EATING FOR BRITAIN: TAKING AFTERNOON TEA AT BROWN'S HOTEL
There are few things in life more civilised than afternoon tea and there are few more civilised places to take it than Brown’s Hotel in London.
Over three years ago, one of the very first posts on Dos Hermanos was a report on an afternoon spent with an ex-girlfriend indulging in tray after tray of cakes, sandwiches and scones with pots of freshly prepared tea at Brown’s Hotel. It was as good a way as any to put a full stop to that relationship and the perfect way to kick off the blog.
When it came to tick the “Afternoon Tea” box for EATING FOR BRITAIN, I turned again to Brown’s, not just because I have fond memories of my visits there, but also because it had just received the accolade of being voted “Top London Afternoon Tea 2009” , some feat given not only the challenges from other hotels like The Ritz and Claridges, but also because of the very strict set of rules used by The Tea Guild to make their decision.
Although Afternoon Tea has its spiritual home in London’s grand hotels, its origins can actually be traced back to Belvoir Castle near Melton Mowbray, where one day in 1840 The Duchess of Bedford found herself suffering what she described as “a sinking feeling” and requested that some tea, cakes, bread and butter be sent to her room to keep the poor love going until the main meal of the day later that evening. It soon became a regular habit and she began to invite friends to join her for her afternoon snack and they in turn began to throw their own little soirees taking their lead from the Duchess and hosting their tea parties at 4pm.
Of such small beginnings are traditions born and now, Afternoon Tea seems is one of the “must do” items for every visitor to London. Not just visitors however, as it seems that the chance to visit one of London’s hotels for a slightly decadent afternoon of sipping tea from fine china and eating dainty sandwiches and warm scones is something that more and more locals turn to when they want a bit of escapist fun.
Certainly that seemed to be the case as I walked into the smart tearoom of Brown’s, London’s oldest hotel, to meet my guide for the day, Irene Gorman, the head of The Tea Guild. The room was packed already and the air was filled with the tinckling of cups and the rustle as trays were placed before a welcoming audience. In one corner, a smartly dressed lady with, I assume, her young granddaughter, also dressed up to the nines and loving every moment of it. In another corner, a young teenaged couple looking slightly awkward but being cosseted by the attentive staff and, near the piano, me, staring down a plate of sandwiches and trying not to cover my companion in spittles of egg and cress.
The Tea Guild’s job is not only to promote the glories and benefits of Britain’s favourite drink but also to raise and maintain the standards of those offering afternoon tea throughout the country. As we ate, Irene took me through the exhaustive list of criteria she and her inspectors use to judge the best in the country. It’s not just about the tea, although to gain Irene’s approval, that needs to be top notch with a wide selection, clearly explained, prepared and served in the correct manner. It is also about the whole experience, from the welcoming greeting of the staff to the final farewell at the end of your experience.
And, of course it is about the food. As we chatted, the charming staff at Brown’s returned time and again to replace trays of sandwiches, deliver plates of warm scones and hot cross buns wrapped in linen napkins and explain what each of the cakes on a small platter contained. The tea was served by two specially trained tea sommeliers and although I am a bit of a sucker for Brown’s Afternoon Blend, I was persuaded to try an excellent first flush Darjeeling, brewed for four minutes and then served through a strainer before I added just a spot of milk.
After I had finished my tea with Irene, I headed down to the kitchen to meet the head pastry chef of Brown’s, Fabien Ecuvillon to have a quick lesson in making the buttery and light little scones I had just sampled. Although, as his names suggests, Fabien hails from France, he is a convert to the pleasures of Afternoon Tea and showed me the small area where he and his team prepare the cakes and pastries for the hotel before whipping me up a batch to take away with me.
At £35 a person, tea at Brown’s Hotel is far from cheap, but remains excellent value for an experience that leaves you so full you are tempted to pay a porter to wheel you out of there on a trolley and for an experience that remains one of the most pleasant ways to spend an afternoon in London.
Well worth trying for those of you in London or you can check out The Tea Guild’s website for your nearest approved member