Scone vs Brioche: Afternoon Tea @ Le Restaurant de PAUL, Covent Garden

10 Aug 2018

I’ve a very vivid memory from a summer spent with my friend and his parents in Southwold when I was about eight. We had momentarily stepped into the dining room of what was quite a fancy hotel so that one of the grownups could make a reservation for later that week, and we’d been told to behave.

All around the room, well dressed “old people” were clinking teacups on saucers and using tiny forks to prod tiny cakes, and nibbling on what looked to be the silly crustless sandwiches the old lady who lived down our road used to bring to our summer parties in her paisley purse. The way they all spoke to each other so quietly, almost under their breaths, and moved to eat and drink so carefully (I assume in fear of smashing one of those delicate china teapots), they reminded me of extras in a play, who were only pretending to have a good time. They were of course, I know now, enjoying what I’m sure was a rather splendid afternoon tea.

Back then, and until only recently, afternoon tea wasn’t something just anybody treated themselves to. For a long time it seemed something the upper classes didn’t want to share with folk like us – or rather, folk like us didn’t care for inadequately small sandwiches and creamy tea. How times have changed. Now, anybody who’s anybody loves an afternoon tea. Kids are celebrating turning 18 by travelling into town with the gals to get wasted on cucumber sandwiches and scones, and sharing the (probably quirky) tearoom with June & Mary who are there to celebrate their joint 80ths.

Introducing the option of an upgrade from Builders Tea to Bollinger has certainly helped this 3pm feasting trend grow, but as with most trends there’s always the worry that they will become overdone and a little generic. Luckily, some have been approaching afternoon tea with a little more imagination and thinking outside the box.

Le Restaurant De PAUL, for example, has recently adopted the afternoon tea trend, offering the menu from 2.30-5.30pm daily, but have added a delicious Parisian twist, all the while sticking to the rules (three tiers, multiple tea options, more sweet than savoury).

The first course/tier consists of sandwiches made from artisan bread fresh from their bakery, the fillings a little more adventurous and including creamy camembert, poulet and salmon fumé. The second, a selection of French cakes and mini macarons, and the third (the most exciting), sweetly glazed PAUL brioche, served with jam and whipped cream. I’m going to put it out there… I prefer the brioche to the scone. In fact, I’ve been to another afternoon tea since visiting PAUL (because afternoon tea’s really trendy, I told you), and I got a little bit moody that there was no brioche on offer. The scone’s too heavy, especially if like me you save it until last. The brioche however is so super light and airy. It’s the perfect end.

PAUL offers their afternoon tea with a hot drink for just £14.95 per person, with a glass of bubbles it’s £19.95, but with free-flowing bottomless bubbles it’s just £24.95 – so it’s a no-brainer if you ask me.


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