Monday, 10 October 2011
Bea's of Bloomsbury, 44 Theobald's Road, WC1X 8NW
Our good friends J&C have been, for a while, hankering after a good ol' afternoon tea. While we've previously been to Browns, and also had tea from various other establishments, I'd also been wanting to try it out at Bea's after hearing lots about it from D&A.
It all began in earnest. We wanted to have a civilised afternoon of tea and scones, followed by an evening of theatre (Wicked) at Apollo Victoria. Thing is, these plays get booked out months in advance, so by the time I'd finally persuaded myself that it was worth £60 watching some people sing in costumes (yes, I know it is more complexed than that, but it's a lot of money) the tickets had all but sold out. Well, the good ones which weren't behind a pillar anyway.
So, what next was best? Might as well go for more food hey (more on that in the next post). But first things first. We have tea to talk about.
(If you're the kind of person who likes to, say, actually experience the afternoon tea for yourself, you might want to stop reading because there won't be much left in terms of surprises once you're done here. Lots of details ahead.)
The cafe isn't huge, so it's best to book your place before getting there. We did our booking about a month in advance, but that was because we were trying to sort out the theatre thing at the same time, so I reckon a week's notice is probably OK. Anyhow, when you make the booking, you should mention what you're going for, ie the Full Afternoon Tea, because they have to set the table up and everything.
While waiting for our friends to arrive (we'd arrive about half an hour early - talk about being keen hey), the husband decided to order some coffee (more on that below).
First things first. The teas.
They do all sorts of tea - Assam Breakfast, Earl Grey Supreme, Darjeeling, Lapsang, Gunpowder Supreme Green Tea, Dragonwell Green Tea, Jasmine Silver Needle White Tea, Rooibos, Lemon Verbena, Peppermint Leaf, Blackcurrant and Hibiscus and Vanilla Black.
But if you don't like tea (you rebel), then you'd be pleased to know that they do coffee, too. Good coffee, in fact. From Square Mile. The husband is absolutely in love with Square Mile coffee. Five months ago, he didn't even drink coffee. Now look what it's come to.
We ordered the Macchiato (pic above) which was strong and very smooth. The Flat White was pretty fab too.
There weren't too many people in the cafe when we arrived around 1.30pm. One table was just finishing their tea, and a few other tables were having some scones, so I took the opportunity to have a wander round and take some pictures.
When our friends arrived, the waitress took our order and then returned a while later with 3 fully-stacked tiers of lovely stuff. Let's eat it one at a time, shall we?
The First One - Cupcakes, mini meringues, scones and macarons
My excitement level was so high, I almost wanted to stop taking photos and dive straight in.
I say 'almost', because I managed to control my greedy little fat fingers, so you, my little blog, gets to savour the pictures, if not the food.
This was another version on display by the counter (just for comparison).
Now, when faced with so many cakes and so little time, where does one begin? Let's start with the cupcakes, why not.
(Another note: The waitress did try to explain what was what when she brought the stuff over, but in my hunger-induced hysteria and excitement at seeing these beauties, I didn't hear anything she said so most of the stuff named below is as a result of guesswork and logic.)
Guesswork: Berry cupcake
This was one of the ones which wasn't eaten there and then (I know), so our friends took it home with them. I'm guessing it's a chocolate cake with berry icing, but I could very well be wrong.
Guess: Chocolate cupcake with peanut-butter icing
OK this one is an informed guess. We took it home with us and had it the next day. For a cake which had been left overnight in my kitchen, it tasted extremely good, and even managed to stay moist and chewy. The chocolate was rich and full of flavour, and the icing had such a delicate, subtle taste of peanut that even the peanut-hating husband scoffed it down without much complain.
Guess: Carrot cupcake with mascarpone icing
Oh my favourite cake of the day. I absolutely love carrot cake, and I loved this version. The cake was very moist and delightfully chewy - partly due to the cake having just the right amount of carrot in it, as well as the sprinkling of nuts which gave it a good bite. The icing was in fact ... the icing on the cake. Ha ha. The mascarpone wasn't too strong, and didn't overpower the delicate taste of the cake, but in fact, enhanced the flavour altogether.
These little morsels were absolute delights. I'd previously bought the giant meringues from here, but found them to be quite a disappointment because they just crumbled when bit into. So, without much expectactations, I put my fork into one (trying to half it to be shared) but they were so sticky and chewy that my fork kinda remained stuck to it.
The meringues were slightly tangy (with the flavouring on top of them) and so wonderfully light, chewy and sticky.
I might as well say it here. 'I don't like macarons.'
In addition to not liking bacon (which, to someone living in the UK is almost like not liking football or tea), I simply don't understand the fascination with these overpriced, airy, colourful little things. Some people have said that it's probably because I've not had good versions of the stuff, but I think I have tried a good few varieties, and can safely say that nope, I still don't like them.
What don't I like about them? Well, for one, it looks so pretty and when they're laid out in a row, just looks good enough to eat. Thing is, when you do eat them, it just kinda crumbles away at first bite into nothingness. The middle is pretty much all air, and crumbly air at that. There isn't much else to eat after that. Plus, most of the ones I've tried have in some form or way tasted of coconut. I don't particularly like coconut.
So, I can't objectively tell you if this was good or bad. Try it out for yourself.
Mmmmm I liked these scones (s-cones, s-kohns, whatever). My friends said it was a little on the dry side, but I quite liked it like that. The taste was full-on butter, and when generously slathered with clotted cream and strawberry jam, each mouthful was just more-ish. Portion was huge, too, if that helps.
The Second One - Mini Valrhona brownie, Belgian blondie, peanut butter cookie and marshmallow
This tier had been relegated to the sidelines while I was busy photographing the more picturesque tier above. When I then realised it was sitting quietly at the side, waiting to be eaten, we immediately put it back in the spotlight and gave it the attention it deserved.
The marshmallow cake wobbled precariously on the plate as it was put down on the table. I couldn't resist a little squish. How it bounced back with each squish - quivering slightly as it sat there on the plate.
I love chewy things. Yes, during my school years, that love of chewy things extended to my biting my erasers on a daily basis. Usually I bit the ones which were multi-coloured and which looked like cake. I don't just bite any ol' eraser, no, I go for the ones which look good enough to be eaten (alas, they were not edible) but anyhow, these days I stick to edible objects.
The marshmallows provided just the right amount of resistance when bit into, giving way to a softer chew after that. Taste-wise, remarkably similar to that of a marshmallow.
The Valrhona brownies and Belgian blondies
Sounds like the name of a band, doesn't it?
These geometrically-pleasing little bite-sized cubes of cakes were absolutely wonderful. There's something irresistable about geometrically-correct food. You might think I'm a weirdo, but then how would you explain why the Japanese package their food items in such cute, geometrically-correct ways? Each piece of rectangular sushi is wrapped round by a shiny piece of plastic. Selecting the sushi for lunch is almost like being at the jewellers (but a lot less expensive).
The brown ones are the Valrhona brownies. Lots of chocolate compacted into one small bite. Pleasing.
The white cubes are the Belgian blondies. I'd only just been introduced to the term 'blondie' sometime last year. Prior to that, 'blondie' either meant Debbie Harry's band, or a blonde person. Now I know better. Now I know that a blondie is a geometrically-pleasing cube of flour, baking soda, white chocolate, sugar, butter and brown sugar.
If you've not had this before, it is - compact, chewy, moist, and tastes similar to white chocolate
I quite enjoyed these little pieces of cookies. My friends didn't like it as much, but that just meant I had more to eat so no complains there. The reason they didn't like it was kinda the same reason why I liked it. Let me describe what I mean.
When I first tried to pick one up, it kinda crumbled a little on the plate so I only managed to pick up bits of a cookie. When I then put it into my mouth, it crumbled like delicate sugary sand, taking all the moisture from my mouth with it, and then dissolved into a smooth, almondy paste.
While I found it quite interesting, the others found it to be kinda dry.
The Third One - Mini savoury baguettes
As usual with the husband, he was the first one to tuck into the sandwiches, and pretty much continued with it until he was too full to have any cakes. Not sure what exactly compelled him to eat all the sandwiches, but he did the same when we were at Brown's resulting in him having eaten about 20 cucumber and salmon sandwiches (all the cakes and scones = mine).
Not much to say about the baguettes, but if you've never had one before, then maybe you should go to a sandwich bar and get one.
I spied some sundried tomato and cheese, Italian cured meats and also had a pesto and brie one which was a surprisingly good combination for sandwich filling.
The other stuff on display by the counter.
All I'm saying is, if you're the kinda person who has problems saying 'No' to cakes, then you're gonna have real problems here. Best to come on a full stomach, or maybe just peer from outside where you're safely shielded from temptation by a glass window.
Nearest tube: Holborn / Chancery Lane
Phone number: 020 7242 8330
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8:00am-7:00pm; Sat 12:00-7:00pm; Sun 12:00am-7:00pm