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!