Ham Yard Hotel
Perhaps I just have a thing about non-traditional meal times. I have structured my life around breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus the occasional midnight booze-fuelled binge) so eating a meal – not just a tide-me-over snack – at some other time of day feels like I’m breaking the rules. Ooh, you rebel, you. And, since moving back to London after university, I’ve discovered the indulgent pleasure of afternoon tea.
The Ham Yard sounds like some kind of butcher’s market. You don’t really hear the word “yard” used that often in British English for an open space – it’s a measurement of length. So, surfacing from Piccadilly tube station into the throng of tourists and traffic, I wondered what might await me at the Ham Yard. Piccadilly is one of the busiest places in London – the circus is quite small and yet it’s a tourist attraction in itself. London’s somewhat meagre answer to Times Square and where the royals meet shopping meet theatre land. I have to say it’s one of the few places in central London where I don’t like to dally – it’s too busy. But it is a very useful meeting place and jumping off point for Soho.
Ham Yard was bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War II and only recently refurbished by the Firmdale Hotel operator. It appears to be a bit of a theme in Soho to cause the visitor to actually forget that they are in Soho, and the Ham Yard is no different. If you enter the courtyard of Denham Street, you suddenly leave behind the gritty back alley feel and then step into clean, glossy restaurant where a well-stocked bar and dapper hosts greet you. The restaurant has several “zones” – we were seated in a plush booth in the main room with high ceilings and dark wood tables, but there’s also the glassy bar area and the cosy conservatory, where you can enjoy your afternoon tea lounging on large sofas as the sunshine streams in through the glass ceiling.
The basic afternoon tea is £19.50 and provides a phenomenal amount of food. For savouries, we had a selection a sandwiches, a cheese and onion tart, ham hock, and (my favourite) poached salmon on rye bread. And then, the sweets! This tier of the tower was piled with macaroons, posh bakewell tarts, a pistachio cream slice, and then 3 speciality cakes which you can either share or each pick your favourite. I had the cupcake, which was filled with toffee and topped with frosting and edible flowers. I love edible flowers!
And finally the scones – you get three each – what?!? – one currant, one plain and one raisin, paired with clotted cream, raspberry jam and strawberry jam. It was an absolute mountain of food, and we were all stuffed! You could also add some extras to your package – the crushed tomatoes on toast, smashed avocado on rye and the chorizo sausage roll caught my eye but I don’t know how you could possibly have room.
We weren’t rushed to finish – which is a good job since we needed half an hour rest between the sweets and the scones and jam. We had champagne with our tea which was dutifully topped up by a bubbly waitress – although all the wines and champagne were quite expensive; a mid-price bottle would be a good addition to the selection. My only negative comment on the whole experience would be the lack of choice on the tea menu – only an English breakfast, a Darjeeling or an Earl Grey are included in the price of the afternoon tea package, and if you want anything more interesting there’s an additional charge of £2.50. I’ve been for afternoon teas before with a much larger selection, and even been allowed to switch my tea choice half way through. You need a good mint tea to settle after all that food! However, everything was delicious and, since we were there to celebrate an upcoming wedding, the beautiful chic surroundings but complete lack of haughtiness made it an ideal choice.