I had been so looking forward to my afternoon tea at Soho’s Secret Tea Room - a delightful looking hidden afternoon tea spot, secreted in a room above legendary Soho pub The Coach and Horses. So what went wrong?
The experience did not get off to the most auspicious start as I turned up bang on time for my 3pm reservation to be told by a sceptical barmaid, who seemed to require some convicing of my identity (was she holding out for written evidence?), that my table was not yet ready.
I was invited to wait outside the pub, where I ran into the second member of my three-strong party of girlfriends due to meet for tea.
After quarter of an hour, concerned about the whereabouts of our missing friend and the mystery of the unprepared table, we decided to investigate the delay. After some bumbling confusion at the bar, we were taken upstairs to our table, where it turned out our friend had been all along; she’d taken a precious couple of hours away from her baby to catch up with us, and she had spent an eighth of that time sitting at a table on her own while we sat and waited outside. As bad impressions go, this was going to be hard to recover from.
Unfortunately, the rest of the experience did little to placate us. We had a perfectly ok tea; rounds of cucumber, salmon, tuna and other stock afternoon tea sandwich varieties were served on white or brown sliced bread. Unusually though perhaps usefully, these could be ordered separately, as could all the other component parts of the tea: a piecemeal approach to afternoon tea here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
We enjoyed some pots of very serviceable tea, all taken from charming mismatched and suitably English crockery, and some rather small but quite tasy scones, available both with-raisin and without, but ultimately we were left feeling non-plussed at best and irritable at worst.
The service was shabby, but not in a chic way, and overall I garnered the feeling that we were being attended to by sixth formers, perhaps ones who had decided to put on a play about serving afternoon tea, such was the amateur and laissez-faire approach. No-one was rude or unpleasant but neither were they friendly or particularly helpful.
At one point we were advised that we could order more sandwiches, but as certain fillings had not been made up yet, we would have to wait if we wanted these, or we could have more of the cucumber as these were already prepared.
Given that the only food that is served at afternoon tea is sandwiches, it seemed a little odd that they hadn’t managed to prepare any in advance, and the ins and outs of the sandwich production line isn’t the sort of information I expect to be burdened with when I wish to enjoy the decadence of afternoon tea.
Soho’s Secret Tea Room is a lovely idea, it’s just rather poorly executed. I should point out that I’ve enjoyed afternoon tea at many an establishment so I found it a real shame that the delivery here didn’t measure up to the promise.
The setting is charming, and the food itself while not being inspirational, was sufficiently loyal to one’s expectations that had it been served with some gaeity, and authenticity, could have left one feeling charmed by the experience, rather than harmed by it!
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