“Where are we going for tea?”
My afternoon tea adventures have taken me all over London in the past few years, but never all at once. I’m delighted to report this situation has now been rectified.
Walking to Northumberland Avenue on a wet and blustery November afternoon, I must admit I was having my doubts about afternoon tea on a 1960s Routemaster bus.
But despite the great British weather doing its best to spoil the occasion, the 90 minutes that followed were surprisingly good fun.
The Afternoon Tea Bus Tour is run by B B Bakery, purveyors of tea, cake and a sense of French fancy at their just-off-Covent Garden home since 2012. And some of this Gallic charm definitely shines aboard this most British of vehicles.
Embarking the bus with my sister (an out-of-town-tourist-type) we went straight upstairs to our reserved table, right above the driver at the front – the legendary BSOTB – (best seat on the bus). Alongside us were another couple and further back a handful of groups on the tables for four.
Right from the beginning, as the bus pulled off and went over its first bump, there was a sense of camaraderie as the realisation that managing sliding plates and cups would be a feature of this experience.
Organising tea on an ageing bus, turning through the tight streets of London is clearly a logistical nightmare for the folks at B B Bakery, but they’ve put a lot of thought into it – plates perch on anti-slip maps, cups sit in holders and drinks are served in screw-top sippy cups. But logistics aren’t really that sexy; you want to hear about the food!
Despite there being no working kitchen on board the food is remarkably good. The Christmas menu is identical to that at BB HQ and had clearly arrived fresh from the kitchens there.
Westminster – Buckingham Palace – Harrods – South Kensington – Hyde Park…
Savouries included winter savoury cakes, smoked salmon and cream cheese blinis, cucumber and mint sandwiches, and turkey on sundried tomato bread, but top marks in this round went to the leek and Stilton quiche, which was rich and eggy and creamy and crumbly all at the same time.
Royal Albert Hall – Notting Hill – Marble Arch…
Sweets included sticky, rich chocolate and orange tarts, cupcakes, a very French Queen Sablé raspberry and coconut creams, and a possibly even more French ‘il était une fois Noël’ macarons. But the British scored a few points back as the star of the show here was the dark, dense Christmas cake – a real taste of the festive season to come.
Piccadilly – Trafalgar Square – Embankment – Parliament Square
But perhaps the greatest skill of this moving feast was to be found with the scones. Although clotted cream and jam were to come in small individual-serving plastic tubs, they were both the top brands you’d hope for – Rodda’s and Bonne Maman respectively. Too often a scone can be let down by its toppings, but this was definitely not the case here.
Teas and coffees were free-flowing and each person also got a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice.
This is certainly the most ‘action’ afternoon tea you’ll find in London (although it’s worth noting B B have a lot of dates listed for their Thames boat tea in 2016 as well). And I have to admit, saving sandwiches and cakes from impending floor doom is quite good fun.
At £45 per person, it is £10 more expensive than the same menu at the B B Bakery café and if you want BSOTB it’s a further £10.
I like this tea and the people who do it a lot, and I know there are specific overheads which have to be met. If they could find a way to reduce the price a little I think it would be a real must-do. But if you’re looking for a treat and a unique view of our great capital, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
BB Bakery Bus – Seating Plan
• Monday-Friday = 2 tours (15:00 & 17:30)
• Saturday-Sunday = 3 tours (12:30 & 15:00 & 17:30)
Bus departs from No. 8 Northumberland Avenue
The tour lasts for approximately one hour and twenty minutes