WARNING: The following contains a bit of a rant.
I am about to share with you the details of the worst Afternoon Tea I have ever experienced.
I can honestly say will never be returning to Tophams Hotel in London again, for food or otherwise.
On arrival my mother and I entered the reception and were directed to the “restaurant” through a pair of double doors. I say “restaurant” as it was basically a cheap conservatory with a breakfast bar and a few cafe tables. The decor was modern and generic.
We waited at the doors for 5 minutes to be seated. Nothing. The receptionists sat chatting away behind us utterly disinterested in anything not to do with their own conversation and I wondered if the waiters had gone on a break. A lady at one of the tables got up and walked passed us and I heard her ask of the receptionists, “Sorry, is anyone working?”. The reply was “Yes.” which was followed by a phone call to the kitchens, where a waitress then strolled out and smiled at us. It might be worth mentioning that no apology for either guest having to wait was offered, and the alarm bells rang loud in my head.
It has always been my belief that when dining, the important bit isn’t the problem itself, but how it is dealt with. For example, I arranged an Afternoon Tea for 10 for a friend’s birthday last year at The Blind Tiger, one of my favourite little hideouts, but due to an error they had booked us in a week later than I had asked, and so upon arrival I was immediately informed by the manager that because all the food is made fresh for the Afternoon Tea the chef hadn’t prepared enough for a party of that size. My heart sank as it was a special surprise for my friend but before I had the chance to collapse in a pile on the floor the manager told me that instead she would be happy to offer us a main meal and dessert from the dinner menu, with cocktails and unlimited tea for the same price as an Afternoon Tea. I did the maths and I can assure that this offer worked out to be extremely generous. Needless to say the meal was fantastic and we had a great time. Mistakes happen, nowhere is perfect, and I don’t expect it to be, but the issue is always in the fixing, not the making.
This apparently was an unknown concept to the staff of Tophams.
We were finally sat. The place settings were worn and the surfaces scratched and chipped, and considering all the mention of the recent refurbishment done to the hotel I assumed they had missed the restaurant in the improvements.
An old Celine Dion album echoed through the room and made me wish for the silence of previous Afternoon Teas.
We were promptly brought the cocktail menu, and this was the only thing that happened promptly, and were told we could choose 2 cocktails each throughout the meal as part of the voucher. There were no non-alcoholic options and as I was driving I asked the waitress if perhaps they had any cocktails without. I assumed this wouldn’t have been a problem as the alcohol is the expensive bit, but alas, her answer was no. In the end I got some juice. Also on the voucher the cocktails were advertised as being served in teapots, very prohibition era! They were not, in fact they weren’t even served in proper cocktail glasses.
So we sat there drinking our cocktails, wondering where the food was. We sat, and we sat, and eventually the cake stand arrived. We also awaited the tea menu, to no avail.
The cake stand was a mass produced Cath Kidston piece, and although I love a bit of Cath Kidston I can’t say it’s the kind of chinaware I expect at a Tea from a supposedly 4* hotel that sans voucher would have cost around £50.
We began with the sandwiches. Salmon and cream cheese, cucumber, and ham and cheese. I say cheese but in fact I’m not entirely sure that would be accurate. It was some cheap, rubbery, shop bought, party version of cheese. But then again at least the sandwiches I ate had a filling. Two of the sandwiches my mother chose were actually missing it! Although so scanty was the filling in mine she needn’t have worried.
Then we moved onto the cakes. They were shop bought. They were also tasteless and soggy from having sat in a fridge too long. Tiny little morsels of desserts, including a mini macaron, something chocolatey, something fruity and the rest I couldn’t be bothered to guess. And there was only one of each, leaving guests to fight over who got the least offensive looking cake.
And lastly the Scones. They were toasted and burnt. I can’t tell if they were shop bought, based on the rest of the food I would assume so, but they had obviously been cooked a while ago and had then been slung into a toaster to give them a fresher taste. Or in my case a crunchy taste. I would say I was disappointed to only receive one small scone each but in the end it was a godsend. Also the jam and cream had been served in egg cups, but they were only half full, so I told my mother I would ask the waitress for a little more jam and cream. I waited for a server to appear so I could catch her eye. And then I waited some more. It occurred to me that I could spend the entire day waiting without ever seeing a server so I got up and knocked on the kitchen door. The waitress came to the door and I asked if I was allowed more jam and cream. She said yes and disappeared again. A while later she brought a much more generous amount of jam and cream, which served to mask the taste of the bland, crusty scones.
So we had nearly finished our scones and still no mention of any actual tea had been made. We must have been in the restaurant for at least 40 minutes by now and even when Champagne is included, other Hotels show you the tea menu and ask when you would like it brought to you. I though perhaps they were waiting for us to finish our cocktails but that would have presumed the waitresses ever left the kitchen long enough to notice anything that was going on within the restaurant.
10 minutes later I got back up and knocked on the kitchen door again. The waitress came to the door once again and I asked if we were allowed tea. She said yes and brought us the menu. There were around 5 different choices, all very non specific with no descriptions. When the tea we had ordered finally arrived it became apparent as to why there were no specifics as it was Twinning bagged tea. After everything that I had experienced so far you may be surprised I had any expectations left, but I was genuinely shocked to be at a London Hotel Afternoon Tea that served me tea in bags. Only once have I had tea bags with and Afternoon Tea and the bags were made of silk and came from a private tea supplier. I would expect nothing less.
Now all of this would have been disappointing in a small town cafe, but keep in mind that this hotel matches the price for Afternoon Tea of some of the top hotels in the country. I can honestly say I have never experienced it’s like before from the smallest tea rooms to the biggest hotels, but the worst of it is cheek they have to advertise an Afternoon Tea for that kind of money with off the shelf food and drinks and the worst service I’ve ever had. All of the staff had loose, messy hair, which considering that they work with food is worrying. Having previously worked both behind the bar and in restaurants for many years I retain a certain amount of sympathy for waiters. However, this also gives me a working knowledge of good service, and made the lack of training in the staff at Tophams boldly apparent, not what you’d imagine of a “4*” hotel in central London.
The place is a disgrace, and from some of the reviews I read of the hotel in general, some of which compare the place to Fawlty Towers, I should have known better.
But there it is, you can’t win them all.
Quality of Food and Drink: 1/10
Value for Money: 1/10
Total Score: 8/50