When hubby and I went for a stroll one Friday evening a few weeks ago, we found ourselves in the mid-conversion Exchange Hotel in Cardiff Bay.  We were blown away. The place is open whilst in the middle of refurbishment, but the staff, the service,  the wine, the dining room and the lobby were utterly amazing.  WOW!

So, when a member of my staff, and afternoon tea lover, handed her notice in recently, I decided to take us to The Exchange for Afternoon Tea to say farewell.

I booked two weeks in advance, advising that one of us was vegetarian.  I told my colleagues about the booking, explaining that what the hotel lacks in views, the dining room would make up for.  And we excitedly went for our afternoon tea experience last Friday.

The warning bells should have rang out when I arrived, and one of our party was being ushered out of the dining room and into the lobby – being told to sit anywhere she liked.  I joined her and when our party were three, we sat in the lobby and waited, but nothing.

I asked at reception where should we go – and was told ‘anywhere you like’.  I reminded the receptionist that we were here for Afternoon Tea and that one of us was a vegetarian.  “I’ll tell someone”, he said “I certainly won’t be bringing it over!” And then he continued to chat with the other four reception staff.

I went to the bar and ordered three glasses of Prosecco which duly came.  The chinking of glasses and wishing well did not happened sadly – as the glasses were so thick and low grade, they made a dull thud.  Who doesn’t love a chink and a cheers with their bubbles? This was not the quality anticipated.

After about ten minutes the food arrived.  It looked ok I have to say, however the waitress wasn’t sure which the vegetarian one was, and “oh yes, that will be fine if you eat salmon.”  I don’t eat fish, I’m a vegetarian – duh. However my colleague noticed that the single portion cake stand look vegetarian and so we were happy.   “Did you want a plate each?” the waitress asked.  No, we’ll just eat off this coffee table.

My vegetarian Afternoon Tea consisted of:

  • Cucumber sandwiches
  • Cheese and pickle sandwiches
  • Thickly sliced tomato sandwiches (yes, you read that right)

At this point I need to point out that both the bread, and the contents were extremely low-grade.   And whoever heard of tomato sandwiches as a vegetarian choice – let alone tasteless tomato sandwiches? Where was the cream cheese and beetroot, or hummus and lettuce, or brie and grape, or any one of a million other delicious fillings?

Whilst I don’t usually like to focus too much on meat (obvs), my carnivorous colleagues didn’t fare much better. The chicken wrap, one of them said, may well have come from Tesco (at which point the other said that she’d thought the same but hadn’t wanted to say so!).

Desserts were:

  • Lemon tart
  • Chocolate something or other
  • Vanilla and blueberry tart
  • Bara Brith
  • Welsh Cake
  • Scone with jam and cream

The deserts, if made in house were sub-standard too. The lemon tart was not set, vanilla tarts with barely cooked pastry and a scone that was doughy.

A further, and probably greatest, insult I felt was the crockery.  Afternoon tea should be served on delicate crockery.  Beautiful plates, dainty teacups filled with tea brewed in elegant teapots. We were given crockery that was more mass catering. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that this is the ultimate sin in my eyes.

In short, this Afternoon Tea was antithesis of everything else this hotel promises to stand for – bespoke quality and luxury. All I could do was apologise to my colleagues. The member of staff leaving must have thought I don’t like her!

When I paid (just shy of £70) I was asked how my Afternoon Tea was.  Fed up and wanting to go home, I muttered that it was ok and the barmaid said that she’d heard that response before.  I asked why we had been made to sit outside of the dining room, and it was because there was a function for the builders to say thank you for a large piece of work they had just completed. If I had been told two weeks earlier when I made my booking – we would have gone on another day.

Quite frankly, this was the worst Afternoon Tea I’ve ever had from every aspect,  and the poorest eating experience I’ve had in Cardiff ever. Gutted.


main image courtesy of The Exchange Hotel’s website