We’re all used to celebrating things from a distance: we’ve mastered our Zoom party fake smiles; we can recite the names of every Bloom & Wild bouquet; we know how to buy a Colin the Caterpillar on Deliveroo. So Mother’s Day should be a piece of cake.
The problem is, this is our mums we’re talking about: the toppest tier, most important people in many of our lives. Sure, a Moonpig would be fine, but sending them something actually, properly special feels much more appropriate.
Luckily, in lockdown a whole load of London bakeries and hotels have started doing pretty afternoon teas that you can get delivered to your mum, both in London and across the country. They range from full-throttle feasts of cake, scones and sandwiches to more scaled-down affairs. There are loads of options, but which ones are actually good?
To find out, we had the quite frankly inspired idea of getting some of our mums to review the kits. (You might say that the present we’ve given them for Mother’s Day is the gift of doing unpaid labour for us. To that we reply: they got free sandwiches.)
PS: If your mum hates afternoon tea then why not look for a Mother’s Day restaurant box instead.
‘I spotted some little red cakes that looked evil’
Jo tried Brigit’s Bakery Afternoon Tea Delivery, £69 (incl half bottle of champagne)
The arrival of my Brigit’s Bakery afternoon tea kit was the second most exciting event of my 2021 after getting my jab last month. It’s a treat I normally have in old-fashioned little tea shops when visiting family up in Scotland, or at big family events. I’ve never had it for Mother’s Day.
When it comes to afternoon tea, I think delicious, fresh savouries are really key. So are scones, but I make pretty good ones so I’m unlikely to be impressed unless they are still warm. I prefer cakes not to be too sweet and chocolate items need to be classy. Most importantly, I believe that there should always be too much food; it’s what afternoon tea is all about.
There was plenty of food in this one. It came with a sugar-pink bouquet from Judith’s Flower School and a retro cardboard cake stand. I challenged myself to put it up without reading the instructions: what a sense of achievement! I spotted some little red cakes that looked evil (in a sickly way). On the website it said it would come with champagne, which I searched in vain for. Instead they had sent us four plastic Peppa Pig mugs – obviously I got the ‘problem lockdown drinker’ version!
The rare beef gherkin roll was delicious. The very lemony meringue tart was outstanding – tangy with a light crumbly base and soft gooey meringue. I also quite liked the raspberry mousse tart, although the flavour was a little bit soapy. On the other hand, the chocolate sponge cake with raspberry icing tasted synthetic and was far too sweet. And that bright red cake? As sickly as it looked.
The verdict: This mother is over the Peppa Pig debacle and still playing with the cake stand!
‘The big white box bore the name Gail’s and I breathed a sigh of relief’
Carol tried Gail’s afternoon tea for four, £42
Alerted to the arrival of my Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea delivery I waited with trepidation. Afternoon tea wasn’t a concept I was familiar with at home, growing up in post-war Stoke Newington (pre-‘Stokey’). As an adult, it came to represent some kind of forced and irrelevant occasion. It generally featured a display of elaborate patisserie as though that was what an adult woman would naturally be craving around 5pm. Not this adult woman.
However, all that apprehension was dispelled when my Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea arrived. The big white box bore the name Gail’s and I breathed a sigh of relief. Gail’s. My friends. Where I queue every other day for my seeded sourdough. Where my cherished loyalty card allows me a free loaf after nine purchases.
Gail’s wouldn’t let me down.
Nestled inside the box’s bright red interior was a beautifully presented mini-feast and an ethically sourced shopping bag. Miniature poppy seed rolls crammed with smoked salmon and avocado yoghurt. Dainty brioche stuffed with avocado and hard-boiled egg with a slice of tomato. This was a tea I could understand. A tea that spoke to me.
More problematic were the scones. Tempting as they were, smothered in clotted cream and the best strawberry jam I think I’ve ever eaten, I certainly couldn’t manage all four. I recruited my husband out of kindness, but even he was outfaced by the quantity. The jar of lemon curd remains a mystery.
Chocolate brownie fingers and miniature spiced honey cakes just had to wait. That rather defeats the object of the exercise, but they have supplemented my snacking diet for nearly a week. And very welcome they have been.
Overall, a wonderful experience. Thank you, Gail’s, for not being chintzy, or patronising, or imagining mothers have the time to sit down at a table to indulge ourselves halfway between lunch and dinner. You understand how we actually live our lives.
The verdict: Not a meringue or gateau in sight. Thank you.
‘I was so excited that I had tears in my eyes’
Janet tried the Gentleman Baristas Afternoon Tea Box, £30
I've not had afternoon tea very often but I love the idea of going out for a grand one in a splendid hotel and watching the world go by. One of my most treasured memories is making an afternoon tea for my mum on Mother’s Day the year that she died, surrounded by daffodils that I’d picked from the garden. So, when the delivery man arrived with the Gentleman Barista afternoon tea box I was so excited that I had tears in my eyes.
It came with a menu that was nice to refer to with my husband Peter. There were loose leaf teabags and a lovely-looking bag of coffee with a ‘Peaky Blinders’-style cap on the front. The sandwiches – red pepper, walnut and cheese, and cucumber and dill – were a bit big, so I cut them in two. There was a vegan coffee-and-walnut cake, some caramel bites and a couple of fruit scones. In fact, there was so much food that we had it for both lunch and an afternoon tea!
We loved the caramel bites (which had a hint of coffee) and the red pepper sandwiches, although we thought there could have been more spread on them as they were perhaps a bit dry. The scones also weren’t crumbly – my preference. I got dressed smartly for it like we were going out and I got out my great grandmother’s thirtieth wedding-anniversary crockery and some cake forks, that were a wedding gift to us 35 years ago, to eat it with. The whole thing felt special and definitely made a lockdown Wednesday feel less like ‘Groundhog Day’.
The verdict: I felt very happy and spoiled.
‘My son and I ended up fighting over the drizzle cake’
Donna tried Cutter and Squidge at Home, £29.90
When I think of afternoon teas, I think of my younger years in Devon, enjoying them with friends and family. But it's been a long time since I last had one – maybe decades. For me it’s all about scones, clotted cream and tea brewed just right. The Cutter and Squidge box was beautifully packaged, delivered at the time promised, and it certainly didn't disappoint. My eyes were drawn to the orange/raspberry drizzle cake, which looked striking and delicious.
I tucked in with my son Nick and we ended up fighting over the drizzle cake, though it turned out there was more than enough for both of us. It was absolutely sensational, very high-quality. Just as we started eating it, the sun came out. We’re giving the cake credit for it!
It was all superb. Besides the food, we loved the little card that came with it, clearly explaining what’s what in a mouthwatering way.
Verdict: I’d be thrilled and delighted to get this for Mother’s Day. It would be a lovely surprise.
‘We had to break halfway before tackling the cakes’
Eva tried the Ham Yard Hotel Afternoon Tea, £45-£189.
First and foremost, the scone has to be good: it’s my favourite element. The Ham Yard Afternoon Tea comes with two types: plain and fruit. Both are light and flaky on the outside with a soft middle and two types of jam (blackcurrant, and apricot and passionfruit).
It all arrived in two large paper gift bags, which did take away a little from the sense of occasion. A bow-wrapped box or a hamper would have felt more appropriate. Each course was placed inside cardboard boxes, which looked underwhelming from the outside but, when opened up, looked very exciting. The cakes in particular were like little works of art.
Most folk are in the afternoon tea game for the cakes, but I’m a savoury girl at heart and I absolutely loved the sun-dried tomato, arancini, olive and ricotta palmier. Delicious!
I ate the tea with my daughter Sam (we’re bubbling). She’d just made the long drive up and we were starving, so we thought we’d manage the lot, but we had to break halfway and walk the dogs before tackling the cakes. There’s nothing nicer than being treated to something extravagant, particularly in Covid times. And there’s even an option to add a bottle of lovely Rathfinny Rosé Brut, which is more than all right by me.
The verdict: Sam usually buys me flowers for Mother’s Day but if she bought me this I’d be over the moon!