When I think of elegance and refinement I think of the Ritz. When I think of afternoon tea I think of London. When I knew I was going to London, high on must list of things to do, was have a cream tea. Of course I knew there was only one choice of where to go for tea and that was the Ritz.
The Ritz, it just makes me happy saying it, the Ritz. For me the word conjures up images of style and sophistication.
Conceived and founded by the renowned hotelier Cesar Ritz, this legendary hotel opened its doors on May 24th 1906 to great acclaim from the world's press and the visiting public. It was announced an immediate success. This year is a celebratory one for them, it is their Centenary year, in less than one month the Ritz will be 100 years old. To celebrate this momentous occasion, they are planning festivities and specials all year long.
Much to my delight the Ritz has a dress code. Gentlemen are required to wear a jacket and tie. No one is allowed in with jeans or athletic shoes.
I arrived at The Ritz and entered through their main entrance. I was directed to their beautiful Palm Court, where tea is served. I went through another set of doors and was immediately surrounded by melodic strains from a live quartet of musicians. I had another experience of stepping into a time past. Everything looked and felt elegant and refined. The music gave a festive ambience to the atmosphere.
I was seated for tea and given a menu which described the delicacies that would be served as well as descriptions of choices you had for the tea itself. I ordered the traditional house blend and the fun began. A glass of champagne was brought to me and then a silver tea pot filled with a steaming brew of a slightly earthy smelling liquid elixir, English Ambrosia.
I was then served a three tiered silver server with plates filled with delicate sandwiches and pastries of all types. Thinly cut crustless cucumber, egg, salmon and chicken sandwiches, were arranged on one layer. Another held a variety of freshly baked scones, jam and clotted cream. The other delicate pastries filled with custard, cream, and fresh berries. The food was endless; waiters walked around with trays of the sandwiches and pastries and generously refilled empty servers. Fresh pots of steaming tea would appear and the champagne flowed like water. I ate and drank as much of the goodies as I possible could. When the server came to clean up he said 'is that all you're going to have.' I told him yes and thought unless you'll let me camp out right, here then tomorrow I'll have another go at it and see if I can do better. My very favorite part of the tea was at the very end. They served a small tasting of a cream with forest berries. The cream was delicate and with nuances of vanilla and topped fresh ripe berries, it was divine.
I spent a lot of time just sitting and watching people, listening to the live music and feeling as if I were swirling in and out of this time and the past.
My only complaint was the service. For a hotel with the Ritz's class and distinction I found the wait staff to be very inattentive. I'd often see them chatting in a corner with each other while I'd sit trying to get their attention. I had reservations for two and was seated without my companion and then forgotten about. I probably sat for 15 minutes without anyone coming by to see if I would like a glass of water or champagne while I waited. Finally incredibly frustrated watching neighboring tables enjoying their tea, I was able to stop someone and ask if I could please be served.
There are five sittings every day (11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 3:30 pm 5:30 pm and at 7:30 pm.) Because of the extraordinary popularity of this quintessentially Ritz experience you should plan on booking at least six weeks in advance.
A delightful souvenir to bring home with you after your tea is the 'The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea' by Helen Simpson. This book captures the essence of this traditional British occasion and provides the reader with all the Ritz expertise in the ceremony as well as over 50 recipes, illustrated with passages from Dickens to Oscar Wilde.
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7493 81811
Toll Free from the USA: 1 877 748 9536
Published on May 30, 2007