Saturday 27 June 2009

Review: Beas of Bloomsbury

Bea's of Bloomsbury afternoon teaRealising, a couple of days ago, that I've been slacking on the proper afternoon tea front lately, I decided there was nothing for it but to have a light lunch and prepare for 4pm sugar high. It was a lovely day so I hopped on my bike and met a friend at Bea's of Bloomsbury. I'd never been there before but I'd heard good things about it - especially the cakes - and that was encouragement enough for me.

When I arrived I could certainly see what the fuss was about - the selection of cakes on offer looked amazing. With so much to choose from we decided we really did need to sample quite a lot (!) and went for the Full Afternoon Tea which included a cupcake, a couple of mini-brownies, a mini piece of Belgian Blondie (which tasted like a white chocolate brownie), a few mini-meringues, a full size scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam, and, of course, a pot of tea. To say there was a lot of sweet stuff to get through would be a gross understatement!

Everything arrived on beautiful crockery and it soon became clear that the cakes and scones were every bit as delicious as they looked: I had chosen a chocolate cupcake with raspberry topping and my friend went for a Red Velvet and both were light and full of flavour; the mini-brownies were moist and rich; the meringues were crunchy and chewy - just how I like them; and the scones, although sadly not fruited, were the perfect consistency and accompanied by lashings of lovely jam and clotted cream. At £8 I thought it was a really good deal. I was also pleased to see that they offered good quality Jing Tea but have to admit to being a little disappointed by the selection. They did offer chamomile, hibiscus and a green tea but for me afternoon tea requires a black tea with milk and they only offered English Breakfast or Earl Grey. I was surprised they didn't even have an Assam or a Darjeeling, let alone anything more exotic. But as the tea I ordered was actually good I was prepared to overlook it.

So with all of these fantastic products (I had to bring some cakes home as there was so much), at a frankly pretty reasonable price, why wasn't I left feeling overwhelmed by the experience? I think a lot of it was down to the feel of the cafe itself. Although time and effort have clearly been put into the decor - charcoal grey paint and fairly opulent upholstery - the layout of the cafe was a bit strange. The large counter takes up most of the space with a just single row of tables lined up along the wall for you to sit at. It didn't have that friendly communal vibe and felt more like a nip-in, nip-out, or a takeaway place. Although that was a bit of a shame, what was even worse was the service. You place your order at the counter where you are faced with a huge array of cakes and cupcakes, none of which have any signs on to tell you what they are. I would therefore expect the person behind the counter to be happy to explain what those different cakes were; but happy she certainly wasn't. Although she wasn't actually rude, our questions seemed to be a real inconvenience. Obviously we all hate bad service in any circumstance but going out for afternoon tea should be a treat - even in a low-key, reasonably priced, place - but if the first thing you encounter is a surly member of staff it definitely takes the shine off.

I wouldn't want to overstate the negatives at Bea's as the products on offer here really are rather wonderful. And if you fancy an afternoon tea that doesn't break the bank I would definitely recommend it. Just expect to come out feeling full of delicious cakes rather than warm, fuzzy or pampered.


  1. Oh. My. God. Those cakes look good.... But how very disappointing regarding the service - and I absolutely agree that initial excitement over the cakes and bargain price would very quickly fade in the face of a dour counter assistant. Still - I like the look of those muffins - maybe a takeaway next time?!

  2. Have to admit to feeling a tad guilty. Thinking along exactly the same lines as you I popped in to pick up a takeaway cupcake or two yesterday and was served by a very polite and friendly man. I guess I was just unlucky the first time. Clearly more thorough vetting of staff is needed.

  3. OK, I'm going there when I come to London. Put off my dour service? Come on, I live in Berlin. And after the Lesbian brunch coop, I can take anything.

  4. You're quite right. Compared to our delightful brunch spot the service was positively delightful!

  5. Sorry you were served by an impolite member of staff--I'm sure they are probably no longer with us.

    As for the tea selection it has grown quite a bit but I must let you know that our 'English Breakfast' tea is actually an Assam tea--but as many people aren't too familiar with Assam, we just say 'English Breakfast.'



  6. I had afternoon tea recently, twice, and sadly, all the staff I encountered were not very polite. Not outright rude, but they couldnt have been less interested in our questions, or offering info about the admittedly wonderful cakes.They should've been excited about the ingredients, the flavours. But they were way too busy polishing the counters and staring into space.

    And the reservation system is still totally confusing (tea reservations required only on weekends, and only via email, but not during the week (a reply email takes a long while); no savoury selections possible (bad for diabetics) during afternoon tea, etc). Their website could use a revamp to ease the confusion.

    That said, the actual cakes and atmosphere were wonderful.

  7. Thanks for your comment Anon. I must say, I was somewhat flabbergasted at Bea's response above. It seems strange to me that a business person who cares so much about the quality of their cakes seems, apparently, so unconcerned about their staff. To say "they are probably no longer with us" strikes me as just not good enough.

    As a tea lover I was also pretty shocked that Assam was being sold as English Breakfast Tea. They're certainly not the same and I think most people have heard of both. I don't know; if I ran a business I'd like to think I'd take positive criticism in the spirit in which it was given rather than just brush it off as irrelevant...