So here it was – my first ‘solo’ excursion; let off the leash to review afternoon tea on behalf of LadyLovesCake.
The increasing popularity of this fine blog means that more and more invitations have been coming in of late, and Lady herself is a little tead-out. While she’s claiming to be several months pregnant, I actually think the bump may be purely sandwiches and scones.
My assignment, hastily accepted, was to try out one of the most recent additions to the London teatime scene – the Strand Dining Rooms.
Just yards from the Eleanor Cross in the forecourt of Charing Cross Station, commonly seen as the very centre of London, this place certainly has its location sorted.
And now open for a couple of months, the Strand Dining Rooms isn’t messing around. This deceptively large space, right in the heart of the capital has clearly had a whole load of work, imagination and cold hard cash thrown at it.
The result is very impressive.
Leather and wood are abound, making for a wonderfully ambient aroma of ‘new car smell’ – I’ve never been inside a Rolls Royce, but I’d imagine it would smell like this. And the fact that it is situated within the ‘Grand Buildings’ lends it an extra sense of pomp.
If you need proof that no corner has been cut, a neat little video on the restaurant website shows its evolution from empty shell to bustling eatery.
Arriving with Polly, my cousin, on an October Saturday afternoon, through the touristy chaos of Trafalgar Square, the Dining Rooms felt like a little oasis of calm – a surprisingly large, open and bright space set to the low hum of London buses regularly filing past.
Shown to a comfortable booth in the front window by the betweeded waiter, we were made to feel very at home.
And so to tea.
The Strand Dining Rooms finds itself in a difficult situation.
With the exponential rise of the London afternoon tea scene over the past handful of years, those looking to entice the limited pool of customers have been forced to up their games; offering extra finesse and interesting new takes on the sandwich/scone/cake formula.
And while it pains me to say it, (because I am generally adverse to gimmicks when it comes to my food), the Strand Dining Rooms’ afternoon tea is a bit, well, ‘normal’.
Classic finger sandwiches offered egg, ham and salmon; the scones, (though fabulously light), failed to get the heart racing; and the cake selection, though featuring lots of juicy fresh fruit, couldn’t add the figurative icing to the literal.
While not disappointing, it was slightly deflating.
But then, we discovered the cocktails, and everything changed.
The bar had been catching my eye throughout tea. A great hulk of a surface surrounded by grand leather stools, both Polly and I felt it would have been rude not to pull up a pew and get the barman to put his skills to the test.
An espresso martini and negroni were prepared and delivered in some style and these classic offerings were sunk in no time.
Finding a bar at which you can sit is no mean feat in a culture where ordering a drink can be an ‘elbows out’ kind of affair, so sitting here in the heart of London, Nelson’s ankles just visible atop his Trafalgar Square column, was quite the treat.
So, Strand Dining Rooms – yay or nay? Well, it depends entirely on what you hope to find.
If you’re a connoisseur of afternoon teas, this place is unlikely to set your pulse a-racing. But if you’re caught in the bustle of London and in need of respite, this is certainly a location to keep in mind. I would even head back to try their a la carte menu one evening – some of the other patrons’ dishes I gawped at with envy looked very hearty.
I certainly wish the Strand Dining Rooms all the best. Its heart is certainly in the right place and, with time to settle in, could well be a decent option for many years to come.
Strand Dining Rooms can be found at Grand Buildings, Trafalgar Square, 1-3 Strand, London WC2N 5EJ. Nearest tube stations are Charing Cross and Embankment. Afternoon tea starts at £21 per person. We were guests of Strand Dining Rooms.
P.S. LLC here – this bump probably is just scones and sandwiches! Don’t tell anyone!