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The Wolseley Afternoon Tea Review

Julie Falconer's high expectations for the London institution were not met, but she still has hope

Published on July 21st 2011.

The Wolseley Afternoon Tea Review

THERE are not many restaurants in London that are as established as The Wolseley. Located firmly on Piccadilly, in the heart of central London, the restaurant is an institution on the London dining scene.

Whether people go for a business breakfast, a leisurely lunch, an afternoon tea or a special occasion dinner, The Wolseley is packed from morning until night. The bar is equally popular, giving the restaurant a buzzing vibe throughout the day.

The overall experience at The Wolseley was a decent one, but my lasting impression was one of disinterested service.

It’s not just location that The Wolseley has on its side. It is also décor. The large, spacious dining room with high ceilings was originally designed to be a car showroom in the 1920s. Architect, William Curtis Green, fitted out the building with grand Venetian and Florentine-style interiors, large pillars and stunning stairways.

When the car showroom failed to make a profit, the space became a bank, complete with a stamp machine that can still be seen today. The bank closed in 1999, and The Wolseley became the restaurant that it is today in 2003. In just a few short years, it was well entrenched in the St. James’s dining scene.

I recently went to The Wolseley to sample the restaurant’s afternoon tea. The service has become part of the institution, and is a very popular way to spend an afternoon in London.

I arrived with a friend at 4:30pm, and the restaurant was busy. There were people having afternoon tea, others having business meetings over coffee, and still more enjoying the all-day menu in the grand café.


We sat down and were handed menus from which we could choose from English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Assam, Jasmine, Green or The Wolseley Afternoon Blend to go with the restaurant’s signature afternoon tea service (£21).

My friend chose Assam and I chose the house blend, and soon a bored-looking waitress arrived with two pots of tea. She set them down on the table and walked away. I was a bit surprised that she was so disinterested. Every other afternoon tea experience I have had in London has been the opposite. 

A few minutes later a tiered tray of tea sandwiches, cakes and scones arrived. On the first layer, there were four types of sandwiches: egg and mayonnaise, chicken salad, cucumber on sundried tomato bread, cucumber on white bread and smoked salmon. 

All of the sandwiches were delicious, and were gone very quickly. The bread was fresh and light and the fillings were flavourful and well-proportioned.


On the next tier sat the cakes. The waitress told us what they were, but unfortunately she spoke so quickly and softly that we barely made out what she said. Eventually we learned that they were a Battenberg Cake, with its distinctive pink and yellow squares, a green pistachio macaroon, a chocolate éclair, a strawberry tart, a slice of cheesecake and a chocolate cake topped with a layer of chocolate mousse. 

The cakes were all of a very high quality. The Battenberg Cake was sugary sweet, but not overly so. The macaroon was as light and airy as macaroons should be. The éclair was rich and decadent, but maintained a lightness that contrasted with its heavy ingredients. The strawberry tart was sweet and fresh, if the pastry crust a bit hard. The cheesecake was rich and creamy and the chocolate cake was decadent.


On the third tier sat four fruit scones. They were accompanied by a silver tray that contained two pots of clotted cream and two pots of strawberry jam complete with two silver spoons for us to scoop out their contents and smother on the scones.

The scones were baked to perfection. Light and fluffy, they had none of the cakey heaviness that can ruin a good scone. The jam and cream accompanied them well, although I wished there were some lemon curd on the table, too.

The tea itself was a good blend. It was aromatic and flavourful, without being too heavy or overly perfumed. I added milk and sugar to it, but it could have been enjoyed black just as easily.


When we were finished with all of the sandwiches, cakes and scones on the table, our server cleared the dishes. It took a while for us to find her again to ask for the bill. It was a bit tedious, but not so much so that it ruined the experience.

The overall experience at The Wolseley was a decent one, but my lasting impression was one of disinterested service. I’m used to afternoon tea servers being effusive in their welcome and hospitality, and was a bit disappointed that the service at The Wolseley was in such stark contrast.

However, the food and tea were very well done, and the atmosphere at The Wolseley was as buzzing as ever. Maybe next time I will return for breakfast or lunch, when the service will be more aligned with my expectations.


The Wolseley
160 Piccadilly
London, W1J 9EB


Rating:          16/20

Breakdown:     9/10 food
                      3/5 service
                      4/5 ambience


Follow @aladyinlondon on Twitter!

To read more of her writing, visit her London travel blog and Europe travel website.


Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: We get carried away.

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GordoJuly 21st 2011.

i agree with this review, it's a lovely place to be for an hour or so, but you do feel that you have to work the waiters, if you know what I mean.

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