Reform Social and Grill (££)
Mandeville Place, London W1U 2BE
Summary: Accommodating service and a well-intentioned effort to please in this surprisingly quiet, relaxed venue offering afternoon tea with a twist. The food offering was hit and miss, the non-standard menu was quite thoughtless and incongruous, and the quality of the beverages was not consistent, but the star was the hot food – the fish fingers and mushy peas were delicious. Worth going if you get a special deal on the price.
Value for money: 8.5/10 (with the voucher, would be higher if we’d had more hot food)
Recommend? Yes, if you can get a promotional deal
Practical information: normally £26.50 per person, consists of warm savouries, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and pastries (see full menu here) and they seem to be happy to provide more of whatever you like. Beverages replenished as you like, and you can switch out tea for coffee, hot chocolate etc. Scones and pastries were not replenished, but we didn’t ask as we were full by that point!
Halal available on request, but I recommend asking what is going to be served as an alternative to any non-halal menu items so you know what you’re getting. The chicken is halal (verbally confirmed by the staff).
I quite enjoy playing Groupon tombola: purchasing vouchers for special deals on afternoon tea at places I have never tried, and waiting to see whether I have won a real prize or drawn a dummy ticket. I have had my eye on afternoon tea at The Mandeville’s Reform Social and Grill for a while, but had never quite got around to booking until I saw a deal pop up on Groupon – afternoon tea for two for £30 (regular price £53). My tombola antenna beeped at me: book it! So I did. I called the restaurant up to ask which tea I should purchase, as they offer two types of afternoon tea – the traditional variety with finger sandwiches, scones etc, and their unique ‘Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea’, which offers hot, hearty savouries instead of sandwiches (you had to choose at the point of purchasing the voucher) – and the guy I spoke to was candid and helpful: Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea, definitely. I asked about the halal options (a pet peeve is when they swap out half of the menu, normally the best bits, for a cop-out ‘halal’ version which is vegetarian instead of halal meat, and I definitely didn’t want that happening with the hot food in the Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea), and he said no problem, most of the meat is halal anyway and they can accommodate it. Great, I thought.
Without getting bogged down in the argument of whether an afternoon tea should even be labelled as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, I’ll lay this to rest by saying that food is genderless in my eyes, and I happily ignore any marketing labels if it’s food I’ll enjoy.
My brother and I turned up on a Sunday afternoon for our tea. We were welcomed by Alex, who, it later turned out, seemed to be front of house and also helping out in the kitchen as he made our drinks. He showed us to our table, a cosy corner table with dark red leather banquette seating and heavy wooden tables – and we had our pick, because the restaurant was empty. The setting of the restaurant is styled on a gentleman’s club: rich leather seating, dim lighting, dark wood panelled walls and furniture, rather ‘masculine’ artwork on the walls and corridors. I mean Desperate Dan posters, not Damien Hirst.
An empty restaurant would normally set off alarm bells in my head, but for afternoon tea I’m fairly relaxed: it usually means I get to sit and enjoy my food at a leisurely pace, and actually engage in proper conversation with my dining companion. If I had been dining alone, I may have been a little less laissez-faire about it.
Above: Some of the artwork adorning the walls and corridors – the Desperate Dan and cow pie was my favourite (where was the Dennis the Menace poster, though?)
The service was attentive from the outset – helped, no doubt, by the fact that we were the only ones there, but that’s not a guarantee of good service, so this still to their credit. Alex came and explained rather grandly that he was going to serve up a special menu for us to cater for our halal requirement – the Welsh Rarebit and Roast Beef in Yorkshire Pudding on the normal menu was sadly not halal – which would include falafel, chicken and sweet potato, a quinoa salad etc. He seemed to be suggesting a completely different menu altogether from the one advertised, so I requested that we have whatever we could have from the main menu – the mini smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and the haddock fish finger with tartare sauce (I had to specifically repeat the request for these as they didn’t turn up with the first round of food) – and they create something to fill in the gaps.
Two three-tiered stands were brought over to our table – one with savouries, one sweet. What turned up on the savoury stand was a little different to what we were expecting, and presented an offering of two halves: two of the three tiers were filled with a combination of small pots of yoghurt sprinkled with paprika (which, my brother declared with some surprise, were quite moreish), mini servings of quinoa and green lentil salad with pesto (of which my brother had none, and I could only manage one), grilled aubergine rolls filled with fresh vegetables (nice enough but not outstanding), cucumber rolls filled with celery (pass – I don’t like celery), and, on the top tier of the other stand, cherry tomato and feta cubes on cocktail sticks – basically, corny but crowd-pleasing finger food. This was more a clean eating savoury menu than a hearty, filling one, so not really an adequate replacement for the hot food you would get with the standard menu.
The bottom tier was filled with the ‘real’ food, more in line with what I was expecting: mini smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and pieces of juicy warm chicken sandwiched between a thin slice of sweet potato and yellow beetroot. The latter was a little floppy but quite tasty; the former was a fairly standard supermarket mini bagel generously filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese. It just about passed the adequacy test.
What saved the day was the haddock fish fingers, which I am very glad I asked for (although I think they should have been served anyway as they were part of the original menu!). One serving consisted of two fat, freshly fried, battered pieces of haddock sitting atop tartare sauce and bright green mushy peas. They were delicious. To his credit, Alex happily obliged when I asked for more fish (because two pieces were not going to be enough for us), and brought two more servings – and that was when the afternoon tea started earning some merit and becoming value for money. If you had the full, standard savouries menu, I suppose this would also be rather satisfying.
The sweets – scones and pastries
Scones: I always note a little ‘cross’ in my notebook when the scones are served with the savouries – they should not be, because you almost certainly will not enjoy them warm. That red mark noted, the scones were surprisingly good: more the cakey variety but not crumbly, which was good. They had been served warm and had cooled down, which is still infinitely better than scones served stone cold (I see absolutely no point in eating those). I couldn’t really detect much fruit in my fruited scone (I can’t even visualise seeing any fruit in them – did they even exist?), which was a shame. The cream and strawberry preserve was fairly standard.
Pastries: These were rather disappointing overall. I didn’t like the green tea cake, which had some sort of yuzu/citrus layer in it, nor the mascarpone and red fruit finger, which was blancmange-like and lacked flavour. The fruit tart was also flavourless, but I did enjoy the macaron – phew. We didn’t get the raspberry financier or the chocolate mousse, so I only assume they had gelatine in them and were omitted from our menu.
What I did enjoy was the small brownie bites that came with the iced coffee (see below). They also served me a black forest-style chocolate cherry cake as a birthday treat, which was decent, although not the best cake I’ve had by a long shot.
Neither my brother nor I are big tea drinkers, so I can’t comment on the tea options. We were duly shown the tea ‘trunk’ with samples of the various teas to smell and decide on. but I decided to go for my regular choice of iced latte, as did my brother. Alex served up two attractively presented trays with a delicious, creamy iced latte, perfectly sweetened, along with a tasty mini brownie and chocolate-covered coffee beans. He told us that this wasn’t on their menu, but as we had asked for it he had made it as he liked it – and it happened to be very good. I got a refill.
Sadly, the quality of the beverages cannot be guaranteed, as it seems to be dependent on whoever happens to be on duty and serving at the time. Alex handed over to a colleague, and when I asked for another iced latte, he brought a very different looking drink which didn’t taste as good, in a different glass and without any sweetmeats on the side, which was a shame. It seemed to be characteristic of the haphazard offering overall, with a mismatched non-standard savoury menu, a disappointing pastry selection, and an unreliable beverages offering. My recommendation to the restaurant would be get Alex to train everybody on how to make his iced latte, and make it a standard on the menu!
The service again was a game of two halves. Alex was attentive, obliging and made an effort to accommodate our requests, although whoever designed our non-standard menu missed the mark overall, sadly. When service changed hands, it became quite difficult to flag somebody’s attention for more drinks and eventually to ask for a takeaway box and leave. It was nice to not be harassed to finish up and leave, but the emptiness of the restaurant meant we were a little neglected toward the end. When I asked for the leftover scones to be boxed, they brought back a little foil package fashioned into a basket, explaining that they didn’t have boxes – I was amused and appreciated the effort.
Overall…would I go back? Yes, but only if I got another special deal for about £15 per person. They seem to be quite accommodating an flexible on the menu and refills, but I would make it very clear upfront what I wanted if it’s not the standard menu.