Sunday 26 July 2009

Review: Rex Whistler Restaurant, Tate Britain, Pimlico

Rex Whistler Tate Britain afternoon tea
There's something just not right about missing out on afternoon tea on a Sunday, it's like not drinking at least a few glasses of Pimms in the summer - plain wrong. So earlier today when things were looking a bit grim on the cake/biscuit front at home (the rock buns were long gone) my other half and I made the bold decision to strike out and try a new afternoon tea venue . We are lucky enough to live within 10 minutes walk of Tate Britain so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop there, have some tea, and if there was time whizz around an exhibition - although obviously tea was the priority.

Rather than slumming it in the cafe we decided to go to the Rex Whistler restaurant where, joy unlooked for, they have an actual afternoon tea menu. Despite being a Tate member I hadn't been to the restaurant before and even though it had a slightly institutional air the walls are covered by a rather lovely mural by the man himself. It was pretty quiet even though it was peak afternoon tea time but somehow the riot of colour on the walls ensured it didn't feel sterile.

The menu was immediately pleasing with a decent variety of the increasingly ubiquitous Jing Tea including a Breakfast Tea, an Earl Grey, a Darjeeling, and my choice today, as Assam on the black tea front; a few green teas including Jasmine Pearls and Gunpowder; and a healthy selection of infusions. So far, so impressive. The food selection was also spot on, including sandwiches and Welsh Rarebit on the savoury front, and various cakes and scones with jam and clotted cream for the sweet-toothed. But our choice was the all-encompassing Afternoon Tea. And what a great choice it turned out to be. The afternoon teas were served on our own personal cake stands - hurrah, no sharing... Having informed the waiter that I didn't eat meat and that my other half was, as he likes to regularly remind me, a "proper veggie", we were served, on the bottom tier, three largeish slices of toasted baguette: one featuring the aforementioned Welsh Rarebit, another topped with really nice egg mayonnaise and, on the last, a tasty prawn mayonnaise for me and some grilled sliced tomatoes - bruschetta style - for the proper veggie. This savoury starter was perfect as we hadn't had any lunch and, more to the point, I think it makes an afternoon tea feel like an actual necessary meal rather than just cake for the sake of it. But with the rather impressive "real" food taken care of it was time to move on to the highlight.

On the upper tier we each had two mini chocolate cakes, which looked a bit like muffins but were denser and contained lovely black cherries, and two mini scones already sandwiched with strawberry jam and clotted cream. And the good news is that they were fruited scones - hallelujah I hear you all rejoice, the fruited scone is not yet dead! And they were really good. The whole caboodle was actually the perfect size, filling but not blow-out filling; and the quality of the food was impressive. Also important, to me anyhow, was the quality of the china: all white and elegant with lovely individual teapots whose shape reminded me of eastern teapots; and simple yet stylish cake stands. The only tiny disappointment was that just before we left I noticed that other people, rather than having two of the chocolate cakes, had little ramekins with strawberries poking out of the top and unknown pleasures within. I foolishly didn't find out what they were but assume they contained gelatine or something similar which was why we didn't have them. No mattter. We thoroughly enjoyed our impromptu outing, especially as it was followed by a mooch around the interesting Classified exhibition where I particularly liked a cabinet full of finds washed up at low tide on the Thames - who knew there were so many old clay pipes still floating about?

I can't actually believe that having lived here for 3 years I haven't been to the Rex Whistler for tea before, but I'm quite sure my next visit will come around considerably quicker. Oh, and I forgot to mention the price: £6.95 per head including the really good quality tea - which I think is very reasonable. All in all a great afternoon. But, I fear, dangerous. Very dangerous.


  1. What incredible value for what was essentially a complete meal!

  2. This story had me hoping because I'm similar to a "proper veggie" in that I'm vegan. But this means I'm not able to have even seafood and I can't eat much in the way of many of these breads and cakes either since they are often made with eggs and maybe milk. What can I have? The tea. And that interests me. Too bad there's not more vegan-friendly fare traditionally associated with taking tea. --Jason

  3. That is a bit of a blow Jason. I will keep my eyes peeled for vegan tea-time treats and post about them if I find any!

  4. I am usually wary of museum cafes. Experience has shown me that they tend to be overpriced and not freshly cooked. Next time I'm at Tate Britain, I'll give the tea a go. GBP 7 is brilliant!

    A from A + B in the Sea