An English afternoon tea

I appreciated the way we were able to sit for a few hours talking, even if the chairs were on the uncomfortable side. But if you charge the going rate for a hotel afternoon tea outside London – around £30 since you ask – you need to do more than call it afternoon tea. The taste and quality of what you offer should be at least passable, and the way you serve it, and when, is worth considering.

Or was the fact that we weren’t turfed out after a couple of hours a sign that not too many people were clamouring for our table? I mean, they knew what we didn’t.

Tea corner at the Randolph

I don’t know whether to feel embarrassed admitting to having gone twice, in two days. The first tea was sufficiently acceptable, and I enjoyed chatting to my friends in an unhurried way, which is why I booked a table for my next meeting, the following day.

And yes, I did get – partly – what I was looking for and again, I loved seeing people and talking for hours. But that was down to me having nice friends to meet up with, more than the tea or the service.

Day one the non-English head waiter was polite and pleasant, if not good at getting a tea order together. I forget the number of times we had to ask for milk. Meanwhile the tea stewed and got blacker and blacker, and the sandwiches dried. That’s what I thought, anyway. Until…

Day two the same non-English head waiter needed to have his sleeve pulled after a search to find him, when the placing of an order for tea got quite urgent. There is only so long you want to wait. Tried the Earl Grey in the hopes of less black tea, but that didn’t work. I.e. the tea was as strong as the previous day, and lukewarm. Later on when we asked for more hot water we were rather alarmed to discover the waiter wanted to simply pour it into the teapot.

The sandwiches were dry. It’s the only description for them. And the fillings had been sparingly applied. For £30 they could afford a bit more egg, say. And clingfilm to cover sandwiches so obviously made well in advance.

Would I go back to the Randolph in Oxford?

Maybe. The hotel is well placed for meetings. The room is pleasant enough. In fact, if you consider the cost of the tea more as a fee for a corner of the room we sat in, then yes, it’s OK. Just about. And I have no problem with non-English waiting staff, as long as they know how to serve an English afternoon tea in a vaguely English way. With milk.

(It can’t have been the wheelchair, can it? The second day? The first day they even wanted to hang our coats for us, while the second day we had all that time alone, putting the wheels away, and waiting for service. Surely not?)

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