As we are running out of afternoon tea places in hometown Edinburgh, my partner and I decided to go outside of our bounds and go to exotic Glasgow for afternoon tea last weekend. We took the whole day off, it started snowing – it was quite a beautiful and energising trip! We decided to take our tea at The Willows Tea Rooms, “one of the key visitor attractions” of the city, according to the website.
There are 3 main elements to afternoon tea:
- Atmosphere (look and service)
- Food (quality and presentation)
- Tea (quality and range)
Atmosphere is mostly dependent on decoration and the overall feel of a place: Anteaques is more classic, where Eteaket is more funky and modern, for instance. This is of course subject to taste, although your tea room should always be presentable. Then some shops have a higher emphasis on teas, whereas others focus more on food, like Casa Angelina. In general, you don’t need to serve mind blowing food, as long as the tea is good. Similarly, there’s no need to have hundreds of teas for sale – as long as you have a range that covers the main four tea types + some extras, and they are of good quality. There should always be some food for sale though, and that food should be of serving quality.
The reason I am pointing this out in this review is that, unfortunately, The Willows Tea Rooms missed the mark. The presentation was not my style. Generally that is not an issue, as it’s an entirely subjective issue of taste, but this tea room had a bit of a weird thing to it. When you first come in, you enter a shop. Not a tea shop, a gift shop. This is odd, as it breaks with expectations and the tone of a tea room.
On the first floor, there’s a restaurant looking down on the shop floor. The tea room is on the top floor. It’s a fine room, and looks fine enough, even though the Jugendstil style glass decorations were a bit much for my taste.
I selected a Chinese Keemun, a charming little black tea. Warming and honeylike, it’s a delicious tea to have with sweets and on a snowy winter’s day. There was a fine selection and the quality was good, so the tea box was ticked. (Also, the pricing isn’t bad at all!)
The issue was the food. The traditional afternoon tea comes on a 3 tier stand: sandwiches on the bottom, scones with clotted cream and jam on the middle one, and cakes on the top. The sandwiches…they were bad. The toppings were fine, if ordinary, but the bread was not. These sandwiches had clearly been in the fridge for at least a day, and the crust was not cut off. The result was a cold, damp, chewy mess that was just not enjoyable to eat. The scones, on the other hand, were nice.
As for the cakes, you get to select yours yourself from a scrumptious looking display. I went for a ridiculously large and delicious looking chocolate fudge cake. It was alright, although for some reason the cake was very spongy and cut in half, where it was glued together with some kind of flavourless cream. This didn’t really add anything and made it hard to eat – but I can’t ever be mad at a chocolate fudge cake.
Maybe it’s a bit harsh of me, as I did have a good time overall, but I have to admit that I was a bit thrown off by the food. For me, all 3 elements of afternoon tea must be good for the overall thing to be good too. The service was not exceptional, the look is not my style, and those sandwiches… If you go to The Willows Tea Room, I suggest you don’t go for the full afternoon tea – just have tea with a cake or a scone.