my high tea fix from now on?