The first thing that should be said about Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester Hotel in London is that the room where it is served, the marble and gilt “Promenade,” is a drop dead gorgeous-stunning space that was somehow made even more beautiful by the Holiday decorations on this mid-December day in London. Pictures do not do this room justice – it is a first class, take your breath away kind of venue.
As I was entering the Dorchester, my thoughts were that since this is a Monday afternoon, perhaps it will not be as full as it otherwise might be on say, a Saturday or a Sunday. I was wrong. The Promenade was absolutely bristling with activity, every table within sight – filled. Guests were milling about the lobby dressed in their holiday finest, gesturing in a spirited fashion, and I wondered if maybe I had missed the memo that the entire city of London was meeting here today. Continue reading →
The Blue Drawing Room where Anna Russell entertained guests for Afternoon Tea (image credit: Woburn Abbey)
First let’s distinguish between the idea of tea drinking in England, and the more elaborate ritual of taking afternoon tea (a light meal), which evolved much later.
When and how did tea become so popular in England? Portugal was probably most responsible. In 1662, when Charles the II married a member of the Portuguese royal family, Catherine of Braganza, she brought tea with her as part of her dowry, and tea soon became the official court beverage in the 1660’s. At that time, tea was scarce, expensive and highly taxed – a rare luxury good that only the aristocracy and upper classes could afford.
The powerful East India Trading Company began providing King Charles II with small gifts of tea from China for Catherine in order to curry his favor and perhaps win special rights and privileges for the company, which may have included a near monopoly on tea imported from China. Continue reading →
When I arrived at Fortnum and Mason, it was after sundown and the right time for High Tea. High Tea is served later in the day and is a more substantial meal than the lighter fare that is commonly associated with afternoon tea. After entering through F&M’s oak doors on Piccadilly, I took the lift up to the 4th Floor St. James’s, a full service restaurant that serves meals and teas of all kinds. The restaurant is light, airy, has a quiet ambiance, tables set a good distance apart, live piano music, and for a lucky few, tables next to the windows overlooking Piccadilly below. Even though I requested one, they were all reserved for a function later that evening.
After opening on this spot in 1707 as a small grocery shop, Fortnum and Mason have been doing business at 181 Piccadilly for over 300 years. They have a long history of dealing in exotic imported foods and other fine goods, including full leaf teas of all kinds, and have earned numerous Royal Warrants. From the beginning, Fortnum and Mason have sold tea to anyone who asked, a novel idea in the 1700’s when tea drinking was limited mostly to the aristocracy. Continue reading →
Although it was dark and overcast on this late November day in London, the air was unusually warm at 57F / 14C. Walking up Albemarle Street in the heart of Mayfair, I came to the unmistakable entrance to Brown’s Hotel. Built in 1837 by James Brown and his wife, Sarah, who were formerly butler and maid to Lord and Lady Byron, it was the first hotel in London that catered to “genteel” folk.
As of 2003, Brown’s is owned by The Rocco Forte Collection which invested 24 million GBP in refurbishments after acquiring this luxury hotel.
On a historical note, Alexander Graham Bell stayed here in 1876 to demonstrate his new invention, the telephone. The English Tea Room is where Rudyard Kipling wrote much of his famous novel, The Jungle Book. It is also believed that Agatha Christie wrote her novel (At Bertram’s Hotel) while at Brown’s Hotel and modeled the story after the hotel. United States Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt both selected Brown’s Hotel for their honeymoons. Continue reading →
Palm Court Afternoon Tea (image courtesy of The Ritz London)
My daughter and I had just landed at Heathrow Airport after an overnight flight from the United States. We were in London to do a little sightseeing, take in a play in the West End, perhaps some shopping in Knightsbridge, and finally take afternoon tea at The Ritz London.
Since it can be difficult getting a reservation for afternoon tea at The Ritz, I reserved a few months in advance. There are many wonderful things to do in London, but there is only one Ritz and taking afternoon tea here is “the” quintessential British experience.
We did quite a bit of walking on this trip, and even though I pointed out many of the major London landmarks, my daughter wanted to take pictures of the flower boxes hanging from the windows of buildings we passed. After a busy couple of days, the time for our “tea party” at The Ritz had arrived. Continue reading →
Afternoon Tea at The Lanesborough (image courtesy of The Lanesborough Hotel)
After flying all night on a transatlantic flight, my daughter and I arrived in Britain early one Saturday morning. Before landing, the captain announced that the local London weather was sunny, calm and 60F/16C, just about as good as it gets on an early fall day in England. Later that day, we had a reservation for afternoon tea at one of the grandest hotels in London – The Lanesborough. After catching a few quick hours of sleep, we made our way over to Hyde Park Corner where we walked under the Wellington Arch on our way to the hotel. Approaching the front entrance, I couldn’t help but notice the number of Rolls Royce’s parked nearby – some bearing license plates from foreign countries. Now that’s the way to travel- have your automobile shipped with you. Continue reading →