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There appears to be a new trend when it comes to afternoon tea in London; free-flowing drinks. This is something I can definitely get behind, as the only thing better than a glass of champers is, well, bottomless champers!
Several top end hotels and restaurants across the city are now offering free-flowing champagne afternoon teas, and so I decided to book my friend and I a special treat during our recent day trip to the capital.
After some research I chose a very classy looking dining venue in central London: The Balcon. Located on Pall Mall, just opposite the Institute of Directors, The Balcon is a restaurant attached to the Sofitel London St James Hotel – although it does have its own standalone entrance.
The Balcon is stunning to the eye with its high ceilings, classical decoration and chandeliers. As you come in off the street you’re greeted by its namesake – a beautiful balcony with swirling staircases where you can see the champagne is stored. Before your eyes are drawn away from it you’ll be welcomed by a stylishly dressed member of staff (I loved the waiters’ braces!) who’ll take you to your table and get you settled in with some water and a menu.
Afternoon tea options at The Balcon
Several afternoon tea options are available at The Balcon: the main offering is a well priced £28, but you can add a glass of champagne for £31 or a glass of Moët & Chandon for £38. We, of course, went for the free-flowing champagne afternoon tea, which at £48, I thought was a very decent deal for London.
One thing I loved was that there was also a children’s afternoon tea on offer for £18 (or £30 for two). Le Goûter as it is known, includes a variety of finger sandwiches, cakes and fresh fruit served in an artist’s paint box with a colouring kit. How cute?
Our food came quickly after ordering; particularly impressive as we had requested a special vegetarian version for my friend. Our teas were served at roughly the same time, and only then did the champagne glasses come out and our first drinks poured.
An impressive variety of teas on offer
I was very impressed with the tea menu, which offered a selection of black, light and green, herbal and spiced or smoky teas, as well as some ‘Balcon favourites’ and several rare and seasonal offerings.
Always game to try a new tea I went for one of the specials, the Pu-erh Meghai, which was described in the menu as a warm and earthy Chinese tea with flavours of biscuit, caramel, vanilla and sweet almond and a long and sweet aftertaste.
Intriguing, yes? Sadly it appears to be an acquired taste. I found the smell of the tea off-putting; to my nose it had a smoky, fishy smell. The flavour was gentler than you’d expect from the pungent odour, but still not my cup of tea (Arf – sorry, not sorry).
I gave it a fair go however, but eventually accepted that it wasn’t for me. I let our waiter know, and he was more than happy for me to order a different tea. Another plus point for the service – when they checked on us we were asked if we wanted more hot water and were also invited to try different teas if we’d like.
All you can drink afternoon tea in London
I was also very impressed with the bottomless champagne service – this is supposed to be served for 90 minutes from your reservation time, but I’m pretty sure we were there for longer and the waiters would regularly come along and top us up. They were far from stingy with the volume you drank or the quality too; we were served chilled Moët throughout and never once had to ask for our glasses to be filled.
Afternoon tea with a French twist
At the Balcon you can expect an afternoon tea with a French twist; the tea selection comes from French firm Dammann, and the food wasn’t entirely traditional afternoon fare; something I really liked.
Sure some of the finger sandwiches were classics, like the soft roll filled with fresh salmon and cream cheese (perhaps a bit too over zealous with the lemon for my liking, however) but the egg mayonnaise came served like a Swiss roll and other sandwiches included slices of tomato bread and fillings such as turkey, lettuce and spiced mayo (just the right amount of kick) and aubergine, hummus and courgette.
The freshly baked scones – still warm when they reached the table – may not have risen well but they were delicious, with the perfect crunchy exterior and warm, moist centre. Extra points came for the three variations we were offered, classic, fruit and dark chocolate chip. Served with clotted cream, rose-scented strawberry jam and lemon curd, I have to say they disappeared pretty darn quickly.
Our afternoon tea was topped off with a small selection of French pastries. There were only four – one of each – but they were far from mini and each was easy to split between two. It appeared that each table had their own selection, as a few tables down I saw what looked like some kind of choux pastry on their top tier, but our collection was made up of a pistachio and macha green tea cake, lemon cheesecake, an apricot and elderflower dessert and my favourite; a fresh raspberry macaron. These were all colourful, sweet and just the right amount to share.
As cool places to have afternoon tea in London go, this rates highly! My highlights (aside from the obvious free-flowing champagne) were the gorgeous scones and the macaron. The only downside I’d say was not having a breakdown of the menu before our food was served; I do prefer knowing what all the dishes are before they come out in case there’s something I really don’t like (picky eater alert) and may want to change.
Overall I really enjoyed my free-flowing champagne Balcon afternoon tea. I loved the elegant European setting of the brasserie and throughout our visit the staff were attentive but not overbearing. Also we never felt rushed making it a lovely and relaxing experience for my friend and I to catch up.
Finally, I thought for London it offered really good value for money. I found out about The Balcon via Bookatable, which has a great selection of free-flowing menus deals offering everything from lunches and brunches through to afternoon tea. If you’re interested in trying The Balcon’s champagne afternoon tea out for yourself this is the place to go!
Do you, like me, love a good afternoon tea? If the answer is yes, you might be interested in my Global Afternoon Tea Challenge. Taking one for the team (aren’t I kind?!) I’m currently undertaking the tough task of reviewing afternoon tea in every city I visit. Why not check out the places I’ve been to so far?
Our afternoon teas were complimentary for the purposes of this review. However, as always, all views are my own.