Afternoon Tea: The Ritz vs. The Savoy

Tea being poured by a waiter at The Savoy.
Tea being poured by a waiter at The Savoy.

It has been many a year since I enjoyed afternoon tea in London. The best I recall, it was July, 1999 and I was with my friends Diane and Sherrie.

We made a reservation at the Park Lane Hotel in Piccadilly across from Green Park.   Jose, 35 years old from Portugal, was our waiter.  He was delightful, as was our tea.

It was served at a low table in a brightly filled room. We had a wonderful time enjoying our two hours of good company, finger sandwiches and scones, all for £16 per person.

Although my latest trip to London had a primary purpose of viewing the Queen’s dresses on display for her 90th birthday, what trip to London is complete without tea?

Of all the teas in London (it seems many hotels and restaurants have an offering), The Ritz and The Savoy were at the top of my list. Before heading to London, I made reservations for both through bookatable.com.

The dome and indoor gazebo of The Thames Foyer at The Savoy.
The dome and indoor gazebo of The Thames Foyer at The Savoy.

First up was a 1:30 p.m. afternoon tea at The Savoy’s Thames Foyer. The room was grand and centered with an indoor gazebo under a domed skylight. The main color of the light-filled room was a pale celadon green. The foyer is outside Kaspar’s Restaurant.

A pianist entertained the guests with slow, mellow music that served as an appropriate background to tea. A couple of times during our visit, the wait staff brought small cakes with a candle to tables where guests were celebrating birthdays. The pianist played Happy Birthday briefly as the presentations were made.

My party was shown to a high table, with a celadon green tablecloth and two club chairs. We faced the gazebo and the splendor of the room. About ten tables in the room were occupied with guests.

Our server was a gentleman in tails. He offered us a couple of tea options (I believe they were house blend or Earl Gray), two champagne options, (white or rose) and two meal options (afternoon or high tea).

We chose the house blend tea, rose champagne, and I had the afternoon tea, while my nephew chose the high tea. The difference in the two tea meals involved one of the courses.

Finger sandwiches and scones at The Savoy.
Finger sandwiches and scones at The Savoy.

We were first served five finger sandwiches and plain and raisin scones. The scones were accompanied with lemon curd, Cornish clotted cream, and the most flavorful strawberry jam.

My third course of afternoon tea course.
My third course of afternoon tea course.

Next, I received pastries (a blackberry tart and hazelnut caramel cream puff), while my nephew had asparagus, crayfish, a poached egg and lemon hollandaise.  Our final course was a choice of cakes. I chose the Earl Gray cake, while my nephew had the banana cake.

The third cours of high tea.
The third course of high tea.

The service was spot on. Our tea cups were often refilled, and we were often checked on.

The next day, we had a 7:30 p.m. reservation for afternoon tea at The Ritz in The Palm Court.  Yes, that seemed like a bit of a misnomer to me, but that was the only time available that fit in our schedule.

The beautiful ceiling at The Palm Court at The Ritz.
The beautiful ceiling at The Palm Court at The Ritz.

We arrived and were shown to a elegant room which featured an ornate, coiffered ceiling, and large urn of fresh flowers in the center of the floor. A few other tables were occupied, but soon, the entire room was filled. The skirted high table, had a shelf underneath that the waiter showed to me for my purse. It was a great place to get it out of the way.  All the tables were high tables.

The Palm Court at The Ritz.
The Palm Court at The Ritz.

The waiters were smartly dressed in  tails.  The room was pale pink and green and the walls were covered in mirrors.

A full band and singer entertained diners from the hallway. At one point a violinist played Happy Birthday in the tea room while the waiter served a small cake with lit candle.

Our tea options were numerous. I choose the Ritz Royal English tea and my nephew had the Earl Gray Imperial. A glass of brut or rose champagne was included with the tea; we both chose brut. The bottle was under the Ritz label.

Sandwiches and assorted pastries at The Ritz.
Sandwiches and assorted pastries at The Ritz.

Our first course was six finger sandwiches each and pastries (lemon macaroon, raspberry rose tarts, hazelnut cream puff, and chocolate ganache cake). We could have additional sandwiches if we chose.

Next, they brought plain and raisin scones, Cornish clotted cream, and amazing strawberry preserve.  The final course was a choice of apricot tart or orange cake.

The weird thing was they didn’t seem to want to bring the bill. We had to ask twice for it to be brought.  We were tired, full and needing to get to the hotel to pack for Scotland.

Here is how the two teas stacked up, to us:
Best sandwiches: The Ritz’s ham and cheese was our favorite!
Best tea: The Savoy
Best music: The Savoy
Most attentive staff: The Savoy
Price comparison: £160 at The Savoy and £104 at The Ritz
Best overall experience: The Savoy

They were both enjoyable experiences, and I would go back to both or either in a heartbeat. However, tea at The Ritz seemed to be a more touristy experience. They never filled our tea cup, nor refilled our tea pots. The room was packed. I believe every table or almost every table was taken. The staff did check on us from time to time and were always friendly. I would like to try tea at The Ritz again during a more appropriate, afternoon time.

However, the relaxed, serene feel of The Savoy and the very attentive waiters made The Savoy our favorite experience.

Of course, for my next visit to London, I have already selected the two teas I want to try! I can’t wait.

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