Realising, 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.