Afternoon tea at The Ritz, an iconic London tradition, is as popular as ever as the hotel celebrates its 110 year anniversary in 2016. As Deputy Chairman Andrew Love explains, the nation’s favourite hotel has plenty of life left in it yet
Words: Mark Kebble
Afternoon Tea is going on behind us and it’s so busy – is that a quintessential part of The Ritz experience?
That’s the part of The Ritz that has remained the same throughout the hotel’s history. Originally this was the first place where a ladies could come unchaperoned for afternoon tea and the Palm Court became very popular for this in Edwardian England. And one of the things we have maintained stoically is the same style. There are lots of other very nice establishments of similar quality to us in terms of hotels that have changed their Afternoon Tea offering, but this is still the traditional Ritz tea, and that’s what I think and we believe people have come to expect.
It’s still finger sandwiches, there may have been different varieties and flavours, but the Ritz Afternoon Tea remains traditionally English. Then you have your scones, cream, butter and jam, and pastries, and then we come round with a trolley of fresh cakes. Afternoon tea has been a growing phenomenon, there’s no question about it, and that’s indicative in the fact we have five sittings of tea a day. People have quite often asked why do you have an 11.30am tea sitting, well the great thing is you finish about 1pm which is perfect for an afternoon matinee in the West End. Similarly for our 5.30pm sitting in the Palm Court for the evening theatre performances.
We did, however, establish an epicurean tea this spring. We have a resident tea master here Giando Scanu, who visited India, Sri Lanka, Japan, China and others and selected teas from across the world, and we have produced this tea journey where guests have a tasting of six of the finest teas. John Williams creates the Afternoon Tea menu to match the flavours. It lasts three hours, and is proving very popular.
Looking back at the illustrious history, are there certain moments in time that really shaped The Ritz?
Some of the things not only shaped The Ritz, but much bigger things. Presidents Eisenhower, de Gaulle and Sir Winston Churchill met here in the Marie Antoinette Suite during the war, and that certainly shaped probably the future of this country, Europe and everything else. It has remained quintessentially the same. The dining room is as it was, and often described as the most magnificent dining room in Europe. Real changes? It’s been rather like the greatest cruise ships that have gone steadily ploughing through the water, and really it hasn’t changed. In a sense the staff are dressed to how they would have been when it opened in tail suits… Yes we put on white jackets for the summer, but I would say it’s the same. There are more bathrooms! But it was one of the first hotels to have en-suite bathrooms anyway.
Would you say food is one way the hotel business has changed? The Ritz Restaurant is now of course under the guiding eye of John Williams…
I think that is absolutely true because John has changed the style of cooking since he’s been here. And he has adapted – he’s a great modernist, and a traditionalist, which sounds a silly statement, but in fairness he uses the very best of British produce, he’s very careful about sourcing, he goes to visit the places he buys from and he uses English ingredients with a French Escoffier style of cooking. He is after all the Chairman of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts.
Are there lots of plans for the rest of this year to mark the anniversary?
With HM Queen Elizabeth’s birthday and the celebrations going on in London we didn’t want to detract from that. We opened on the 24 May 1906 and with everything going on we had people come and stay who would go onto Windsor and everything else. We are having a special party on Friday 23 September. We have been able to procure the BBC Big Band, who are going to perform in The Ritz Restaurant, accompanied by jazz vocalist Claire Martin and Ian McKenzie, two of the most in demand jazz singers in the country.
Prior to that we are going to have a sumptuous Laurent-Perrier Champagne and canapé reception in the 18th century William Kent House. Numerous food stations will serve seafood comprising of salmon, oysters, lobsters, prawns and crab as well as whole suckling pig, beef wellington and salmon served live by the Chefs in front of the guest. Afterwards there will be live entertainment and dancing…
Has there ever been any pressure on The Ritz to change over the last century plus?
Actually it’s probably the reverse in as much as the owners visit the hotel regularly and they love the tradition of it. Whilst clearly some things need modernising and changing, nobody likes wholesale change. Guests like to see the rooms, the gold leaf… We have one man who is responsible for all the gold leafing at The Ritz which is 24 carat gold and is in every room. We are encouraged to remain the iconic hotel we are in the tradition that it is. The hotel is made by our staff. We have Michael De Cozar on the concierge desk who has been here for over 40 years (he was 16 when he came) and he recognises most of the people.
I grew up outside of London, but knew about The Ritz – are you still the number one iconic hotel in the capital?
I think it is. The only other one people would liken it with would be The Savoy where César Ritz worked before opening his own establishment. I suppose in that sense The Ritz has the advantage of having The Ritz in Paris and The Ritz in Madrid, all created by César Ritz. It’s just known as being iconic and traditional.
Finally, in your time here, is there one day you will never forget?
The day that Margaret Thatcher passed away. I was sitting in the restaurant and I was phoned from upstairs and told Baroness Thatcher had died. One of the nice memories I had after that was that she insisted that the lady that did her hair, the chambermaid that made her bed, and those that served her here were invited to the state funeral and ten of us went. She did remember the people who had looked after her.
See more at theritzlondon.com