Food / Reviews - Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea at Urban Retreat, Harrods – the experience

Urban Retreat at Harrods, Brompton Road, London SW1 X 7XL

Afternoon tea

Visited: March 2015 and December 2015
Food (quality and quantity) – 2.5/5 (£25 pp)
Service – 3/5
Ambiance – 4/5
Value for money – 2/5
Would I recommend? On average across the two visits, no.
The menu (for one)
3 small open sandwiches (think 1.5 slices of bread) – smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, coronation chicken (which I swapped out for chicken)
1 large plain scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam
Pastries – 1 Eton mess dessert,
1 chocolate and hazelnut cream and crumb, 1 chocolate truffle (tip: ask what varieties they have and choose the one you want, otherwise they’ll give you any one), mini piece of carrot cake
Drink of choice
No refills or replenishments
The Urban Retreat Cafe is by nature what it is in name: a tranquil little hideaway in what is arguably one of the most frenetically busy stores in the world. It is tucked away in the Urban Retreat spa on the 5th floor of Harrods, and I never would have found it unless it had been part of the Stylist’s afternoon tea promotions earlier this year. I took my brother and we had mixed views about the tea overall: lovely food but small potions made it average value for money. There was no way it was worth the full price for two people, but we had two-for-one so that made it reasonable. That was for two people, though, and the menu for one sounded more generous, so I thought I’d give it another try later in the year.
I booked ahead on the day but there was no need: it’s quiet enough on a weekday after work and so I could have walked in. I was almost diverted by the delicious-sounding salads and open sandwiches, but stuck to my choice and substituted hot chocolate instead of tea or coffee, and a regular chicken sandwich instead of coronation chicken.
Service was pleasant and polite, but not very fast – not unacceptably slow either.
Let’s get to it. The smoked salmon sandwich was very nice; the cucumber and cream cheese could have done with more cream cheese; the chicken sandwich was dry and lacked flavour – it needed avocado and/or mustard. All of them felt like they scrimped on something, which was a disappointing contrast to my first visit when I had the distinct impression of abundance – the first time they scrimped on quantity (lovely food, not enough of it); this time they scrimped on quality.

Photo of the stand from my first visit. This is the serving for two people. On this occasion, the sandwiches were delicious – there just weren’t enough of them! The sandwiches were nowhere near as good on my second visit.

Now, scones. Or, rather, scone. One single, plain scone, standing in proud solitude alongside a dollop of clotted cream and a jar of strawberry jam. I’m a little snooty about jars of preserve, considering them inferior to pots of hand-dealt preserves with delicate silver spoons, but there it is.
The scone was nice; the scone was warm and its fragrance was inviting; but there was only one, and so I asked for another. On my first visit, the lady serving us had informed us that there were no replenishments of the sandwiches or pastries, but she could provide more scones. So I assumed that this additional scone would be complementary, given that I was paying £20 for 1.5 sandwiches, a single scone and a tiny selection of pastries (more on that). When I saw the bill, I was surprised to see a £4 charge for an additional scone. FOUR POUNDS. ONE SCONE. I queried the charge, and all I got in response was a bland and uninterested ‘sorry Madam’ – but no offer to remove the scone from the bill, even though the waiter hadn’t mentioned there would be an additional charge. That moment kind of flattened the experience for me.
The pastries were largely uninteresting: a mini Eton mess which I barely touched, not being a fan of cream; a chocolate hazelnut cream with caramel sauce and biscuit crumb which I enjoyed purely because it was chocolate but wasn’t overwhelmed by; the mini carrot cake was dry and not moist at all, being difficult to break with my spoon (no pastry fork!); the chocolate truffle was orange and so I asked for a replacement, for which thankfully they did not charge me. The dark chocolate and salted caramel truffle was delicious.
My hot chocolate was very nice, sweet and rich which is how I like it, and it came with a very nice seeded biscuit thin.
I had been looking forward to my return visit for a while, but sadly it fell beneath my expectations and I almost wish I’d gone elsewhere instead. I may come back and try a salad or sandwich, but for the price and experience of the afternoon tea there’s better to be had.
Tip: if you do decide to go for any kind of dining: ask for a table on the balcony, which is far nicer than the inside tables. It really is lovely sitting there.
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