Afternoon Tea on the South Bank at Oxo Tower Restaurant:
There’s nothing better on a warm summer’s afternoon than wandering along The South Bank. It’s a vibrant part of London with street theatre, market stalls and plenty going on besides the stunning views back across the River Thames. Walking from Embankment bridge past the Festival Hall and National Theatre, you come to Oxo Tower, where around 1900 there was a power station that supplied electricity to the Post Office. That building was largely demolished by its next owners, the Liebig Extract of Meat Company (makers of OXO) but it was they who were responsible for the tower with its iconic OXO windows. At the time, skyline advertising was banned, so the architect, Albert Moore incorporated the OXO logo into the design for windows on a tower. It was London’s second highest commercial building at the time and processed meat, delivered by barge along the river.
Refurbished in the 1970s and 80s, the arcade and tower now house a whole range of design, arts and crafts showcases. And, on the top floor of the original tower is Oxo Brasserie and Restaurant.
Both serve food for afternoon tea – the slightly more formal restaurant offers a traditional tea, while the Brasserie has ‘Not Afternoon Tea’ a series of tasting plates with cocktails. Heading for the Restaurant, I was thrilled that the weather was pleasant enough to sit outside on the pretty terrace. The perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon during Afternoon Tea Week.
Oxo has its own house cru champagne, a beautifully dry classic drink which worked well to start the afternoon off with style. While the tea menu at Oxo Tower Restaurant is concise, it does win by being almost exclusively Tregonthan from Cornwall. I picked the Afternoon Tea blend, a classic English tea that worked well throughout the afternoon while my companion opted for the stunning, ruby Red Berries, a caffeine free fruit tea.
Food arrives on two separate towers. First, the savouries – sandwiches and ‘bites’.
We loved the rainbow selection of breads: Nutty black rye to add texture to the Severn and Wye smoked salmon with dill crème fraîche. Earthy beetroot bread to accompany the English cucumber with anchovy. Onion bread for the Cotswold egg and mustard cress salad, adding a sweetness and piquancy to what can otherwise be a bland sandwich. Tomato bread with Lancashire cheese and orchard chutney and classic English farmhouse bread for that most English of sandwiches, the Wiltshire ham with watercress and mustard.
‘Bites’ were a delectable offering. I particularly enjoyed the mini Yorkshire pudding with tender slow cooked braised beef in a rich gravy, horseradish cream and watercress. The Severn & Wye smoked salmon wrapped Scotch quail’s egg was perhaps a little overcooked with a set rather than runny yolk, but still delicious. I could have eaten six or more of the delicate Dorset crab in a choux bun while I found the potted crayfish just a little rich, though the portion size was generous and I loved the delicate melba toast wafers.
With the savoury dishes came a selection of classic condiments – a tiny smear of anchovy rich Gentlemen’s Relish, some home made Piccalilli and a sweet mustard and dill mayonnaise. We tried them all, though to be honest we didn’t need any of them.
The sweet tower was next, with a delicious plate of still warm scones served with strawberry jam, apple jam and clotted cream.
The sweets comprised a generous raspberry and elderflower posset that I’d happily have eaten for dessert after a full meal, a rich and melting Valrhona biskelia truffle and a strawberry and lemon verbena tart that I didn’t try. I’d fully intended removing the strawberries (to which I have an allergy) and eating the tart, but when it came to it, we’d both already eaten too much and even my companion couldn’t finish the tart.
I had deliberately not told the restaurant about my (very mild) strawberry allergy because a tea tower for one doesn’t look pretty and when I’ve done that in the past we’ve been served separately. In fact, my companion doesn’t eat shellfish or ham, so the savoury tower in the picture was all for me – she had her own specially adapted version with an artichoke dip to replace the crayfish and various other substitutes. So, Oxo Tower Restaurant can do an excellent job of adapting the tea for dietary requirements if necessary. They do also offer both vegetarian and gluten free options.
As it was, I loved the ‘full thing’. It was well balanced, with rather more savoury options than a number of afternoon teas I’ve tried. And, everything was excellent quality. The restaurant is perfect for a warm summer’s afternoon and even in winter there are stunning views across the Thames.
Afternoon Tea at the Oxo Tower Restaurant is excellent value at £35 per person (or £45 with a glass of Champagne on arrival) and £16 for children. There are free top-ups if you want more sandwiches or cakes – and unlimited refills of tea – though not of champagne!
Want to try for yourself? Why not pin this post for later!
Available Monday to Friday 3pm – 4.30pm, Saturday 3pm – 4pm and Sunday 3.45pm – 4.45pm
Oxo Tower Restaurant,
Oxo Tower Wharf,
London SE1 9PH
T: 020 7803 3888