With another great grandchild to The Queen due this month, High Tea Society took to the Thames for a Royal-themed afternoon tea through the heart of London.
Afternoon tea is big business in London at the moment, so much so that if you want to stand out from the crowd you need a good hook – and the Royally Rich Afternoon Tea offered by City Cruises certainly delivers that.
Throughout April 2015, with a brother or sister to Prince George soon to make their appearance, the Thames cruise company with the distinctive red and white boats has teamed up with Royal experts and photographers Ian Pelham Turner and Helena Chard, to deliver a tea and talk, set over 90-minutes whilst taking in all the sites of the capital.
On this occasion, Easter Bank Holiday Monday, the sun made its first proper appearance of the year, making the ‘dirty old river’ sparkle at high tide. Setting off from Tower Pier in the shadow of the Tower of London, we were seated by the window and off we set, first heading west towards the London Eye and Parliament before turning around and heading back east.
This was an all-ticket affair, with around half the tables filled by a great mix of fellow passengers – couples, families, tourists, and at least two separate parties celebrating a 50th birthday.
The food and drink soon arrived, and plenteously so.
Tea and coffee pots seemed to be on a never-ending loop around all the tables and the typical three-tiered afternoon tea stands were generously filled.
At the bottom, a decent range of solid but un-fancy sandwiches – white and brown sliced bread filled with offerings of ham salad, cheese and pickle, smoked salmon and cream cheese and prawn mayonnaise. These are the sort of sandwiches I could eat all day long – think the kind you’d find at a good buffet lunch when on a conference.
The scones, blessed with a plenteousness of sultanas, took me back to my childhood. Scones seem to be getting smaller and smaller these days (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but the two served here were unashamedly huge and had a crumb and texture, which was akin to a rock cake – always a favourite of mine. Cream and jam were fairly standard but fitted the bill well enough.
The sweets plate was a little more adventurous than the previous two, offering dainty bite-sized portions of the sort of cake you’d see in the window of a Viennese bakery – cream, curd and coffee flavouring were there in abundance, but the stars of the show were the miniature Battenberg cakes, which we were to be told had originally been created for a Royal wedding.
Whilst not being able to praise the food for its exceptional creativity or absolute top-notch ingredients, I also can’t justify criticising it – every morsel was seen away, plates left bare.
But perhaps just to look at the food is missing the point of this experience. Set out at the bow of the boat were dozens of Royal photographs and we were in the company of two people who clearly know the ins-and-outs of the House of Windsor.
A quiz about the Royal Family was odd, but broke the ice, and then the pair began to tell a number of stories about their time working around the most famous of families.
It was all very interesting – perhaps a little waffly at times – but the upper deck of the boat, wonderfully empty from the tourist crowds, provided respite from the Royals.
Overall, this is quite an experience – even in a city I know well, it was lovely to play the tourist.
For a tea on a boat – the kitchen facilities of which must pose numerous problems – the food offering is perfectly decent. They’ve chosen a timely and timeless theme which is an absolute winner for most, and you feel quite special being on board what is obviously one of City Cruises’ finer vessels, especially when you pull alongside one of the regular boats which are invariably packed to the rafters.
And at £35 per person for a 90-minute cruise, it represents very good value.
As Ratty said to Mole, “There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”