I’d been wanting to go to Berners Tavern for the longest time, but with it being more on the fancy side I was waiting for a special occasion to go there, and those of you that know me will know that this year has hardly been a cause for celebration; quite the opposite in fact. When I heard they were discontinuing their weekend brunch menu I was cursing myself for not booking in earlier, but replacing it with weekend roast and afternoon tea is hardly an unwelcome substitute – they’re probably my two next favourite things, and with so many Antipodean cafes and independent coffee shops serving incredibly unique and exciting weekend brunch menus, I almost think that British restaurants shine more when they serve up true classics like a good roast dinner. With a focus on the highest quality produce and perfectly cooked meats, a weekend roast couldn’t be a more perfect fit for Berners Tavern, and is there anything more quintessentially British than a good afternoon tea!?
I was lucky enough to be able to try them both, and of course I had to start with the afternoon tea, because cake always comes first.. right!?
There are so many places you can find afternoon tea in London, from the cheap and cheerful tea, scone and slice of cake options (which whilst delicious, for me absolutely do not constitute an afternoon tea!), to the seriously expensive, where you can probably fork out close to £100 because they threw in a glass of prosecco. I’ve tried my fair share, and I’ll admit I love slightly alternative takes on the classic finger sandwiches (does anyone really enjoy thinly sliced cucumber on plain white bread!?), but stray too far from the standard and it just doesn’t qualify as afternoon tea in my opinion! Unlimited refills is always a great option (and come on, for the prices surely the request for an extra few scones isn’t hard to fulfil!?), but then there are people like me who don’t know when to stop and leave feeling sick beyond measure (I’ll never forget my trip to the Shard.. I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of the lift!).
As soon as we stepped inside Berners Tavern I was taken aback by how beautiful it was! I knew it was going to be pretty, but the whole place literally shone, from the glass chandeliers to the perfectly polished tables. We were shown to our table by one of (many) incredibly polite, remarkably attentive and well-trained staff – despite recommending that the teapots are filled only enough to serve one pot of tea at once (to prevent the leaves from overbrewing) we were literally never without a full pot of tea!
We had the option to add champagne, but I was more than happy with tea and cake, and soon after we sat down our first pot of tea was brought over, in a beautiful silver teapot with pretty china cups. The afternoon tea stand swiftly followed, with each tier more beautiful than the last!
The savoury items on offer were a cucumber & goat’s curd sandwich (finally somewhere that understands the need for a bit of flavour in a cucumber sandwich!), a stunning smoked salmon croissant and a wonderful beef tartare sandwich with pickled beetroot & egg yolk jam, and aren’t they the prettiest sandwiches you’ve ever seen!? I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed a cucumber sandwich – the saltiness of the goat’s cheese providing some much needed flavour and little seeds scattered across the sandwich for texture. The beef tartare was served on a crispbread and it was beautiful – perfectly seasoned with delicate cubes of beetroot dotted across the pink meat. The highlight for me was the smoked salmon croissant though – a soft, buttery croissant spread with more butter, cream cheese and a generous helping of smoked salmon, topped with salmon caviar.
Beautiful cakes followed, in the form of a gorgeous raspberry & pistachio macaroon, a bitter chocolate delice (chocolate sponge, apricot jam, chocolate mousse and apricot puree) and an Earl grey and orange choux bun.. little masterpieces that tasted every bit as amazing as they looked.
On the top tier were scones – both plain and raisin, served warm with individual portions of clotted cream and jam in little silver dishes. As we went along, a waiter asked us many times if we’d like refills – in fact he actively encouraged it.. and naturally we were more than happy to oblige!
Having seen some of the weekend roast plates come out, and having had the most wonderful afternoon tea, I couldn’t wait to go back and try their weekend roast.. luckily for me I didn’t have to wait too long as I was taking my parents down the very next weekend!
With three of us, we were lucky enough to be shown to a slightly larger table, right by the window. My parents got straight into looking at the wine and cocktail list – a mammoth task in itself; there are so many to choose from! Despite not being much of a drinker, I love trying cocktails, and thanks to them I got to try a fair few at Berners Tavern, all of which were delicious – some so good in fact that both my mum and I drunk them a little too quickly!
Like most set menus, there are far fewer options to choose from than the a la carte menu, and it was just as well because I wanted them all! After much deliberation we all chose different starters – the Buccleuch Estate beef tartare with egg yolk jam, pickled beetroots and horseradish, the baby spinach, avocado and tender stem broccoli salad with herb emulsion and the crispy duck egg, spelt and pearl barley risotto with crispy ham. The tartare was beautiful – not something I’d usually go for but it was so delicately balanced, with the thinnest of multi-coloured beetroot slices – it was almost too pretty to eat. The highlight for me was the risotto though; the pearl barley was cooked perfectly – soft but with a bite – the duck egg had a beautifully runny golden yolk and the crispy ham tasted every bit as good as it looked. I’d have ordered it as a main if I could have!
In reality for mains though, I only ever had my eye on one thing! Quite often I find myself going for the fish, seafood or even vegetarian option on set menus, but there was no way I was going without the beef wellington, and what a great choice it was! Perfectly tender, pink meat with a gorgeous mushroom pate, encased in beautifully crisp, golden brown pastry with little roasted parsnips on top. My mum chose the lamb, and it was delightfully soft – slow cooked until it was falling apart, served with braised potato, onion and roast carrots. Surprisingly I may even have preferred the lamb meat to the beef inside the wellington! All roasts come with mountains of wonderfully crispy roast potatoes, creamed leek and mustard and roasted root veg.
Dessert was possibly the course that shocked us all. People always think I’m joking when I say I’m not a dessert person but it’s true – give me cookies, cakes and chocolate and I’ll eat them until I’m ill (or, more likely, until there’s none left – I seem to have an absolutely insatiable appetite for baked items!), but when it comes to desserts, I’ll quite happily leave a torte or a tiramisu, and I’ll actively avoid a panna cotta, flan, mousse or anything similarly light and creamy. Unless it’s a stodgy British pudding like a sticky toffee or a treacle sponge drowned in custard, I’m perfectly happy with my bars of chocolate! This was a completely different story though.. with the two sweet options on the menu being a coffee and milk chocolate choux bun and a pistachio and cherry parfait, I was close to going for the cheeseboard, but thankfully my parents convinced my otherwise – we decided to share three of the sweet ones between us, yet they were so good we ended up ordering another round!!
The choux bun was beautifully light, filled with a coffee mousse, with a surprise chocolate centre and a wonderful milk ice cream sitting on little biscuit crumbs. The pistachio and cherry parfait was an absolute dream though – even with three of them we were fighting over it! A delightfully creamy and full-flavoured pistachio ice cream was encased in a pistachio and white chocolate coating, with a tart cherry centre and cherry compote. The whole dessert was packed full of roasted nuts and finished with a delicate chocolate shard – quite possibly the highlight of the meal!
There’s no doubt that Berners Tavern is worth every bit of hype in my opinion. Situated in the beautiful area of Fitzrovia, the place is every bit as stunning as you’d imagine and the dishes, service and quality of the food were everything you’d expect from a 5 star hotel under guidance of a Michelin star chef at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Link to their website: www.bernerstavern.com