I mentioned York & Albany’s ‘gingerbread afternoon tea’ a few weeks ago, in my guide of foodie things to do in London this winter. And as a lover of all things ginger, visiting York & Albany was very much at the top of my personal list of wintery London activities. So, last week I invited my mum to London to spend a Christmassy afternoon eating ginger and cranberry scones and sipping Prosecco, which she agreed to immediately.
Now, let me preface this review. I had never been to York & Albany before this visit, I have never had a ‘proper’ meal there, I have never even popped in for a drink. This review is based purely on my experience on this particular Saturday afternoon, and the food served as part of their gingerbread afternoon tea.
That preface makes it sound like this is going to a bad review, it isn’t, not entirely anyway. In fact on Twitter I described it as a “beautiful afternoon tea”, which it certainly was. Usually I start these reviews with a description of the restaurant when you walk in, so let’s start there. On entering York & Albany, you are greeted with Christmas music and a beautifully decorated tree. Their infamous gingerbread house is at the back of the restaurant, and accessible from the Albany road side, and it really does look very lovely. my mother and I both agreed it’s the perfect venue for a small Christmas get together, or a birthday treat (for those of you with one of those dreaded December birthdays). Unfortunately our problems started on entering the restaurant. The restaurant wasn’t particularly busy, which might be expected at 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, however, we had to wait a little while for our reserved table, despite the fact three separate members of staff asked us our names.
We were finally seated, and ordered our afternoon tea, with Prosecco (of course), one veggie for me, and one standard tea for my mum. We ordered our tea, one Rosehip and Hibiscus and one English Breakfast. Our Prosecco arrived shortly after ordering, and we sipped as we waited for the arrival of our food.
The menu contains all the usual sandwiches; egg, smoked salmon, ham and mustard. And the vegetarian option includes egg, cheese and pickle, and cheese and tomato – although this isn’t stated on the menu, but then again, I don’t mind a surprise. Our server misunderstood our order, so we actually got two lots of veggie sandwiches, although they quickly brought extra ham and salmon sandwiches for my mother when they realised, which wasn’t a problem at all, in fact it meant we needed up with two extra sandwiches, and nobody can be annoyed with that!
The cakes and scones arrived at the same time as the sandwiches. Instead of the usual three sir cake stand set up, York & Albany have opted for a more modern approach, serving afternoon tea on a selection of very Instagram-friendly real-wood boards. The menu stated that the sweet selection would consist of ginger and cranberry scones, gingerbread men, parkin, macarons and crème brûlée. The scones were to die for! As a person who was dragged to Devon and Cornwall every summer of my childhood, and as an adult with a real love of afternoon tea, I’ve had a lot of scones in my time, but I think it’s safe to say, the scones at York & Albany may be the best I’ve ever had (better than The Ritz). Crunchy on the outside, and ever so light on the inside. Absolute scone perfection. However, were they cranberry scones? Yes. Were they ginger scones? Not that I could tell. But, I’ll get over it, they’re still the best scones I’ve ever had, so thank you for that York & Albany.
The gingerbread men, while a little messy were divine. As was the ooey-gooey itty-bitty pieces of parkin (if you’re not familiar, parking is a dark treacly ginger cake popular in the north of England, and this was a good one) and the mini gingerbread macarons. However, the crème brûlée appeared to be replaced with some sort of blackcurrant parfait. In my glass-of-Prosecco-on-an-empty-stomach state I assume may have been some weird take on a crème brûlée, but I have since seen pictures of actual proper crème brûlée served as part of afternoon tea. Don’t get me wrong the blackcurrant parfait was fantastic, it complemented the ginger perfectly. However, at no point during our tea were we given an explanation to why an item on the menu had been replaced, which I think is pretty bad form from the front of house.
The biggest annoyance during our visit to York & Albany was that our tea never arrived, not in good time anyway. After ordering, and asking several servers to check where our tea was, we were told that the tea I ordered wasn’t available (over 30 minutes after ordering it, and well into the food). I reordered an Earl Grey and it arrived. Alas, it arrived in a pot without a strainer… what I really love in my tea, is big black chunks of tea leaves. After spending a further 10 minutes tracking down a member of staff, our teapots were replaced and we finished our cakes with a cup of tea, just the way an afternoon tea should be.
The staff were kind enough to apologise for the problems we experienced during our visit, and offered a complementary drink for both of us on the house. Which we accepted kindly, and ended the tea on a very good note.
All in all, the food is brilliant (especially the scones). The Prosecco afternoon tea costs £30 (£24 without bubbles). To put that into perspective, tea at The Ritz with Champagne will cost you £66. But, is this The Ritz, of course not, the service is barely there and of course the food is limited to what is put in front of you, not an endless stream of confection as is the norm in some of the London hotels. But then you don’t go there expecting The Ritz. Would I go back? Definitely. Would I recommend? Definitely (based mainly on the quality of the scones… really guys, well done). I’d like to hope that I caught the staff on a bad day, but am very thankful to them for righting the problems with the service with a complementary drink, and not leaving my mother and I with bad memories of the whole experience. I’m excited to visit York & Albany to explore their evening meal menu, and of course will be reporting back.. watch this space.