Downton Abbey is based on the aristocratic "Crawley" family and their servants in their country estate in Yorkshire, complete with tears and tantrums and the odd death thrown in for good TV viewing, it's stupendously addictive. From the inspiring evening wear and dinner party tables, through to the etiquette and service from the family, staff and their visitors and even the one liners and quips from the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Dame Maggie Smith) that would have anybody chuckling who cared to give it a go.
Episode 6 was one of the best so far (in my humble opinion) as not only is it looking as though Mr Bates is about to start "Hulk Smashing" the servant quarters in the hunt for the person who has taken away his lovely wife's smile, but the house has an unexpected & equally exciting visitor for the evening and even Mary is offering the snidest of remarks and bad etiquette towards her own house guests, I loved this one so much - without giving too much away!
But what really made me smile was the fact that Mr Carson had his trumpet blown (ahem, sorry!) by the "wet lettuce" of a footman, Alfred just before he leaves the Abbey completely... I didn't see that coming oddly. Poor old Alfred has been a bit of a "non entity" at Downton, although he has been caught up within a bizarre and rather drawn out love square downstairs, he hasn't really been one to watch until this particular episode. Alfred has for some time been showing a slither of interest in the kitchen, helping Daisy to rescue a béchamel sauce or whipping up a cake or two for Mrs Patmore, but what proceeds is a test and trial in the kitchens of The Ritz in London - how on earth did THAT happen, I'm not entirely sure?! It was then a case of "has he got it or hasn't he?" and eventually he gets the letter, one way or another and off he trots to London T'aan to whip up bouillabaisse for the highest ranking residents of the capital in the kitchens of The Ritz. I realised that as an "afternoon tea aficionado" I would shock my fellow fans by admitting that I haven't in fact ever been to The Ritz for tea... this is mainly due to the fact that I can be a huge snob when it comes to afternoon tea, be it the scones served cold or the fact that an establishment believes serving Twinings tea is the best accompaniment to their tier. Afternoon tea is a real treat for me and I don't ever want to be disappointed when trying out a new version (who does?!) so I am very choosy as to where I go - it's a lot of money to me and I haven't ever been able to afford it, in my entire honesty. Tea at The Ritz is one that I've always avoided, but wanted to go to desperately (in equal measures) as it is a very pricey affair and I've heard very mixed reviews, making the decision not to go as a result as I feel I may be disappointed... perhaps I shouldn't judge before I try it, but it's the whole truth. As I can't offer any anecdotes personally (yet ; ) I've decided to put the following question to my very own afternoon tea-loving followers for their own honest appraisals of this historic establishment: "Have you enjoyed (or not!) afternoon tea at The Ritz and would you like to share your thoughts, stories and top tips whilst visiting?" The response was incredible, a mix of both good and bad, of which I share with you here, I hope that you enjoy reading these as much as I did for a little light-hearted reading before the next episode of Downton Abbey this weekend! - Here are some of my friends' reviews on Alfred's new place of work... It sounds like he has gone to a fantastic employer, farewell Alfie! Tea at The Ritz - The Real & Honest Reviews: "It must be time I revisited The Ritz for afternoon tea, since most of my waking thoughts are about this great British tradition and The Ritz in turn, is so very much associated with the custom too. However, I must revisit for a different reason than perhaps expected. I need to go back a second time - because I am one of the few it seems, who did not enjoy the experience very much at all. How can that be? Most people report their visit as a highlight of their holiday or time in London. Did I miss something? I went with a friend a handful of years ago with expectations as high as a kite. After all - this is THE Ritz and one of the main locations associated with afternoon tea in the UK. My expectations were of perfection - to be transported to a world of magical afternoon tea indulgence that could never be bettered - and I was almost giddy with excitement. Instead, I found our seats to be extremely public, for people to be overlooking us as we ate and for our service to be good but perfunctory. In fairness - it all tasted lovely - of course it did. It all looked pretty too. But the environment and atmosphere never beckoned us in and I remained going through the motions of someone who ought to be having a marvellous time because they were having tea at The Ritz. So...why don't I return... but this time with realistic expectations - and just enjoy it for what it is. After all, having been told that the Mamma Mia film was the BEST film ever, ever, ever created - I came out puzzled with a 'meh' expression. Therefore, I shall go like a blank canvas back to The Ritz and decide afresh, whether this is indeed one of the top places to enjoy afternoon tea (but...two strikes - and they're out!)." - Jane Malyon of The English Cream Tea Company - "It's all very Italian (a style I love in Italy, but doesn't quite translate here) - all gold cherubs and deep reds. I found it a bit OTT and not as sophisticated as they would like you to think. Food was ok - scones, sarnies, etc, but nothing to write home about. Not one of London's gems sadly - although I had been looking forward to it - much prefer the Wolseley and Savoy, bit more class and less, well, 'Ritzy' - Disclaimer: I am a massive snob." - Lizzy Denning - "To be honest, The Ritz did too little for me... sandwiches were prepared well in advance so they're still cold when served (straight out from the fridge I assume!), and they don't allow people wearing their national costumes into the seating area, claiming it would spoil the scene - how pompous is that?! The sitting for afternoon tea start from as early as 11:30 to 19:30 at the latest, so I recall mums with schoolchildren to pick up later in the day would go for the brunch experience and working girls (like I once used to be!) would go for supper/high tea. Oh and one more thing... too many tables and chairs were crammed in & I feared when the place got filled on busy days, people sitting at the very back of the area may fall off (the seating area for afternoon tea is slightly above the steps)! - all in all, good for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I have seen better places and had better tea at five-star hotels elsewhere. - Takami Hikokubo - "My love affair with afternoon tea probably dates all the way back to my university days in London a long time ago (28 years actually). I was in London and so how else to while away time on a student grant but taking afternoon tea at The Ritz (having worked in the Halls of Residence kitchens most of the summer to earn some extra cash for such treats)?! My best friend Sarah and I decided that only our poshest togs would do and we went just a little over the top with the dressing up - I wore a full length green satin evening gown with long black gloves, hair up and lots of diamante jewellery. Sarah had a long black frock on with a lace jacket and a huge feather boa draped round her neck and we dragged along two game (or mad) men friends for the ride. We certainly turned heads as we entered the hotel, in fact we were stopped and photographed by some American tourists. It was a spectacular tea as well as being brilliant fun and I should add that we weren't shy about asking for extra cakes too! Although, I'm ashamed to say we stole a linen napkin as a souvenir." - Gwyneth Brock of Vintage Afternoon Teas - "I love The Ritz. I'm planning on booking again for next year, I've ever had a bad experience there. It is definitely the atmosphere that makes it, we've had a piano player and a harp the times I've been and the little cake trolley that comes round is always a welcome surprise, normally chocolate cake and lemon drizzle but there have been variations. The scones are always warm and the perfect size and the food just keeps coming. (Toilets are lush as well!) When you go in, you are directed to the cloak room which is free so you don't have all your coats and bags with you at the table, you can take your handbag in with you and there is a little shelf under the table for you to put it so it is out of the way. The room is amazing, all gold, and the frosted glass ceiling lights up when the sun shines and the whole room glows. The staff are attentive but not overly interfering and will leave you alone if you don't need anything. I took my mum the first time for her birthday and she loved it. I had told them when I booked and the man on the piano played happy birthday for her when they bought out her birthday cake. He also played 'puttin' on the ritz' a couple of times throughout the afternoon which was great! - Holly Myles - "Fabulous service, good tea selection and sandwiches. Only the black forest gateaux I was looking forward to wasn't really one...but I guess I'm hard to please when it comes to our regional cakes! I really enjoyed my birthday treat at The Ritz. You need to book a table months before if you intend to go at a weekend, otherwise you can phone them during the week asking if someone has canceled...which worked for us. I didn't enjoy too much the whole 'now this is your time slot and now it's finished...' as it made me feel a bit less relaxed. The couple next to us were making the most of it and the husband had four sandwich refills - one of the good things about it is that you can have as many lovely sandwiches as you can eat." - Denise Fröhlich Geb Kappus - "My mother & I headed down to London to celebrate the end of my degree in style - Tea at the Ritz! The journey was less than glamorous despite first class coach travel on the train - I got locked in the train toilets for half an hour on a blisteringly hot day which melted my face and ruined my hair… After gracefully recovering from this ordeal we made our way through London to the Ritz in the back of a Black Cab. As we got closer to the Ritz I was pleasantly surprised at how much it reminded me of Paris and Les Arcades on the Rue De Rivoli. Having grown up in France, my grandmother lived there, so this brought back a lot of happy memories and I couldn't help but feel that my life was meant to be spent at the Ritz! As a child growing up outside Paris, the Ritz meant elegance, tea and most of all royalty (associated especially with Princess Diana and her death in 1998). Arriving, we were greeted by friendly, if not a bit stiff, doormen and taken through to the Lobby. As with everything, we were very early, so we decided to have a quick drink at the (aptly named) Rivoli Bar before meeting my aunt and uncle for 'afternoon tea'. After being seated and browsing the menu, picking our jaws up the floor we both ordered a cocktail each priced at £19. I ordered a Cuba Libre (no longer available) which arrived very promptly and tasted of heaven! It had a modern, refreshing twist on the classic Mojito and was presented beautifully with caramelised pineapple sticks. These were as delicious as they sound, until I had a nasty surprise. I found a small black hair embedded in the caramel. My reaction was not immediate, having been in Britain for 12 years I learnt to hide my feelings of disgust and get on with my cocktail until I mentioned it to my mother who, having lived abroad a long time was horrified! We agreed to mention it to the bartender who was, also, mortified. Despite my initial feelings of guilt, we were after all paying nearly £40 for both cocktails! This ordeal was sweetened by the fact that the bartender sent the managers apologies and insisted both the drinks be on the house. Realising we were drinking free cocktails in The Ritz, we soon felt better! However, the staff were rude, busy, overworked and the room we were in was small overcrowded and uncomfortable. I was looking forward to tea, scones, jam and other lovely things, but the tables were too small for all the food they brought over and worst of all the scones weren't even warm, they were stale. The Rivoli Bar was definitely the highlight of my trip, the rest of the hotel was cheap and felt tacky - the bar felt removed, intimate and secret which made it much more exciting than a large room filled with tourists and teacups. However, this day does keep me going when I think about how unglamorous my job in retail is and when I have to get up at 3:45am to cycle to work in the rain - thank god for The Ritz! - Catherine Suzanne Lalevée - "I went July 2008 so it may have changed since. We went because my mum and I have been on a mission for about a decade now to try out as many London afternoon tea spots as possible and The Ritz was a big hole in our list that seriously needed to be checked off. It was very nice, the decoration very sumptuous but I couldn't help but feel they had crammed a few too many tables into the area, but the tea and different plates were of course wonderful. But in comparison to other places I have to be honest and say that you cannot help but feel you are in a tourist trap - the limit on the table, the manner of the booking system, it's just routine for them, and understandably so given how many people go there. I think the hardened afternoon tea aficionado will enjoy the experience but will soon beat a track back to the Savoy (our favourite, although, now becoming quite touristy too), Browns or the Langham which all offer an experience that feels much less like you are just part of an afternoon tea production line to be processed and sent out before the next tourist can be seated." - Catriona Roscoe of Cakes By Cat - "I went to the Ritz for afternoon tea when my dad was 60, for his birthday. My extravagant cousin (who owned a very famous nightclub in London at the time) turned up to meet us and was not allowed in as he wasn't wearing a tie - he had to go and borrow one from the concierge and was quite outraged by the whole affair! I remember the opulence of the building and the 'poshness' of it all but this was 20 years ago mind... it's probably changed a little since then!" - Kirsty Keegan - "We were given vouchers for Afternoon Tea at The Ritz as a Christmas gift. We decided to wait for a special occasion to use them and picked our third wedding anniversary as the perfect time…a whole 9 months away! When the day finally arrived excitement levels were high, and expectation levels even higher. We had experienced Afternoon Tea before of course, but never at *The Ritz*! Dressed in our finery, we made our way to London. At the hotel door we were greeted by a footman in top hat and all –very posh! Inside, the hotel did not disappoint and exuded wealth and grandeur with crystal-encrusted chandeliers, candelabra, swathes of velvet draped from windows and doorways, gilded picture frames and gold paint all around. I guess the décor could have bordered on garish for some, but for me I loved the opulence of it all; it was our special day, we wanted to feel spoiled! The surroundings were plush, the table setting perfectly appointed, the waiting staff polite and attentive, and the live pianist a lovely touch – he even took requests and played our wedding song (L-O-V-E by Nat King Cole) during the course of the tea; I have to say the setting was lovely. move on to the reason that I was really there: the desserts! On this front I was left only mildly disappointed. The cakes and petit fours looked beautiful and tasted fairly good, though I've had better. A major criticism I had – and I can't believe I'm writing this – but there were perhaps too many cakes (those who know me will know I'm a cake fiend!). Not only were we offered three or four different pastries and other sugary treats on our Tea tower, but having forced all that into our bellies we were then presented with a trolley loaded with other cakes of which we could choose a slice. It would have been rude to say no, and we wanted the whole experience after all. Safe to say we were left feeling a little bloated and sick. An amusing point was when a fellow diner found a piece of plastic in his dessert…the waiters were extremely apologetic and rushed it back to the kitchen. As a way of apology, the mortified chef presented the gentleman with yet ANOTHER slice of cake, especially made for him. It looked beautiful but needless to say the guy's belt would have bust had he tasted even a crumb!" - Fiona McDuff our very own Cambridge Bake Off Winner 2013 -
Right... that's it, I think I need to be off to book my table.... www.theritzlondon.com/tea If you enjoyed this blog post, you may enjoy these too: Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 1 (The Manual Whisk & Giggle Cake Recipe) Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 2 ( The Downton Cast on Twitter) Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episodes 3 & 4 ( The Servants Job Specs) Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 – Episode 5 (An interview with Pamela Foster) Afternoon Tea with Downton Abbey: Series 4 - Episode 6 (Tea at The Ritz)