London these days is full of celebrity chefs striving to be as innovative as possible which makes the city’s culinary scene very eclectic and alive with buzz. But when it comes to Afternoon Tea, one of the United Kingdom’s finest culinary traditions and indeed, one of their finest contributions to the civilized world, I prefer to go where respect for ”tradition” reigns along with quality of service and ingredients. The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel, the home of Queen Victoria’s favorite Afternoon Tea, is my choice.
Why Brown’s Hotel? For a multitude of reasons, beginning with the history of the hotel. A favorite haunt of many British writers, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker to Agatha Christie and Oscar Wilde, Brown’s has attracted many renowned personalities over the years since it opened its doors as London’s first hotel in 1837. Among them was Alexander Graham Bell who made the first ever telephone call from the hotel in 1876.
Thanks to Brown’s well preserved traditional Victorian elegance and sophistication — with major remodeling efforts having focused on 21st century comfort and just the right touch of modernity — one can almost feel the presence of Brown’s legendary clientele hovering over the Hotel’s tea rooms these days. My husband and I had the distinct honor of being seated in President Franklin Roosevelt’s favorite armchairs by the fireplace, located strategically with a commanding view of the main rooms and in close proximity to the grand piano. Moreover, we were so excited to learn that this was the very room in which Rudyard Kipling spent so much time writing The Jungle Book.
Aaah the piano … in a world where music often makes too bold a statement, at Brown’s a selection of the world’s most popular music, from Cole Porter to Henry Mancini to Andrew Lloyd Weber, is played by a very talented pianist who fulfills his role of providing the perfect ambiance of beautiful background music that allows guests to converse easily and intimately while savoring their Afternoon Tea and music.
But we are here for more than conversation and entertainment. As we studied the menu of The English Tea Room, we were impressed by the range of selections offered. Did we want a “Traditional Afternoon Tea” or a “Tea-Tox’ Healthy Afternoon Tea” with significantly fewer calories thanks to innovative offerings? Or did we want a “Gluten-Free” Tea? And did we know that since we were at Brown’s on the weekend, that “Traditional Afternoon Tea” would be be brought to the next level with the accompaniment of Champagne, regular or rosé?
While we we studied the food options, The Tea Room’s Tea sommelier introduced us to Brown’s Seasonal Tea Library, monitored and curated by their tea traders, Lalani & Co London. We had met our first “tea sommelier”! Brown’s bills its “seasonal tea library” as “a collection of the world’s most exquisite teas from family-owned tea gardens” which as they come into season, “are selected for Brown’s Library, stored carefully and prepared to perfection.” Indeed, Brown’s has its own personal tea blended to be the perfect accompaniment to their savory sandwiches. It is this dedication to excellence which clearly puts Brown’s English Tea Room at the apex of London Tea Rooms.
So how was afternoon tea at The “legendary” English Tea Room in Brown’s Hotel? Awesome, my taste buds were happy, happier and happiest. I live with regret that I cannot find an afternoon tea on this side of the pond to begin to rival that which I enjoyed to the utmost at Brown’s.
We started with a glass of Ruinart Champagne, a small French boutique champagne which Forbes calls “The best champagne you’ve never heard of” (Nov 12, 2014). France’s oldest producer of champagne, Ruinart was founded in 1729 and recently purchased by the French luxury conglomerate, LVMH, already well known for its Dom Pérignon, Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot brands. So champagne connoisseurs — be on the look-out for Ruinart as Forbes predicts that we can expect a “discreet expansion” in the coming years. From my standpoint, I remain singularly impressed that I had the distinct pleasure of discovering this superb champagne in London — and not in Paris!
Janice Chung says
Great timing! I’ve been investigating afternoon tea in London for my trip in January. So many great places. Your detailed account made me feel full by the end!
Charles McCool says
So elegant. I have passed Brown’s a few times but never felt worthy of inclusion.
Suzanne Stavert says
I just love High Tea! London is the very best place to enjoy it! Next time we are there we will need to visit Brown’s – so lovely.
Kristin Henning says
Oh my, swanky and historic! Brown’s Hotel Tea will be on my radar next time I’m in London.
Sue Reddel says
This post reminds me of why I love afternoon tea. You described the perfect setting for an afternoon of decadence, relaxation and tea-sipping. Sounds like a wonderful afternoon to me!
Kay Dougherty says
How extremely civilized! I must say this is the first time I ever heard of gluten free tea. I love the literary history of the place – lovely.
Sand In My Suitcase says
So glad you found a GREAT place for afternoon tea! I (Janice) remember the real clotted cream, thick strawberry jam and warm scones we’d get in England when I lived there as a teenager. It’s hard in North America to get a real British tea – often whipped cream is substituted for clotted, and this just doesn’t do!
Rebecca Hall (Bex0 says
What a lovely post! I learn more and more about my home country every day through travellers such as yourselves…thanks for introducing me to the Brown’s experience.
And a Devon cream tea (which is what us Devonites call scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam), is the best.
Irene S. Levine says
I love afternoon tea and this one looks like a dandy!
Carole Terwilliger Meyers says
Your post brought back wonderful memories for me of the time I had tea at Brown’s. I’m glad to see it hasn’t changed too much since I was there. It does look like it has been spiffed a bit, but in a good way. What a treat to go through the various items with you. Now I’m running off to the kitchen to have a shortbread topped with lemon curd–one of my favorites. You might enjoy my article on tea time in London, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Travel-Articles/Abroad/London-Teas-for-Two/london-teas-for-two.html
Adrienne @ Adrienne Away says
Such old school elegance! Love doing tea time when in London.
Rusha Sams says
Your pictures definitely do this tradition tea in a fine London hotel justice! Kudos for a great post with photos that make me want to book a trip across the pond right now!