Monday, 19 March 2018

Afternoon tea in Europe's largest bookshop

 Books, cakes, and a friend who makes you laugh so much, you accidentally blow out the candle on your table. Some days you just feel like you're winning at life, y'know? I've known Amy all my life, and in 27 years, our friendship has gone from being based on slides and swings, to bars and cocktails, to books and afternoon tea, so I knew I'd hit on something when I was looking for something to do for her birthday and came across this.

Lots of people know about 5th View, the bar-restaurant on the top floor of the deliciously gargantuan Waterstones on Piccadilly in London, but not many people know about the afternoon tea. Which is a shame really, because afternoon tea in a bookshop is a fantastically appealing idea, no?

Prebooking was a wise move - on a snowy Saturday afternoon, every table is taken. We're shown to ours (mental note: request a table next to the windows next time) and left with the menu. When our waitress returns a few minutes later to take our drinks order, briskness is the vibe, suggesting this place prioritises high turnover over customer service. It's the third time I've been to 5th View, at varying times of day and days of the week, and every time, I've found the staff to be brisk and standoffish.

The menu's bizarre combination of offerings feels like a microcosm of London itself - as we tuck into a three tier afternoon tea, the table to our left are wolfing down burgers and chips, while those to our right indulge solely in an iced bottle of champagne. Each to their own, eh? 

This jack-of-all-trades approach results in an afternoon tea that doesn't benefit from the care and attention that others do. There are only four teas to choose from, although they're happy to let us choose a hot chocolate instead.

The sandwiches are a weak start. They've come straight out of the fridge, leaving the bread dry and a little tasteless, the fridge temperature cucumber too chilly to bite into. That said, the best part of the meal sits alongside the sandwiches - a Yorkshire pudding with chorizo and cheese. Now I'm all for afternoon teas that involve Yorkshire puddings, and this one is no exception, because what could be better than meat and cheese and Yorkies in a single bite?

After those sandwiches, it's a welcome surprise o find the scones are warm. Cream and jam sit alongside the huge, fluffy blobs in individual pots (cream first, before you ask). Normally, I prefer afternoon teas which offer you two or three smaller scones of different flavours to try, but given the bargaintastic cost of this tea, these scones are more than sufficient.

Naturally, the meal finishes with a cake tier; the menu rather unhelpfully states "homemade cakes". A little detective work reveals we're facing a slice of lemon drizzle, a chunk of chocolate brownie and a macaron each. Thankfully, the first two are not as arid as their dry, crumbly appearance would have you believe, the brownie toeing the line perfectly between sweet and sickly.

At £29.95 for two (plus service added on automatically, which is a bugbear of mine), this is a good value afternoon tea, and given that we only booked a couple of days in advance, is a good option for last-minute London plans. The bookshop location adds an extra twist, and if you go on a clear day, the views over the London skyline are decent too. Don't go expecting amazing service though.

Afternoon tea at 5th View, Waterstones, 203-206 Piccadilly, W1J 9HA.

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