By Christian Rose-Day.
The afternoon tea: a tradition from the early 19th century involving fine china and elegant hotel settings that is today synonymous with Mother’s Day treats, posh hen parties, and the opportunity to wear your best pearls. In short, it’s women’s business, and us men are rarely to be seen taking part. And if we are, we never really feel entirely comfortable picking up those tiny pink fancies anyway. They’re called fancies, for crying out loud! Butch, they are not.
I have, on occasion, sampled the tasty treats of an afternoon tea: I’ve enjoyed burlesque afternoon tease; I’ve proved that afternoon tea is not just the privilege of central London; and I’ve even tried to win back an ex with an afternoon tea (epic fail, but the tea was smashing). Yet, on every one of these occasions, I was accompanied by someone of the fairer sex, thus almost legitimising my presence at the afternoon tea.
Over the weekend, however, I entered a new realm, a world devoid of doilies and fascinators, that provided a manly pastime for myself and a teammate from my sports club: the Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea.
Chapters Brasserie in Blackheath is one of those rare establishments flying the flag for chaps across London. Gone are the dainty finger sandwiches, bite-sized cakes and floral patterns. Lads, say hello to macho portions, served on slates, flanked by beer.
That’s right, the Gent’s Afternoon Tea at this Michelin Bib Gourmand/2 AA rosette restaurant doesn’t actually involve any tea, just lashing of hearty, locally-brewed Greenwich Meantime Wheat Ale or Chocolate Porter.
Once the libations were settling our weekend nerves, it was time to move on to the first round of comestibles, which included the exquisitely greasy, deep fried herring melts with garlic and parsley croutons (easily the winner in the battle of the snacks), warm duck croquettes with plum chutney, and venison bresoala with toasted sour dough. A twee champagne glazed oyster took up space on the slate where, in my opinion, thrice-cooked goose fat chunky chips should surely reside instead and the treacle tart beat the warm chocolate brownie to the gold medal in the dessert stakes. Despite the size of the portion provided, we still adhered to our manly duties and made sure our slates were completely cleared.
Whilst we put the worlds of sport, politics and culture to rights, The White Stripes ‘7 Nation Army’ joyfully massaged our lugholes, and it was nice of the management to arrange several tables of attractive ladies to sit throughout the restaurant whilst we were enjoying our Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea, although we weren’t entirely sure if this was included on the menu.
Chapters’ Gentleman's Afternoon Tea is available for the last week in November and will continue in the New Year, Friday-Sunday, 3pm-6pm, for the reasonable fee of £32. You must pre-book though, don’t just turn up and expect immediate greatness you ruffian!
Lads who do natter on an afternoon, business blokes who conduct meetings during the week, sons who treat Dad like a superhuman, you brutes need not always look to the original format for afternoon tea in London, although we do recommend checking them out if you have a wife/girlfriend/galpal/sister who can accompany you. Instead, a new type of afternoon tea is born, so here are a further 5 Gentlemen’s Afternoon Teas in London you might like to book.
No 20 Sanctum, the Best Hotel of the Year at the London Lifestyle Awards two years previous. Different versions of the Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea are available but there’s only one you really need to note: The Ultimate Indulgence for £50pp available daily 2pm-6pm. Booze, nicotine and meat; all whilst sat upon snakeskin upholstery five floors above Soho. The man’s menu includes poached oyster with bloody Mary relish; seared steak on sourdough; smoked salmon, caviar, and watercress bagel; lamb and potato hotpot; rabbit pancetta and leek pasty; roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; twice baked chocolate fudge cake with Jack Daniels ice cream; a tankard of Jack Daniels Gentleman’s Jack; and, naturally, a cigar.
Drink, Shop, Do in King’s Cross. The Man’s Afternoon Tea (£22pp) here is perfect for a group of lads who are looking to hang out with lots of lovely ladies because this venue is essentially a woman’s domain. The afternoon tea includes a beer or ale, pork pie, organic Scotch egg, pickled onions, posh pork crackling and a Yorkie bar. It’s available 7 days a week, 10.30-10.30 (reservations for groups of 5 or more only), and, for a small extra fee, there’s the option of Afternoon Tea and a ‘Do’ - an informal activity class which you’ll need a minimum of 6 people for - such as hair fascinator making (errr), pantie embroidering (ummm), vintage hair and make-up (dude!), or wine tasting (yay!), ukulele lessons (much more like it), and learning how to bend balloons (most definitely!).
The Swan at Shakespeare’s Globe on the Southbank. This Gent’s Afternoon Tea will suit visitors to London who are taking the essential walk along the south side of the Thames. Fish finger sarnies, macaroni cheese and smoked bacon, Berkshire bangers, chocolate brownie and brandy cream, and a bottle of Globe ale or stout are on offer for £22.50. Monday-Saturday, 2.30pm-4pm.
Reform at The Mandville Hotel, Marylebone. Are you a gentleman who is planning to cram all your Christmas shopping into one day, centring your efforts along London’s Oxford Street? Then you will need a break at some point. On the Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea here, British sandwiches - cucumber and goat’s curd; Yorkshire ham and piccalilli; egg and cress; and smoked Scottish salmon - sit side by side of Welsh wagyu burgers, pork pies, a HUMONGOUS selection of teas, Eccles cake, Black Forest gateau, Batterburg, fruit scones, and a classic Lagavulin whiskey cocktail all for £26.50.
Chiswell Street Dining Room, City of London. A classy retreat in the quiet streets behind the iconic Barbican, where you and your hirsute colleagues can let go of the spreadsheets and Blackberries for a short time and, for £20pp, tuck into Welsh rarebit, buttered toast with Patum Peperium relish, assorted finger sandwiches, homemade scones with Suffolk jam and Devonshire clotted cream, all rounded off nicely with a pot of Jing tea.