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1 October 2012

Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury, London

It is very rare for me to go somewhere I haven’t fully researched. I have this thing about checking out the menu weeks before my reservation. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this…Anyway, apparently Bea’s of Bloomsbury is very well-known with three branches in London (this review of of the St Paul’s branch) alone and a book out.  I did have a look at the book and it’s really nice.

Okay, so let’s start with the good. The sandwiches were scrumptious – fresh French-style baguette with a variety of fillings including salami, pesto, rocket, parma ham, brie and everything good in the savoury world of sandwiches. They were so fresh, flavoursome and just what I wanted. I’m a big fan of traditional finger sandwiches, however, it was nice to try something different.

The cupcakes were mediocre and quite dry. I mean, they were fine but when food looks prettier than it tastes, disappointment is inevitable. I don’t like brownies so I can’t comment on those. I have to be honest and say that their passion fruit marshmallows were the single best thing about the afternoon tea, and possibly the nicest thing I’ve eaten in the last year.  I won’t lie, I was expecting them to be awful with a tofu-like texture and artificial taste. If Bea’s of Bloomsbury haven’t won some sort of award for those marshmallows, something is wrong with this world. Passion fruit is such a unique flavour and they have it to perfection.

All this said, nothing could detract from the appalling service. Zero out of ten, people. Zero! Let’s just back up a moment, pre-sandwich. Now, we arrived seven minutes early. We announced ourselves to a staff member and he informed someone, whom I presume was the manager. Her response to this was, and I quote:

“They’re seven minutes early. They can wait.”

Now, I don’t do bad service. Had I been alone, I would have done what I usually do when this type of unacceptable situation occurs: walk the beep out. However, I was with my lovely friend Paul who was visiting from Paris (and had made the booking) so I said nothing and pretended like I didn’t hear (so refrained of me!) but from that moment, I knew this wasn’t going to end well. Precisely seven minutes spent standing staring at cakes and we were taken to our table. Expecting to have to fight our way through the crowds to get there, imagine the surprise at going upstairs to find that we were the only patrons in the restaurant. So we spent seven minutes waiting for… To this day, I have no idea.  It was like an episode from a New York sitcom about the all-powerful hostess who picks and chooses who has the right to eat and when. I found it shocking actually. This is how they run their business?!  Okay. Noted. Moving on…

Too many delicious sandwiches, pretty dessert and good conversation later, we asked for some hot water to top up our tea. Paul and I were enjoying two different types of tea. The waiter took our tea pots away only to return with overflowing ones. He put them down and we commented that they were spilling everywhere. He started to walk away. Er, okay. Wet table for us then. As he was walking away, I asked him which pot had which tea in. Can you believe that he shrugged his shoulders and said “I don’t know” before disappearing off downstairs. I mean, this actually happened. He wasn’t rude. He was simply nonchalant about our experience at the restaurant and that coupled with the “they can wait” remark made me wonder if I was on “You’ve been framed” (British-style candid camera). This is a business for Pete’s sake! How? What? Huh?

Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed by Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Maybe it was a one off. Maybe the entire staff was having an ‘off-day’. Quite frankly, I don’t care. I will not return. There are a multitude of great places to enjoy afternoon tea for all budgets in London, with good service as a standard part of the package. I suggest you try those places.

Have you been to Beas? I’m curious, what was your experience like?

19 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 October 2012 08:39

    Oh, what a pity! The food looks lovely but the lackadaisical service is a joke!

    Obviously they have not heard of the quote “people come for the food, but return for the service. I think it was Tom Colicchio who said that on ‘Top Chef’.

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      1 October 2012 09:49

      That’s a quote and a half! So very true, Thanks for sharing Aggie.

  2. 1 October 2012 09:03

    Now I love a cupcake but those don’t look very appetizing…unless the theme was Hallowe’en or something-too dark! Brownies….I LOVE brownies (so note for the future: I will eat all your share for you! I’m generous that way.) but those brownies don’t look very scrumptious. I’m sensing a theme with the food here. Mini baguettes look great however so that obviously bucked the trend!
    The service….wow. My reaction to “they can wait” was a raised eyebrow to start. If they were massively busy and the comment was whispered in another room, that’s different. When the restaurant in EMPTY and the comment is stated in a way that clearly indicates not caring about being overheard….well that’s different. Unbelievable. I hope they see this post and do something about improving their service skills! The waiter not knowing which tea is which is simple negligence in doing one’s job. Wow.
    I’m very impressed you were able to damp down the instinct to flee or tell them what’s what. We will stick to more conventional places me thinks!

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      1 October 2012 09:36

      That’s the thing Sarah, I don’t have any problem waiting seven minutes but the complete disregard for whether we overheard or not simply is not acceptable. When I experience bad service, I either walk out or inform the manager that I’d prefer another waiter because of X. I simply don’t engage to the ‘bad’ server. They’re not worth it. Usually I write a letter of complaint but this time I simply couldn’t be bothered. This happened and then the following week I had tea at the Intercontinental Park Lane and let me tell you, two different worlds.

      The sandwiches and marshmallows were so good and whilst the dessert didn’t wow me, had the service been good, I probably would have returned. It’s right next to St Paul’s Cathedral, which I visit often.

      We have so many places to try… :-)

  3. 1 October 2012 10:48

    I like the sound of the baguette sandwiches, as I’m not so keen on finger sandwiches. I’ve visited Bea’s of Bloomsbury before, as it used to be on my gym to home route (so dangerous!). What I remember most about it was the dismissive, scowling service at the counter. Buying cake should be an enjoyable experience, as it’s a treat, but I never felt the desire to go back because of this.

    From your afternoon tea experience, it seems they need a bit of hospitality training.

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      1 October 2012 13:36

      Bad service seems to be a theme here. It was almost as though the hostess felt we should be grateful to be there. I agree with you; buying/eating cake should be a joyful occasion. Sadly, at Bea’s, it is not.

  4. 1 October 2012 16:24

    Interesting choices of food for afternoon tea. There is no excuse for such horrible service. It pretty much ruins the meal no matter how good the food may be.

    I don’t like mixing chocolate with tea, so I would have passed on the brownies. I can’t have Sprite and chocolate either – gross.

  5. 3 October 2012 16:03

    There is nothing worse than rudeness. Like you, I’d have walked out…Shame you didn’t. They sound like they might be a bit too big for their boots!xx

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      29 October 2012 09:02

      Big shame I didn’t but at least I know now. After my experience, I read the TimeOut review and they basically said that they’re not known for their customer service. You think!

      x

  6. 4 October 2012 17:53

    You may remember that I visited Bea’s during the summer and I wrote a review on my blog. My experience, however, was quite different. I too enjoyed the mini baguettes and agree that the passion fruit marshmallows were wonderful and memorable!. Our cupcakes were very fresh and I was particularly impressed with the passion fruit frosting. Our waitress was charming and very attentive and returned a couple of times to offer us more tea. We believe that excellent service is very much part of the experience and I would have been very disappointed with the lack of professionalism which you witnessed on your visit.
    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.co.uk/

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      29 October 2012 09:04

      It sounds like you had a really good experience at Bea’s and you’re clearly not the only one. It’s all a bit hit & miss it seems. I thought about going back just for a marshmallow – that’s how good they are! But no, my experience put me off for life!

  7. 13 October 2012 22:08

    Yup, I’ve been before and they were SUPER RUDE! They basically said they were fully booked when we arrived even though we had called that morning and they had said that getting a table shouldn’t be a problem and no need to book if we were there early enough. Ridiculous!

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      29 October 2012 08:53

      Sorry to hear that you also had a bad experience there. Hopefully things have/will improve for them…

  8. 26 October 2012 14:31

    I was there yesterday (25th October) and the staff were some of the nicest that you could wish to meet, from the manager down to three servers. I spent quite a while chatting with them and would have no hesitation in going back or recommending the place.

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      29 October 2012 08:47

      I’m glad you had a positive experience there Brian.

  9. 4 November 2012 12:00

    So glad that I found your great site! And thank for this stunning find as I’ll be in London at the end of the month so be sure that I’ll take time to go to Bloomsbury :)

    • Not Just Another Milla permalink*
      4 November 2012 19:24

      Thank you! I don’t recommend Bea’s but there are plenty of other nice placed for tea. Have a look here and enjoy London!

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