The 2016 Update...
The Willow Tea Rooms was our first review, way back in the summer of 1987 (OK it was 2013, but it seems much longer ago than that!) We were out doing some shopping as a family and decided a return to the Willow Tea Rooms was long overdue.
I say return, but of course we didn’t return. We can’t, the Willow Tea Rooms is no longer in the Mackintosh designed building, which is now being converted into a museum. Instead we returned to the Willow Tea Rooms at it’s new home, on the third floor of the Watt Brothers store, still on Sauchiehall Street.
Whist we may have lost the Mackintosh interior, we have gained a far more accessible and usable space to run a tea room. There is even a lift to get you up there and because Watt Brothers is itself an iconic building, there is high ceilings and wood panelling a plenty, so you still feel that you are in somewhere with a bit of history.
Whilst Mini-SFR reduced the average age of customers in the Tea Room to somewhere just below three figures, do not think this place isn’t family friendly, she was as well looked after and catered for as any of the adults. There is limited scope in the city centre these days for a place to grab a light lunch that will satisfy a wee bairn, her thirty-something parents and pensioner grandparent. It is so easy to get great sandwiches to go, or a quick bar snack, but you may not always be able to get something plain and simple that satisfies the neutral palate owned by some of the older generation. Willow Tea Rooms can cater for the broadest range of taste buds.
The staff were just as friendly and professional as our last visit, the food just as good quality. Decent loaves are turned into sandwiches, well filled and good value. The Willow club, a triple decker chicken, Ayrshire Bacon and lettuce and tomato was a very reasonable £6.95 and the accompanying side salad was actually worth eating, rather than a colourful garnish. Toasted Ham & Cheese, or even a simple grated cheese sandwich are no bother, there’s even Brie & Grape, if you are so inclined.
The clue is in the name, Tea Room, which means that the menu contains more tea blends than you can wave a decent sized willow branch at. Loose leaf with a strainer, ooh suits you, sir. By the time you’ve worked through the fruit teas, the infusions and the coffees, you may be a little overwhelmed as to what to drink, but fear not you can still get a can of Irn Bru.
So there you have it, Willow Tea Rooms has moved, but the service, sandwiches and cakes remain amazing. Great value for money and an atmosphere that is welcome for all ages. Still very much worth a visit for a quick bite to eat if you fancy a good traditional Scottish piece.
The 2013 Original Review
My better half and I fancied a nice day in Glasgow luckily without the Tasmanian Devil that is our daughter, occasionally we spoil ourselves like that. We don't leave her at home alone or anything like that, she has wonderfully accommodating grandparents! Amazingly the sun was shining and so whilst on't interweb looking for something to do I stumbled across http://www.citysightseeingglasgow.co.uk. There was a great price for the tour and Afternoon Tea at the world famous Willow Tea Rooms. So that was how we found ourselves going on an open topped bus tour of Glasgow. Just to be on the safe side I also went to the Willow Tea Rooms website and booked a table for two as I knew on a Sunday afternoon they'd be busy.
The first half of the tour, from where we parked at the Science Centre (only £3 to park for the day), was surprisingly good fun and we both found it informative, which was impressive given that I have lived here for years and the wife was born here! Admittedly I thought us a little foolhardy to sit on an open topped bus in Glasgow, but amazingly we stayed dry! A highlight of the trip must of been the wee lad near the still smouldering Hydro who shouted up at us "Welcome to Glasgae" and my wife then having to translate this to a couple of American tourists who couldn't comprehend "weegie"!
The bus driver was amazingly cheerful and due to road closures from the West End Festival we discovered what an expert driver he was too! I never thought the bus would fit through some of the gaps it did! The driver thoughtfully shouted up when we reached the stop in the City Centre, Sauchiehall Street, for us to get off for the Tea Rooms and so off we toddled.
At half two we arrived at the legendary Mackintosh designed tea rooms and I was impressed at this little gem sandwiched between the regular high street shops. After a quick look around the jewellery and souvenirs on the ground floor we headed up to the tea rooms.
Now a quick word on this, this building predates any regulations regarding access, so if you're in a wheelchair, can't climb a flight of stairs or are contemplating trying to get a pushchair up to the restaurant, think again! That said once you got up the stairs and saw how many tables and chairs are squeezed into the space you would realise the impossibility of accommodating a wheelchair or buggy anyway.
We stood at the stop of the steps and despite almost every table being full a cheery member of staff greeted us immediately, always a good sign.
We said we had booked a table for two.
Nothing in the diary.
I said it was booked online and was told
Sorry, we don't always get into the office at the weekend to check the email.
Normally this would lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth from one or both parties, but no the staff were brilliant and just sat us at a table which was free and apologised again. So far, so fabulous...
The menus were clean, well presented and displayed as comprehensive a selection of teas, cakes and goodies as you would ever want. It was almost a shame that we wanted the afternoon tea as there was so much else to choose from, but when the three tiered stand was presented at our table we were not disappointed!
Firstly the four types of sandwich, each crust free and about three inches by one inch, were fresh and the traditional fillings of Smoked Salmon, Beef, Egg and Cucumber were spot on.
Whilst I loved the fact that we could select which cake we wanted as part of our afternoon tea but I have to admit I suffered from Meringue envy as the huge, gooey cloud of sugary loveliness dwarfed my Caramel Shortcake.
The scones were light, but not soft and there were generous servings of clotted cream and jam. But, and its only a small one and a personal pet hate at that, why oh why have the two wrapped portions of butter that looked so cheap by comparison to the rest of the presentation. Why not just another pot filled with butter, yes it costs more and yes it takes time to fill the pots, but when everything else is so well presented and has a premium feel to it a foil wrapped portion of butter just doesn't make the grade.
The loose leaf tea presented in a pot, with extra hot water and a strainer was exactly as I would have expected, but why only half a jug of milk?
During our meal, and it was very much a meal, the friendly and attentive staff came and checked on us a couple of times which always gives me a warm glow in my heart. It was nice to see it was not just us and every table was very well looked after and nothing appeared to be too much trouble for the staff, who despite clearly being rushed off their feet still had time for smiles and friendly words. Now we had a good deal on the afternoon tea with our bus tickets, but even the full price of £12.75 per person is very good value for money, especially in the unique setting. Would we go back, yes we would... in fact sooner than we thought!
So now considerably fuller than when we went in we strolled back out into the sunshine (yes still sunny) and went round to the bus stop for the second half of the tour. Whilst at the bus stop looking for the tickets in various pockets we thought it best to check we still had the car park token. Alas, it was nowhere to be found. We both blame the copious amounts of sugar for our momentary lack of attention, or the desire for a post tea snooze, but it suddenly dawned on us that the handful of change we left in the tip jar at the tea room may not have just contained pennies... Luckily my wife took pity on me and volunteered to go back up and ask if she could rake through the tip jar for a car park token!
The second half the tour was the same as the first, excellent. We managed to get the same driver who picked us up originally and he remembered us and greeted us with a joke and a smile. It's these little personal touches that I think make all the difference. The tour was great and I have to recommend it to anyone either visiting Glasgow or to a resident who wants to learn more about their home town. The tickets, valid for two days allow you to get on and off as many times as you like, so given the route the bus takes it may offer better value for money than the subway to get around the city.
All in all a lovely day spent in Glasgow on a sunny June day and a great venue for afternoon tea. Highly recommended for adults and families with older children.