Afternoon Tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel (London)


Do you have to have a formal afternoon tea when you’re in London? No. But if you’re shepherding around a group of people who really want to have it, then you might have to. So it was for me. It turns out that the afternoon tea spectrum in London ranges from £10 (in cafes) to £100 and probably beyond (in increasingly expensive hotels). There are stops at price points all along that spectrum, with increasingly baroque menu offerings, in number and conception. Our budget was £30/head. The other constraints were that we were a large group and that some in the party had wheat allergies. With all of that accounted for, the place that was able to take us on the day that worked best for everyone was St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster—a hop, skip and a jump from St. James’ Park and Buckingham Palace, and right next to the St. James’ Park tube station. Herewith a brief account of the experience. 

St. Ermin’s is an attractive hotel from the outside but the interior is a little bit reminiscent of the mansion of a villain in a 1980s Bombay film, with the white everything and the pillars and the chandeliers and the staircases with balconies and so forth (see for yourself). Afternoon tea is served upstairs. There’s a dining room with the general lobby aesthetic; however, there’s also outdoor seating on a patio that’s far more attractive. That is where we scored a few tables. We were told we couldn’t dawdle but in practice they took their time and showed absolutely no urgency about moving us out efficiently (which is good, I guess).

What does the £29 they charge for the basic afternoon tea (there’s also an “unlimited prosecco” add-on for another £6) get you? It got us five savouries, scones+jams+clotted cream, and five “sweet treats”. Plus a pot of tea of each person’s choice. The sweets and savouries were served all at once in a cutesy wooden dollhouse’ish contraption (I’m sure it has a name of some sort). The scones arrived later with the tea itself. It all looked very attractive and tasted good for the most part (some things were a little too sweet, a couple of the sandwiches didn’t make much of an impression). The tea was acceptable (I had the Darjeeling).

For details and pictures of the food launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for thoughts on the whole experience.

This was a fun enough outing, albeit fun mostly in an ironic, kitschy way. The food was decent enough but I don’t know that I would ever want to pay £29 for this in London again. I don’t think this is a knock on St. Ermin’s: I doubt I’d find the more expensive versions elsewhere to be any more of a value. There’s far better food to be had in London for the price or even less: you could eat like royalty at Hoppers, Rasa Sayang or C&R, for example, at £29/head, or you could have a lot of fun at the Borough Market; you could even eat very well at Barrafina. Still, if you are indeed drawn to afternoon tea in London, I wouldn’t steer you away from the St. Ermin’s offering (though there is a bewildering range of options for afternoon tea in London to choose from, and a whole cottage industry, seemingly, of blogs offering guidance on them).

Okay, I think I’m now down to only 3-6 meal reports to come from London (depending on how motivated I am to write up a few of them). I should be done with them by the end of October. Next week on the food front, my last Islay report and another Twin Cities report. Tomorrow, whisky: a Springbank.

3 thoughts on “Afternoon Tea at St. Ermin’s Hotel (London)

  1. A concise and fair deflation of the afternoon tea hysteria. I’m not sure why we Brits are so enamoured with it. As a meal it so rarely delivers in terms of pleasure or value.

    The combination of foods which underpins the concept is fundamentally unbalanced: it is increasingly heavy and far too sweet. Bloated with itchy teeth is how I usually feel afterwards. As you say, a regular lunch at rather nice restaurants will deliver a harmonious meal for less. In London you can do a set-course lunch at somewhere Michelin-starred for about that price.

    I don’t know whether you explored voucher websites while you were in the UK? Afternoon tea at 4- and 5-star hotels regularly features on sites such as GroupOn and the typical deal is 50% off. Often the only exclusion is Saturdays. Two people for £29 becomes a better value proposition, although the issues with the flavour format remain. It suggests that many venues are somewhat greedy with their margins the rest of the time.

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  2. It is an interesting phenomenon, isn’t it? I’m not sure what Brits want/get out of it but for foreigners (particularly, Americans) it seems to feed a desire to wallow in an ahistorical simulacrum of English gentility. Not unrelated to the anglophilia that drives tripe like Downton Abbey or the veneration of Masterpiece Theatre and hollowed out Jane Austen dress-up. The same for Brits, with a slightly different mix of class desire?

    And no, I didn’t think to look for Groupons etc. And yes, our excellent lunches at the Cinnamon Club, not too far away, were less than £29/head.

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    • There is definitely class envy at play in the afternoon tea performance, which may go some way to explaining the appeal. Maybe £29 is a small price to pay to emulate the ladies and gentlemen of leisure who could relax all day over fussy sandwiches and sickly pastries.

      I’m not much of a voucher-hunter but the frequency of afternoon tea packages appearing has caught my eye.

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