Dodging showers we made it to the Ritz, not looking our best, but not looking too bedraggled either. Back in February when I’d booked our afternoon tea I’d half hoped for rain so I could have one of the top-hatted doormen hold a golf umbrella over my head as I went up to the steps to the entrance. As the rain had stopped that didn’t happen, but they did hold the door open and welcome us inside which is something I’m sure wouldn’t have happened back in the days when I used to walk past every morning on my way to my job in a sandwich bar round the corner.
We had plenty of time so disappeared downstairs to the Powder Room (yes, it was really called that) to change and straighten our hair.
The toilets (aka the Powder Room) were very pink and very dated, but there was a sofa and little rolled towels rather than paper towels and they did have a plug socket and a big mirror, so we ignored the pinkiness and indulged in some free electricity.
We were still early, when primped and preened, we went back upstairs and found the bar.
This was our weekend of being posh ladies and was a kind of belated birthday celebration for us both and was in memory of a friend who had died earlier in the year (her unexpected death made us realise that life is too short to put off doing things and so after the funeral we went home and booked this weekend. We would have done it sooner, but October was the earliest we could get a Saturday booking), so we’d already accepted we’d be spending quite a bit of money this weekend.
£22 for a cocktail was probably a bit more than we’d expected, but life is short and the memory of sitting in the lovely intimate (i.e. small) art deco bar will last a lot longer than £22 usually does.
Likened to a ‘gorgeous little jewel box’, The Rivoli Bar is an intimate cocktail lounge secluded from bustling Piccadilly, which is located immediately outside but feels a world away. The Rivoli Bar is overtly Art Deco in its design, a sophisticated symphony of camphor wood walls inset with illuminated Lalique glass panels, patterned mirrors, decorative bas relief, and an under lit bar topped with polished cocktail shakers, all overarched with brilliant gilded ceiling domes.
This description has been taken from The Ritz website.
The waitress brought us nibbles – salty crackers, olives and almonds. They looked tasty and tempting. We hesitated. Trish reached out to take an olive. I slapped her hand down.
‘No, we don’t know how much that olive’s going to cost us!’
After checking with the waitress and finding out they were complimentary we tucked in.
As it got close to 1.30 we went back to the Palm Court for our afternoon tea. The waitress had said she would bring our unfinished drinks over. We thought about asking for the nibbles to brought over too, but decided that would be pushing things a bit too far. And we did have an afternoon tea to eat.
The maître d’ informed us our table was ready and showed us where the cloakroom was so we could offload our overnight bags. A minute or two later we were back at the Palm Court, only to be told this time by the maître d’ that our table wasn’t ready. He asked us to sit and wait and led us to a couple of comfy chairs by the harpist. (Yes, of course there was a harpist – it’s the Ritz).
Our drinks arrived and we sat sipping them, watching the time tick by. The maître d’ came over and informed us that our table still wasn’t ready. He asked us if we were in a rush.
‘No, but we’re worried we’ll feel rushed’.
The afternoon teas run at set times. We had a 1.30pm slot which means we would be expected to leave around 3pm so they could get set up for the 3.30pm sitting. The later we got seated, the less time we would have to enjoy the experience.
He apologised, reassured us that we could take as long as we liked once we were at our table and no-one would rush us, and oh, maybe we’d like a glass of champagne whilst we waited?
Oh go on then. If you insist. Of course we’ll have a £28 glass of champagne each at the Ritz’s expense.
We decided to go back to the bar to wait as we’d quite liked it in there. The waitress was surprised to see us back and sympathised when we told her we were still waiting for our afternoon tea.
Eventually, we were called back to the Palm Court and sat down to our afternoon tea about 40 minutes late.
At the heart of The Ritz London lies The Palm Court, an elegant salon originally designed as a destination for glamorous guests from high society to ‘see and be seen’. Originally known as the Winter Garden, The Palm Court is a dramatic room of fanciful design, flanked by high walls of gleaming mirrors, a ceiling seemingly woven together with intricate gilded trellis, romantic birdcage chandeliers adorned with ornate metal flowers, a striking stone fountain inhabited by large gilded statues and at the centre of the room a soaring, vibrant floral display.
Description taken from The Ritz’s website.
The room was full and everyone else, having finished their sandwiches, was choosing from the cake trolley that was being pushed around the room.
We chose our tea – a smoky lapsong souchong for me and a fruity one for Trish – and heavy silver teapots joined the silver milk jug, sugar bowls and tongs and tea strainers on the table.
A silver three-tier cake stand arrived, with cakes on the top tier and plates of sandwiches on the middle and bottom tiers. I’d ordered vegetarian way back when I’d originally booked. The sandwiches were on a variety of breads and being a traditional afternoon tea included cucumber sandwiches as well as tomato, egg and cheese. Trish had a selection of meat and fish. The sandwiches were crustless (posh ladies aren’t expected to eat crusts) and sliced into thin rectangles.
Our table set up seemed a little strange. We were sat at an oval-shaped table for three and had been seated both on the same side. It was quite noisy and with the tall cake stand in the middle this was probably for the best as we would have struggled to hear or see each other if we’d been sat at opposite sides of the table. As the third chair hadn’t been removed we did feel as though we were sat waiting to interview someone. We were quite tempted to ask the waiter to sit down, as sitting with the waiter would have felt less bizarre than sitting feeling like we were part of a row of X-Factor judges.
I took my first sandwich.
‘Would you like something from the cake trolley?’
‘Er, no, not right now thank you. We’ve only just started eating our sandwiches’.
I took my second sandwich.
A waiter grabbed my plate of veggie sandwiches and moved it from the cake stand over to the far side of the table, well out of reach, telling us the scones were coming.
I pointed out I couldn’t reach them and, looking a bit embarrassed as well as harassed, he moved them over to my side. Bowls of jam and clotted cream were placed on the table.
‘These are the best scones in London’, the next waiter told us as he slotted the plate of warm scones into the cake stand where my sandwiches had been.
I didn’t agree. They were nice, but definitely not the best I’ve had. Though he did only say ‘best in London’ and I can’t remember eating scones that often in London, so maybe he was right.
By the time we’d polished off our sandwiches, the scones weren’t that warm anymore anyway.
We were feeling quite full by the time we’d eaten our sandwiches and scones – maybe we shouldn’t have eaten quite so many complimentary nibbles in the bar – and had a little rest before starting on the cakes.
Happy Birthday music rang out and a line of waiters appeared each holding a small birthday cake with a single lighted candle. Obviously, afternoon tea at the Ritz is a popular way for people to celebrate their birthdays and as Trish had been telling people since we arrived that it was my birthday one of the cakes landed in front of me.
Once we’d all blown out our candles the cakes were whipped away to be boxed up for taking home.
It was now getting on for 3 o’clock and everyone started to pay their bill and get up and leave. Their birthday cakes were delivered back to them in small black bags with the Ritz logo. For some reason the bag that came to my table was larger, but I didn’t look inside.
As waiters started to clean up around us we began to feel uncomfortable. We hadn’t even started on our tier of cakes or finished our tea or had the cake trolley and it felt as though we’d overstayed our welcome.
We were reassured that there was no hurry and it didn’t matter if we were still there when the next sitting began, we could stay as long as we wanted. But the whole moving our food, delivering cakes and scones when we’d only just started our sandwiches and then everyone else getting up and leaving made us feel that we should be rushing.
We ate the cakes from our cake stand and as we were quite full and there was no sign of the cake trolley decided we’d had enough.
We asked for the bill. We waited for the bill.
Guests for the next sitting were coming in now and taking all the attention of the waiters.
The credit card machine was brought to the table and I inserted my card as the waiter disappeared leaving the machine behind. We waited. Another waiter picked up the machine and seemed confused.
‘It’s timed out. I don’t know what’s happening’.
Neither do we love, neither do we. He went off to find out what was going on.
Another waiter came by and asked us if we wanted more sandwiches. ‘No, we’re just trying to pay’.
Finally we got our bill paid and asked to speak to the maître d’. We explained how we felt. He was very apologetic. Particularly when I mentioned that we both work in schools and we’d felt like it was lunchtime in the school canteen when everyone got up and left. End of the junior sitting, everyone outside to play, now it’s time for the senior sitting. I don’t know if anyone’s ever compared afternoon tea in the Palm Court at the Ritz to lunchtime in an inner-city comp before, but if they have the quote hasn’t been used on the website.
He gave me his card, ‘Next time you’re here you can have a complimentary glass of champagne’.
As we talked the next time turned into a now time and he guided us back to the bar. By the time we were seated the glass had turned into a bottle.
It was the same waitress. We were getting to know her quite well by now and we told her how we’d felt.
‘That’s terrible, I’ll bring you a plate of petit fours to have with your champagne’.
We had more nibbles as well.
We sat there for a long time. Sipping champagne, delicately eating petit fours, not so delicately eating olives, nuts and crackers and feeling very, very full. Probably a good job we never saw that cake trolley again (though to be fair, they did offer to bring it to us in the bar, but we declined).
We much preferred the bar to the Palm Court. We could hear each other speak for starters. We sat opposite each other at a small table and no longer felt like we were waiting to interview someone. People were coming and going all the time so we didn’t feel like the slow-eaters that every school has a few of. But mostly we preferred it because it felt nice. It had a nice ambience and we felt relaxed. And the champagne was sooo good. We realised that we really liked being posh ladies and promised ourselves we’d do it again.
And just to make things even better, when I looked in my black Ritz bag I discovered why it had looked bigger than everyone else’s. Not only did I have a birthday cake packed in a black box, but I also had a Ritz caddy of tea, a top-hat shaped box containing two layers of chocolates and a small book containing recipes for afternoon tea staples such as cucumber sandwiches so I can make my own afternoon tea at home and impress all my friends with how much of a posh lady I’ve become.
Despite things not going quite to plan, we did enjoy our afternoon tea and of course we really enjoyed our time in the bar. And I always like getting presents. So all in all, I’m considering this challenge to be successively and enjoyably achieved.
Have you ever had afternoon tea at a posh hotel? What was your experience like? Share in the comments below. And if you’ve blogged about it feel free to include a link.