A sampling of the dessert-y things at the tea party (Photo: CN traveller)

If you’ve never had afternoon tea, here’s what you need to know: it’s a small and expensive meal that English people serve to foreigners.

NB: Some people here refer to their dinner as ‘tea’. That can be confusing, and is not relevant to this post. The tea I’m referring to is the elegant ceremonial meal served in the late afternoon.

For our four year wedding anniversary my wife and I decided to treat ourselves to an afternoon tea. The ceremony can tend to be pretty staid – in fact, in many cases the stuffy atmosphere seems to be the main selling point. So we were pretty enthused when we heard about the Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea.

Their website encourages prospective guests to “enjoy the wonderful world of tea in the beautiful Courtyard Garden. Our Chefs have toyed with the traditional British afternoon tea in the same way that Lewis Carroll played with logic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, creating an afternoon tea filled with numerous gastronomic adventures.

So that decided it and off we went. I would quibble with their use of the word ‘adventure’, but otherwise, it was pretty good.

We had an inspired and unusual feast of sweet treats and drinks in lovely surroundings. There was multi-coloured bread, strange bottles of foam, tea with full-blown flowers in it, all served no kitsch crockery. Every dish served was delicious and playfully bizarre. The service was attentive and friendly (though sadly lacking in costumes). Overall, a great spot for a memorable London dining experience. Romantic too.

Be forewarned though: the experience isn’t cheap. The price tag of £80 for tea-for-two is over the top, as far as I’m concerned; £40 a pop for some tea, a couple strips of sandwich, and some desserts isn’t ever going to be seen as great value, no matter how adventurous your gastronomic choices.

There was one other shortcoming: the balance of sweet to savoury was lopsided. This is of course an individual preference, but we had just a couple of finger sandwiches each, and an embarrassment of jam scones, sweet drinks and dessert riches. So we left sugared up – but less than full. I would’ve included some nachos or a sausage roll as well. Of course, they might choose different savoury dishes, and who knows, maybe they will.

Point is: if you’re looking for a unique afternoon tea experience and are prepared to pay over the odds, then the Mad Hatter’s Tea at the Sanderson Hotel is an enjoyable option. If you’re counting your pence, give this a miss.