Cake and tea on a double decker bus tour? Don’t mind if we do.
Normally when I get on a bus in London, it's with a bunch of miserable commuters at 8am. If I'm lucky I get a seat, and if I'm not so lucky I get someone's armpit in my face. On Friday evening though, I swapped my regular bus route for something a touch more civilised. BB Bakery in Covent Garden has started serving up some of its fanciful delights beyond the realms of their cafe on Chandos Place in Covent Garden. Pleasurable as it is to devour a slice of cake in their tea salon, they've also started offering up that great British notion that is afternoon tea onboard their very own double decker bus.
After buying their dear old routemaster, it took the BB Bakery 6 months to kit it out with booth-style tables and test out the practicality of serving up afternoon tea on a moving vehicle around London. How exactly do you consume steaming hot cups of tea, without accidentally splattering it into your own lap? Or worse still, someone else’s?
For the moments when the bus decides to lurch, the finer details have been thoroughly thought through. Instead of serving piping hot tea in porcelain ware that shatters at the mere mention of sharp breaking, tea is served in china takeaway-style cups complete with a rubber lid, that are firmly planted in cup holders on each table. What's more, those delicate finger sandwiches won't be going anywhere what with the well-placed 2-tier cake stands that have been deftly secured to each table. You might bop about a bit on the bus, but thankfully your afternoon tea's going nowhere.
At first, the odd spot of bus lurching had everyone reaching to steady their cups of tea, and dainty sandwiches. But before long, we all cottoned onto the fact that the cup lids, drinks holders and secured cake stands were doing an admirable job of steadying everything anyway. Which left us with not-too-shabby task of sitting back to relax, eat and take in the view.
Which brings us onto the afternoon tea itself. In a word? Fantastic. In a few more words, the patisserie and dainty sandwiches are the kind you'd find in a 5-star hotel. Everything is artfully created, soft, light and temptingly moreish. We got through meringues, macarons, brownies and chocolate cake, not to mention countless super-light finger sarnies. We did start to hit our sugar limit towards the end of the bus tour, but that was after several rounds of tea and cake top-ups - your stomach is likely to disembark as one full and happy little tourist.
As an awkward gluten-free type, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the BB Bakery offers a gluten-free afternoon tea option. Part of me was expecting the almost inevitable compromise on texture and flavour, but they have got this one down. The sandwiches were light but delicious with the texture of boulangerie-style bread, without that disappointing crumbliness you sometimes get with gluten-free alternatives. The patisserie meanwhile was really impressive with clever additions that didn't draw on gluten-based ingredients in any case, like cream-topped meringues and coconut almond bites.
From table no. 8 on the top deck we took in the sights of the Big Smoke in the best way possible - leisurely and with cake in hand. The 1.5 hour tour took us around central London, starting off from the London Eye and meandering through South Kensington, Notting Hill, Marble Arch, Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square, before heading back to the Southbank. There wasn't too much chat about the sights we were passing, and to be honest we would have liked a few more snippets of tourist info. But even as seasoned Londoners we gawped at Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Harrods as we sauntered past on the big red bus.
Our hosts, Jean-Phillippe and Francesca couldn't have been more accommodating, or more charming with their French accents and infectious spirit. Tops ups of cake and tea were administered with no prompting from us, making each table feel thoroughly waited upon. Oh how this differs from your typical London bus journey...
The verdict? Quirky, eccentric, delicious and brilliant fun. The true test of a really decent tourist attraction in the capital, is whether established Londoners would actually enjoy tagging along. With BB's Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, it cleverly combines London sightseeing, with a great British past time. Layer on some French charm from the BB Bakery staff, and you've got yourself a winning formula. This tour is ideal for couples, friends and even work dos, and will probably be seeing a lot of interest from hen parties to boot. With plans for Christmas afternoon tea tours, it's hardly surprising that the BB Bakery have just purchased another bus, and are toying with the idea of a similar tour in the back of a black taxi cab. Playful, delicious and a lot of fun, it's worth hopping onboard for afternoon tea on the top deck.
**BB Afternoon Tea Bus Tour**
**The piping hot facts:**
The tour costs £45 per adult and £35 per child.
Babies and very young kids aren't permitted on the tour.
The bus currently departs from Belvedere Road, opposite the London Eye.
The BB bus is available for private hire and bespoke afternoon tea tours. Prices start at around £990 to hire the whole bus.
The bus fits 22 people on the top deck, and 12 downstairs.
Vegetarian, halal and gluten-free afternoon teas are available on request.
Alcohol isn't served, but you can bring your own bottle for a corkage fee.
The tour is 1 hour 30 minutes long.
**Written by: **Helenka Bednar