OXO Tower Wharf is one of London’s most famous landmarks, noted for its iconic branded windows and sky-high restaurants. It’s hard to find the entrance if you’ve never been before – head to the pavilion in the middle of the building, then catch the lift up to the 8th floor, for the restaurant. Enjoy stunning views on your way to your table, that stretch all the way from Waterloo Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral.
The atmosphere is considerably formal – think leather seats and slate tables with crisp ironed white tablecloths, and a slanting glass roof to make the most of those beautiful views. Afternoon tea menus are carefully explained and although the selection of sandwiches and cakes seems endless, portions here are dainty so it’s possible to try everything.
We began with a glass of OXO Brut champagne and a selection of English teas from Tregothnan Estate that are divided into styles on the menu: green tea, chamomile, earl grey and afternoon blends, with a few wildcards thrown in such as Manuka plant infusion (almost medicinal in flavour) and gunpowder green. Teas are served in shallow, wide china cups so you get the most of the aromas, and staff have good knowledge of the tea producers – one waiter explained to us that the Tregothnan teas are grown in Cornish soil, in a microclimate similar to Darjeeling, India.
Food provenance is a priority here, with Dingley dell pork, Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese and Dorset crab all on the seasonal menu. Our tower of tidbits was quick to arrive and included a rainbow of colourful, precision-cut sandwiches; smoked salmon and dill crème fraîche on black rye was our favourite – sweet, rich salmon on treacly dense bread was a refreshing take on a classic.
We love the fact that their bread recipes (all made in-house) are designed around the sandwich fillings – English cucumber and anchovy on beetroot bread, for example, was another winning combination. The only sandwich not quite pulling its weight was the cheese and pickle on tomato bread; sadly a little soggy by the time it arrived.
Unusually for an afternoon tea, the additional savoury bites were the star of the show. Mini Yorkshire puddings came filled with intensely rich, slow-braised venison, horseradish cream and a scattering of watercress; Dorset crab choux buns were delicately light, crisp and generously filled with fresh flaked crabmeat; and pork rillettes – cotton candy-like fluffy pork topped with acidic cornichons – were a welcome break from the carb heaven.
Don’t miss the salmon Scotch egg with golden crisp coating and Severn & Wye smoked salmon filling, wrapped around a satisfyingly soft-yolked quail’s egg. Condiments including gentlemen’s relish (an acquired taste, but great in small quantities), OXO’s signature piccalilli, and a sweet mustard dressing meant that every mouthful was different.
Scones (best scone recipes here) were plump, golden pillows dusted with icing sugar that came filled with whipped cream (no clotted cream in sight, sadly) and Kent strawberry jam. They were denser than expected, but rich and buttery nonetheless.
Plates were changed when we moved onto dessert, a thoughtful touch that made this afternoon tea feel even more like a three-course dinner. Prettily presented puddings include Victoria plum mini Bakewell tarts – the perfect mouthful of crisp, buttery pastry with tart plum filling – and autumn trifle, which was a tad dry, but rescued by the accomplished seasonal compote it came with, deeply spiced, sour and sweet.
We saved the Valrhona kalingo truffle until last: a soft mousse-like square (spoon it straight from plate to mouth) that was intensely chocolatey, but light and airy at the same time. It’s a great way to finish an excellent tea on a major high.
Check out our best afternoon tea recipes here, including:
Star of the show: Severn and Wye smoked salmon scotch quail egg, and Dorset crab choux buns.
Scone rating: 7/10
Perfect for: couples and special occasions
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £35pp, champagne afternoon tea from £45pp
Address: OXO Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH
Still in the mood for cakes? Check out our best ever afternoon tea recipes now, and create your own feast at home…
olive magazine podcast ep65 – Who will win the great scone debate? Jam or cream first?!
On this week’s podcast the team explore the British tradition of afternoon tea, sharing their favourites in London, and get into a debate on which is the right way to serve scones. (Psst, cream is the right way.)