As I jump on the back of the old London Routemaster bus it feels very familiar, even though I haven’t done this for many years. We make our way to the upper deck via the narrow spiral staircase, where our spot for the next 1.5 hours is revealed.
We take our spot in the VIP seats at the front of the bus, surrounded by some eye-catching afternoon tea delights and a large glass of gin. The scene is definitely set for a great start to the evening.
The Gin Lover’s Afternoon Tea
When you think of afternoon tea in London, images of petite cucumber sandwiches, delicate pastries and pots of tea usually spring to mind. For a touch of decadence, a glass of French champagne is usually close by.
Having been to London on many occasions, and sampled many afternoon teas, including a special one at the Dorchester Hotel, I was looking for something with a point of difference. I found an unusual afternoon tea experience with Brigit’s Bakery. Brigit’s Bakery is a French patisserie located in Covent Garden in the heart of London. With its team of French pastry chefs, the cafe is a haven for those wanting incredible French treats, without having to cross the channel.
With a strong local following, and visitors coming from all over the world just to see one of the most instagrammable cafes in the world, Brigit’s Bakery has further extended their offer to afternoon tea bus tours. From the Royal Heritage Afternoon tea to several themed or seasonal events, the bus takes its guests on a journey through quintessential London, passing many of the icons that are known throughout the world.
I teamed up with my mother-in-law, a long time resident of London and joined a group for the Gin Lover’s Afternoon Tea, foregoing the tea and champagne for another typically traditional tipple. Here Brigit’s Bakery has partnered with Slingsby Gin, developed in the Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate, combining the lure of sweet goodies with an English favourite.
The Gin Lover’s Afternoon Tea Itinerary
As you sip and eat, you’ll be amazed at just how many of the famous London landmarks you will see. From Big Ben to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, to Royal Albert Hall, Harrods and Marble Arch. You’ll travel through the streets of Westminster, Knightsbridge, Kensington plus many more, experiencing London city from a different perspective. We took the 5.30 pm tour, and as daylight saving had just ended, we were greeted with all of the lights coming on as the sky turned dark, adding a different feel to the afternoon tea.
80’s music plays away in the background, stopping only for the recorded commentary as we pass locations of interest. It’s a little delayed at times, telling us where we have been after we’ve driven past it. For myself and my guest, a long-time resident of London, it’s of no real concern, but it could be a little confusing to new visitors to the city. As the tour wears on, the music goes from being something that is merely mood music, to more of a forerunner to an evening of karaoke. I suspect the gin is working its magic at this stage.
There is two staff on board, as well as the driver, taking care of the service of our gin and ensuring that everyone is well looked after.
Afternoon tea menu
As the entire trip lasts for only 90 minutes, efficiency is key, so the entire afternoon tea is already served by the time you find your table. There’s a mix of mini sandwiches; pastrami with mustard mayonnaise, ham, cheese and mustard and a long bun filled with smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber and a dry gin spritz. This might be an afternoon tea with a difference but it wouldn’t be complete without a cucumber and cream cheese offering.
Whilst I do love savoury, I opt to eat these first, saving the sweet treats until last. It was hard to pick a favourite here. The lemon cupcake with a gin liqueur cream was light and tasty, with the cake melting in my mouth. The classic pastry shell filled with creme patissiere and topped with fresh raspberries was always going to be a winner. But, it was the strawberry moelleux with its moist cake, topped with a strawberry gin mousse that was the best of them all. I could have eaten several of these quite easily. A gin jelly with lime mousse and gooseberry gin was rather bland and seemed out of place on the plate of otherwise delectable goodies.
Later, we are served a scone. Of course, what would a London afternoon tea be without one! I think it could have been made better with the addition of fresh clotted cream, as opposed from the hotel-like container we received, but that is a minor comment on what was an excellent selection of treats.
I particularly loved the provision of a take-home box to ensure that the food wasn’t wasted and the addition of a thermal reusable cup as something to remember the tour by was also an unexpected surprise.
The gin menu
As part of the ticket price, three generous glasses of Slingsby gin are served. The tour kicks off with a classic gin and tonic. The tonics, sourced from The London Essence Co, are also uniquely flavoured. This G&T was paired with a grapefruit and rosemary tonic water. It was served with fresh grapefruit and thyme. After enjoying this drink immensely, we ventured on to some of the flavoured gins. The second gin served was a rhubarb G&T, accompanied by pomelo and pink peppercorn tonic water and served with a piece of fresh ginger. Finally, a gooseberry gin served with white peach and jasmine soda completed the wonderful trio.
Note: Whilst three gins in 90 minutes was enough for us, there is the option to buy additional alcohol but it must be pre-purchased at the time of booking. Tea and coffee can also be provided should guests require it.
Where to buy tickets
Tickets for the Gin Lover’s Afternoon tea can be purchased online. All other afternoon teas can also be booked online. A calendar is provided that shows the availability of tours for each date/time. Seats can be purchased for the lower deck and upper deck. There are also two VIP tables per bus, giving the best view “on the bus”.
Here a bench seat allows both guests to face outwards, through both the side and front windows. All other tables have the seats facing each other, meaning someone has to sit backwards. The VIP seats are more expensive than the others, as you would expect. Guests can choose their actual table location during the booking process.
At the point of booking, special requests can be made including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, pescatarian and halal.
Where is the meeting point?
The Afternoon Tea bus tours operate from two locations: 8 Northumberland Avenue and Victoria Coach Station. Your departure location is dependent on the day/time of your tour. As I mentioned earlier, the tour is run efficiently and this extends to the departure time. To avoid disappointment, ensure you are at the departure point at least 15 minutes ahead of your scheduled time.
Cost of the Gin Lover’s Afternoon Tea
Prices start at £62.60 per person. VIP tickets are extra. Additional alcohol and memorabilia can be purchased at the time of booking and are at an additional cost.
Key points to note
- Price includes afternoon tea, tea/coffee, three gin cocktails and a takeaway cup as a memento
- Tour lasts 1.5 hours
- Tours depart from 8 Northumberland Ave or Victoria Coach Station
- All guests must be over 18
- There is no toilet on board
- Some special dietary requirements can be managed but are not guaranteed
- Tours must be booked online and should be booked well in advance if you want to secure your preferred tour, date and time
- Book early especially if you want the limited VIP seats
- The entire bus can be booked for private functions
We had a heap of fun on the Gin Lover’s Afternoon Tea. The combination of a wonderful afternoon tea, gin instead of champagne and the opportunity to climb aboard the Routemaster and cruise around London’s streets once again made for a fantastic afternoon. Whether you are a first time visitor to London, someone like me who has been often, or even a permanent resident of London like my mother-in-law, you are bound to have a great time and enjoy the total experience. I personally think it’s one of the best unique afternoon teas in London!