Sunday, February 17, 2013

Bea's of Bloomsbury, Afternoon Tea

I must confess, I've never had an afternoon tea before. Well, I've had tea in the afternoon, and I've certainly had my fair share of dinner-ruining afternoon cakes, but never the twain combined and formally titled 'an afternoon tea'.

My grandparents back home in the USA (!!) sent me the scoop on a place called Bea's of Bloomsbury, so it must be quite popular. When I looked them up, I saw a lot of reviews--mostly positive, but a few negatives with regards to service. Right off the bat I can say that the service at the St. Paul's location was perfectly fine, attentive and friendly. I felt very comfortable and had no issues with the email reservation system, server surliness, or the standard of hygiene. To be fair, I didn't make any special requests, and the place wasn't too busy the Saturday after Valentine's Day, so results may vary.

Like I said, I'd never had an afternoon tea, but what was on offer seemed like a pretty good deal at £19.00. A selection of baguettes, some brownies, some marshmallows & meringues, a scone with the assorted fixings, pot of tea, and a cupcake for which they are quite famous. I'm a fan of all of those things, as you might guess by the contents of this blog.

There seemed to be a decent tea selection, but that isn't really my area of expertise--I had a vanilla black tea which was very nice, like a vanilla spice. It suited my cakes, and that was all I was really concerned with.
 Speaking of cakes:
This is one side of the tray, here you can see the brownie bites, meringue-topped marshmallows, scones and the raspberry cupcake, and at the bottom the baguettes with ham, tomato, and cheese.
This side we've got another view of the brownie bites, the red velvet cupcake, and the vegetarian baguettes that had goats cheese, mixed leaves, and...something like a red pepper paste that was amazing. Wish I knew exactly what it was!

First thing we dug into were the baguettes, and the ham & cheese was above average, but nothing mind blowing. The vegetarian was delicious, the goats cheese and red pepper stuff went so nicely together and the mixed greens were crunchy and fresh. The baguettes themselves were so soft, not at all like the tooth-rendering crusty breads you find at supermarkets.

Next up we dug into the scones, that came with clotted cream and strawberry jam. I love scones...well, that's what I say, but what I really love is clotted cream. Any excuse to eat a mess of thickened dairy product, and I'm all in. The jam was sweet and tangy, and the clotted cream was just wonderfully stringy and thick. Stringy like how a really nice cheese gets 'stringy' as you lift it. Loved these!

We then had the meringues and marshmallows, which got eaten before the brownies and cakes because we anticipated that we would be a bit disappointed. Well, I was, at least. I don't really like meringue, and the marshmallow had a cool squidgy/springy texture and a strong raspberry flavor...but it was still just a marshmallow, they're never really going to make my go crazy. If you're into marshmallows though, these are probably quite good!

The blondie bite was interesting, I took a closer photo to try and show the texture a bit more:
As you can see the texture is quite dense and fudgy, which in my experience isn't very common for blondies. Brownies can veer between fudgy and cakey quite easily, but blondies are almost always cake-like. It is probably just a matter of taste, I think most people might find vanilla and white chocolate with that sort of underbaked consistency to be a bit off-putting, but I didn't at all. Picture a fudge brownie made with white chocolate and high quality vanilla, and that's what this blondie was like. From what I could tell there were no chunks, so it might be a bit much if you had a full-size one--but in bite form it was quite delicious. The chocolate brownie was great, perfectly baked to a dense fudge consistency without any goopiness, and the 'killer' brownie was equally impressive, except with a peanutty edge and a few walnuts in it.

Then we moved on to the cupcakes, and I was a bit disappointed that one of the selection was red velvet, as I had just made some red velvet cupcakes myself over Valentine's Day...Provided a good opportunity to judge Bea's against an (ahem) perfect batch, though. These red velvet were definitely more chocolate-y than mine, which were made using a very traditional (read, whole bottle of food colouring) American recipe. My red velvet cakes are mostly just an ultra moist vanilla cake with a bit of tang, and lots of cream cheese frosting. These were like a dense, mild chocolate cake with whipped cream cheese topping. They were absolutely tasty, and I would call them a variation on red velvet, but they aren't really the 'classic' American recipe. Not to say one is better than the other, really! I also think a lot of people coming to Bea's would be put off by the garish redness of a more classic red velvet.

The raspberry chocolate was very nice, with a very flavorful, not over-sweet dark chocolate cake and light raspberry buttercream. The buttercreams were very nice here, they're much lighter and whippier than the old fashioned, crazy sweet box of powdered sugar + butter kind that I usually see. I'm pretty sure the buttercream is done in a Swiss or Italian style, which includes egg whites and I think less sugar. Impressive!
Over all, I really enjoyed my time at Bea's of Bloomsbury, I think it was a nice place for a first afternoon tea, and the experience leaves me wanting to try it again. I'd come back, certainly--and I'd love work nearby as the sandwiches also looked quite nice.The one thing I was a bit disappointed by was the fact that were weren't asked our cupcake preference--just because in other reviews people indicated that they were given a choice. There were a few cupcakes I would've rather tried, like the peanut butter chocolate (which was available at the counter) and something other than red velvet...but that is a pretty minor complaint!

Thank you so much to my grandparents for providing the tip-off for this place! If you know of any other nice places to get an afternoon tea, I'd love to hear about it.

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