As I mindlessly scrolled through Instagram one evening a couple of weeks ago, one reel stopped me in my tracks: a Caribbean afternoon tea, here in London! Yes, please. I liked it, shared it with my partner, and resolved to go at some point. Then a few hours later, I saw it again… and again. The power of social media: I had to go – and soon.
London’s original Caribbean afternoon tea is created by Rhythm Kitchen. Served up at their Walthamstow branch, the afternoon tea combines the distinctive flavours of the Caribbean and classic afternoon tea staples. Rum punch, scones and savoury bites, plus some fun festive surprises this coming weekend (December 17–18). Bring it on.
The story behind the original Caribbean afternoon tea in London
We spoke to co-owner of Rhythm Kitchen, Ann, who gave us an insight into the birth of the brand, and subsequently, the afternoon tea. Her husband, and fellow co-owner, Delroy is a chef, and back in 2012, as Olympics fever took over, they recognised a gap in Stratford’s food offering: a lack of authentic Caribbean cuisine. They applied to spaces at Westfield as they were being tendered out and, after seeing off stiff competition from many of the big wigs, they got a spot! Ann noted how, as they didn’t have an existing catering kitchen, they cooked their test dishes at home.
Fast forward to 2018, and the duo opened the doors to their Walthamstow branch, mere moments from Walthamstow Central tube station. And, just a few months ago, Ann had an idea. “I love afternoon tea, and wanted to create something like that – but something that’ll fill my belly.” London’s first Caribbean afternoon tea was born.
While the family run spot has a rather local feel to it, you needn’t be from E17 to enjoy – Rhythm Kitchen welcomes all in from the cold with a soundtrack of music from Jamaican artists. Emblazoned on the wall are framed photos of many Caribbean celebrities and influential people, and at the far end, you’ll see a brimming bar of over 70 rums (plus a Wray and Nephew slushie machine… I’ll be back for some of that in the summer).
This season, the afternoon tea has a Christmas spin to it, so as you sit at your table, you’ll see a little Christmas hat accompanying your place settings. There are seven teas to choose from, including familiar British options, like Earl Grey and English breakfast, and ones with a Caribbean twist like sorrel and ginger, and soursop and moringa. As someone with mixed Caribbean and English heritage, I loved how the two were offered side by side. If you want to make your afternoon tea boozy, you can opt for an hour of unlimited rum punch, or prosecco. We, of course, had the rum punch alongside our warming honey and ginger tea, and it was elite.
As for the afternoon tea tower, it is mighty. Presented beautifully, the whole thing is bursting with colour. The team take extra care to cater for any dietary requirements; we had little white flags in our nut-free cakes, while we saw the table next to us presented with vegan alternatives to the set dishes. Everything is hand-made. My favourite layer was the savoury plate; it truly was a celebration of Caribbean food: spice, seafood and sweetness. The jerk chicken sausage rolls had mini patty vibes, for those familiar with the Jamaican pastry, while the coconut peppered prawns were so tasty with their spicy kick. My favourite was the plantain kebab, which had the perfect amount of sweetness and spice. Personally, I found this offering far superior to sandwiches; it was filling, and it was warm.
I’ll be honest, I was already full by the time layer one was done, but we soldiered on: time for some sweet treats. The large, soft plain scones had a little cinnamon flavour, which was complimented well by the strawberry and passionfruit jams. Regardless of whether you put the cream or jam on first (jam, people – don’t come at me), it tasted divine. The scones are joined by indulgent mini rum cakes, which were delightfully sweet; a moist blondie, which I couldn’t get enough of; and of course, a mini mince pie.
At the end of the afternoon tea, Christmas crackers are handed out and there is a raffle! Everyone wins something, with prizes ranging from flags to headphones. It’s the little touches like this that really champion the local aspect of Rhythm Kitchen, and leave patrons with a smile on their face long after they leave.
As mentioned earlier, the last Christmas Caribbean afternoon tea takes place this weekend, December 17–18, so you’ll need to be quick to experience it yourself. However, if you’re not able to book in this time around, Rhythm Kitchen will be hosting regular Caribbean afternoon teas one weekend a month – and there’s even talk of it becoming weekly in future.