Unusually for a British person, I have managed to go my whole life without having a ‘proper’ Afternoon Tea. Sure, I’ve eaten plenty of scones (indeed baked plenty of scones), eaten a fair few finger sandwiches, and consumed lots of cake, but I’ve never done this as part of an official afternoon tean. There is a tradition in England of taking Afternoon Tea at up-market hotels and restaurants, typically involving tea alongside a series of sweet and savoury foods, served on a tiered stand. There is, in all honesty, nothing that special about it. As the market has increased with the rise of middle-class disposable income and ‘aspirational’ dining, taking tea has become an ‘experience’, and hotels and restaurants vie with each other to acheive the highest reputtation and most luxurious setting for their afternoon teas.
Perhaps nowhere leans into this as much as the Ting restaurant at the Shangri-La Hotel in the Shard. On the 35th floor of one of London’s newest icons, afternoon tea here is lifted to new heights (please, forgive the pun, I couldn’t resist it!). Every table in the restaurant is treated to fantastic views across the city. I visited for a family celebration, and it’s certainly not something I’d do if it weren’t a special occassion. Booking is essential, and Afternoon Tea with a glass of champagne will set you back £70 per head. This definitely places it in the higher-end market, but for this you really do get an ‘experience’, not just a meal.
The staff are, as one would expect, incredibly attentive and friendly. Once you’re seated they talk you through the menu, and form then on your every wish is catered to. There is an exhaustive list of teas to choose from, and you are encouraged to try as many different ones as you like. I’m afraid this aspect was slightly lost on me, as I’m not a tea drinker, but others in my group took full advantage, and I was very happy with the peppermint tea I chose. There are of course also different champagnes to choose from, so every taste can be met.
In addition to the tea you choose, tea is made into a bit of a spectacle, as you are served dished of camomile tea, placed on a steam full of dry ice. The waiter pours liquid on this, and mist billows out dramatically across the table (see this video on my Instagram). Our waiter said we’d want to get our phones out, and he wasn’t wrong! Such a simple trick, but it added some enjoyable visual interest as we waited for our food.
Once this show is over, out comes your food, a delicious selection of cakes, sandwiches and desserts. These included an artful cherry mousse bomb, passionfruit macarons, and a lemon maderia cake. The sandwiches had largely quite tradiaitonal fillings, like Wiltshire ham and picallili, but were treated very elegantly. They were great at catering to my pescetarianism, giving me more of the amazing smoked salmon sandwiches, as well as some delectable avocado and tomato ones. The sweet selection was also made suitable, as they gave me gelatin-free alternatives such as a chocolate and cherry cake in place of the bomb.
After we’d tucked into some sandwiches they brought out the scones, warm from the oven, and accompanied by generous helpins of clotted cream, and a really light strawberry jam which was closer to a compote in texture. It’s hard to make scones particularly eciting, they’re easy to do, and easy to do well, but the fluffiness of these combined with being warm made them feel suitably special.
Thgroughout the meal everything is taken care of, and you can ask for as many servings of all the elements as you like. I count myself as someone with a fairly endless appetite, and even I was defeated by the sheer quanitiy and richness of the food. If the food doesn’t take your fancy, you can always distract yourself by looking out of the window (I gather the men’s toilets have a particularly good view!). Once you’ve finally eaten enough, try heading up to the bar on the top, 52nd floor, to finish off your afternoon with the highest views in London. All-in-all it makes for a really special occasion, definitely worth trying if you’ve got something to celebrate.