“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
Ever have one of those weekends? A weekend where you plan grandiose “lets-do” agendas in your head which promptly go to hell in 20 minutes? The Girls were home for the weekend, the London Frieze Art Fair was on in Regent’s Park and I managed a last minute booking at Brown’s Hotel for afternoon tea. A trifecta of goodness. What could possibly go wrong?
1. Appliances. The British appliances are giving me rage attacks. I can’t figure out the heat, the hot water OR the damn washing machine. I left the house with wet trousers (I’ve learned not to say pants) and a new shirt now 3 sizes too small. Wet trousers and tiny t-shirt delay the day’s plan by approximately 1 hour.
2.Tube closures. Tube closures are a London weekend certainty and require a little advanced planning. After considering a few convoluted tube/bus combinations, we decide to walk from Green Park to Regents Park. It was a gorgeous day, so why not? Transportation issues delay plan by one hour.
3.Queues. Queues an hour long at the Art Fair for those who didn’t print out tickets in advance leave only 3 hours to see the exhibits before heading to tea. At £27 a pop for admittance and a tight timeline, my plan is derailed permanently.
The Girls and The Mister gamely tried to rescue my plan and my mood by suggesting a walk through the Frieze garden, a free exhibit for the masses.
I enjoy renaming works of modern art. This one, I call Broken Twig, No Berries
Redux on a Crate
We enjoyed our usual level of immaturity, hysterical laughter and a great game of “name the modern art” on our walk through the exhibit. My apologies to the artists.
I didn’t know this was art…
I was actually beginning to enjoy myself until the black clouds rolled in and we were caught umbrella-less and raincoat-less in a mid-afternoon rainstorm. This,of course,was a sign we should go home immediately and ready ourselves for the great, soul-restoring tradition of afternoon tea. We can credit Anna, Duchess of Bedford, for the concept of afternoon tea. The Duchess ordered tea and cakes served mid-afternoon to tide her over until the traditionally late European dinner hour. Everyone thought this was a grand idea and “Tea” became a daily social event. Friends were invited to put on their best gowns, gloves and hats to socialize throughout the afternoon. Today, afternoon tea is an occasion. You dress up (or should) and plan on spending hours absorbing atmosphere, cakes and company.
I love Brown’s Hotel and its cozy, traditional tea room off Abermarle Street. I took Youngest Girl and her friend to Brown’s this summer and fell in love with the ritual and elegance of afternoon tea and the traditional vibe of Brown’s. An important factor in the ceremony of afternoon tea (for me) is the setting, and Brown’s Hotel has it in spades.
I am partial to the first of Brown’s two tea rooms. I love the dark wood paneling, the piano and overstuffed setees underneath the window. Both rooms are lovely, in all honesty, and we were escorted to the second room which was bright, elegant and comfortable. We were fortunate to have a corner table where I could observe the goings on in the tea room and on the street. The tables were as they should be, low and laden with crisp heavy linen, lovely tea cups and heavy silver pots. I plopped myself onto the overstuffed setee, propped myself up on the pillows and prepared myself for an afternoon of tea and cakes with The Mister and The Girls.
Brown’s offers a number of menu selections, including the traditional or champagne teas. I vaguely remember the waiter offering a “healthy” tea option. Seriously? I didn’t care to know, so I didn’t ask what that might entail. I’m sure you could call and ask. We ordered the more exotic teas from the tea list, while The Mister ordered the Browns Afternoon Tea Blend. He is not amused by exotic choices.
Our server poured the first cups of tea and delivered an elaborate 3-tiered stand laden with tiny chocolate desserts, scones still warm from the oven and a variety of crustless sandwiches. Most importantly, they brought a crock of fresh clotted cream and another crock of homemade strawberry preserves.
The Mister started on the bottom tray of sandwiches. We started on the top tray of pastries and all met in the middle for the tiny scones and clotted cream. Dear. God. The most dangerous part of afternoon tea at Brown’s is the willingness of the staff to refill your trays as soon as they are empty. We managed to polish off 2 trays each of lovely chocolate pastries, scones and sandwiches. Actually, we left two egg salad sandwiches behind on the final tray. Egg salad offends me and we spent a few minutes trying to decide what should be done with them in order to get a refill of the most desired sandwiches….wrap them in a napkin and tuck them under a plate? Stuff them into a handbag? Feed them to the nearest potted plant? The Mister eventually took one for the team and ate the remaining eggy things so the rest of us could enjoy another tray of the lovely roast beef , salmon and chicken sandwiches. We had to order a refill of the clotted cream as well to ensure the proper balance of cream and jam on every scone.
Soon after finishing our last pastry, the staff rolled by with the cake trolley and offered a slice of traditional English sponge or fruitcake. I just couldn’t. Everyone else did. I was content to sit back on the sofa and soak up the atmosphere. Fading afternoon light, rain falling outside the window, a cup of tea, my laughing girls and all is right with the world again.