Sometimes you just want a change. You feel adventurous and daring, but most of all you have one of those “cunning plans” taking over your mind.
I share this sometime crazy idea of cunning planning with my dear friend S. Comedy nostalgics and connoisseurs alike might remember the famous Blackadder and Baldrick’s catchphrase “I have a cunning plan”; S and I use it to solve minor issues such as: boredom, need for inspiration, lack of spontaneity in our life, shifting of energy and the likes. To us, a cunning plan is more of an impromptu mission to make waves in our baths.
Often our “cunning plans” work out perfectly and the improvised ones are always best: a simple phone call, jump in the shower, get dressed in the dark and off we go; personally I am convinced that the rest of the cunning plans are not such when planned in advance. Mainly due to the false expectations that start building up.
S and I consider ourselves some kind of experts when It comes to afternoon teas now for 2 simple reasons:
- S is a great cook and is just simply in the know
- I am hypercritical in general and If I’ve invested myself into a potentially good cunning plan I want results.
We organised a get together at The National Dining Rooms, one of the restaurants at the National Gallery and booked an afternoon tea; at £17.50 the price was rather reasonable but as we have now come to realise, like for many things, price does reflect quality.
Average prices for a good quality afternoon tea nowadays are around £30/£35, more if you choose to go for champagne or prosecco. Traditional afternoon tea is a feast for the eyes more than anything if it turns out to be a disappointment.Get ready to take tons of pictures with your phone as it turns out you’ll be the envy of all your friends and make their mouths water. I just wish they came up with a combination that included just the finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam because as proved in the past, no matter how hard you try, by the time you get to the bottom plate you can’t even manage to stomach 1/3 of the cakes selection and believe me, I tried; not even starving for a whole week would work. It’s now fashionable to offer mini cakes rather than slabs of cakes, I think restaurants are rightly becoming savvy and are trying to reduce wastage.
So, it’s fair to say that I look forward to the sandwiches and scones more than anything else, as well as the selections of teas. Fingers sandwiches are so simple they are very easy to get wrong: the typical choice is usually egg and mayo with cress, smoked salmon with cream cheese on wholemeal bread, chicken or ham and mustard (normally on white bread) and my favourite of all, cucumber. I judge my sandwiches by freshness of bread and quality of fillings but I honestly think that the real proof is not in the pudding so to speak, but in ‘The Cucumber Sandwich”. The cucumber slices have to be paper thin, almost transparent but not quite and the bread only lightly buttered. Failing to do these 2 things will result into a rather tasteless bite if the cucumber has not got the right consistency and quite sickly if there’s too much butter.
Scones are notoriously difficult to make from scratch, he who gets it right should be awarded an Academy Scone because finding the perfect one that’s just out of the oven, slightly crunchy on the outside with the correct moistness and texture on the inside is no easy task; and trust me when I say that whether you’re a supporter of the Cornish way (jam at the bottom and clotted cream on top) or the Devon way (clotted cream at the bottom and jam on top) is not going to make a bit of difference if you could smash a window with your scone. Scones ARE what make or break a good afternoon tea as they are at the centre of a good cream tea.
Should you be so lucky to find these 2 main components at their best you might forget about the cake selection. Yes they do look really pretty on the plate, but frankly who needs all that extra sugar?Also, if you happen to have booked a place that offers a refill service (usually that will depend on how much you’re spending I’m afraid) and you have a small space in the tummy for more you can opt for an extra scone or sandwiches if you’re feeling savoury.
The T selection is always a question mark. Some places don’t give much of a choice and you’ll find that the most exotic teas on their menu are Early Grey, Assam or Darjeeling. Others will offer flowering teas, white teas and more.
As for the National Dining Rooms I can confidently say that potentially, it could have been a good quality afternoon tea and experience: the place looked really good if a bit too dark for that time of day, rather spacious and smart but the service was a bit slow, sandwiches were disappointing in their filling combination and kind of sloppy, scones were barely acceptable being one step from being used as table stoppers. When I got to the mini cakes I took a bite out of each of them but I was on the verge of hyperglycaemia and left them all sitting there looking rather sorry for themselves.
However, I enjoyed my tea very much, having chosen the Ayurvedic Harmony. Now, don’t quote me on this, but I don’t recall having slept that night.
Needless to say the best thing about this unknown afternoon tea was the company and the little mini jam jars. As for the food: better luck next time! (somewhere else!)
In conclusion: when you’re tempted to go to your favourite place, the one that never disappoints, but feel like trying new sensations, why not give a cunning plan a go; just make sure you are with people who are good company so that if you are out for an afternoon with your girl friends and your tea goes south you can always start talking about Tom Hiddleston’s bum. That’s always a winner!