Just as elaborate ritual surrounds ancient Chinese tea ceremonys, the English have their own commemoration to the practice of drinking tea and it is known as afternoon tea. My sister was in London for the weekend and we had a girly afternoon of pedicures at a spa followed by that quintessential English experience of afternoon tea.
Our chosen venue was the Tea Palace
, on chi chi Westbourne Grove. The ladies who lunch appeared to also comprise the ladies who do afternoon tea. On this Saturday they were out in force, the palace was full. In order to assuade for its no booking policy on weekends, the Tea Palace takes your number once you turn up and promises to ring once a table is free, leaving you free to indulge in some retail therapy in the nearby boutiques. It is a practice I think more places should adopt.
Our phone call was not too long coming and we headed back to the Tea Palace. To say that the Tea Palace is a palace somewhat of an exaggeration, but it is a decent size room with big glass windows facing onto the street so that everyone can see and be seen. Purple plush seats and heavy white table cloths are presumably a nod to the rooms regal aspirations.
We plumped for the “Champagne Tea”, for £22 each you get a glass of rose champagne, sandwiches, scones and cakes but no tea. This was a bit rich I thought, surely the tea should include tea. Oh well, we ordered two pots of tea for £5 each and placated ourself with the rose champagne and the heavily laden tiered cake stand that had been placed before us. Resisting the temptation to start with the cakes and work backwards, we began with the finger sandwiches which included smoked salmon, chicken, egg and of course the traditional cucumber. The sandwiches were decent enough although slightly dry. The next tier hosted plain and raisin scones. They were delectable. Lightly browned, nicely warm and deliciously fluffy on the inside. I was in scone heaven.
Champagne dispensed with, we moved onto the tea to acompany our scones. Avoiding the “Builders Brew” which the tea menu disparagingly informed us was “best served with milk” I had opted for the Organic Rose Grey and little sister went with the Royal Oolong. The tea was served with little bowls of tea leaves on the side so that you can sniff at the leaves like the tea connisseur that you evidently are. Given that my tea contained rose petals, the tea leaves smelt like rose petals. Little sisters leaves smelt like tea.
Finally it was time for the cakes, the selection was tiny chocolate eclairs, a strawberry sponge cake and a chocolate cake with layers of earl grey. The cake was good but tasted and looked somewhat mass produced. In any event, we were defeated. We could only eat half the cakes, I think it was the two scones each which had done us in (they were too good to resist). We could only sit back, rest our hands on our bellies and wriggle our newly pedicured feet.
Details: 175 Westbourne Grove, W11 (Notting Hill)
16/2/09 – Note the Tea Palace is currently closed and is moving to the centre of London to a site still to be announced – I will keep you posted.