London’s New Twists on Afternoon Tea
From “Prêt-à-Portea” repasts offering catwalk-worthy cakes to, well, cakes with cats, London is reinventing this traditional culinary indulgence.
So forget stuffed shirts and raised pinkies. Today’s teas feature everything from fishnet stockings to whisky and gin. (And suddenly, your boyfriend is expressing an unprecedented interest in copping a cuppa, am I right?)
Here’s a taste of what’s brewing around the city.
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium
This residential-style dining room is a “fur”st for London. Lady Dinah’s kit-tea serves up a side of cats with your scones. No, tabbies and tomcats are not on the menu–but they are on the sofas, the chairs and, if you’re not careful, the tables, too. There’s even a sort of feline London Eye (i.e. an oversized hamster wheel) where they can exercise.
There are currently ten resident “mewses” on-hand to offer cuddles, perhaps in exchange for a taste of your clotted cream. Each cat even has a profile on Lady Dinah’s website and a “purr”sonal Twitter account, making them celebri-teas in their own right.
You might think such a surfeit of felines would give some diners “paws,” but the fur has been flying as kitty lovers try to claw their way in for a seating. But if you book 50 days in advance, when reservations open, you might just end up smiling like the cat that swallowed the canary.
You can also check Lady Dinah’s Twitter feed, @LadyDinahsCats, for last-minute cancellations.
Drawing inspiration from the latest runway collections of designers such as Vivienne Westwood, Armani, Jean Paul Gaultier and the uber-British Burberry, The Berkeley’s “Prêt-à-Portea” provides truly fashionable fare, with cakes and cookies molded into the shape of clothes and accessories.
Just as couture houses change their collections quarterly, so, too, does the selection here change with the seasons. In the summer, for instance, fashionistas might nibble on bite-sized recreations of a Miu Miu tote bag with chocolate pecan moelleux, a Christian Louboutin turquoise-iced chocolate cookie stiletto (complete with red sole, naturellement), an Oscar de la Renta pistachio sponge cake dress topped with poppy seed parfait and an edible flower, and a Victoria Beckham-inspired geometric print cherry and white chocolate mousse shirt. Talk about posh (ahem).
Steam and Rye
Cups runneth over when you book a table for “Volupteas,” where you can enjoy your sweets and savories with a spicy cabaret at one of London’s kitschiest new clubs. Steam & Rye, housed in the former Bank of New York, resembles Tim Burton’s acid-laced vision of 1920s Americana, with a miniature reproduction of Grand Central Station, a mechanical bull, and cocktails served in Mount Rushmore heads.
Whatever the ladies on stage may (or may not) be wearing, Volupteas patrons tend to favor the glamorous styles of the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
Soho’s Secret Tea Room
For a more relaxed retro experience, check out this not-so secret tearoom above the Coach & Horses pub. Sip a cuppa while listening to 40s jazz and swing played on an authentic gramophone amid an atmosphere of artfully mismatched china, quaint embroidered tablecloths, and old black-and-white photos. Many patrons take a cue from the vintage décor, donning mid-20th century fashions such as seamed stockings and veiled hats.
Real men might not eat quiche, but they do drink tea, especially if it’s accompanied by a tankard of Jack Daniels and testosterone-fueled fare like mini-burgers, oysters, steak and roast beef—served up as part of Sanctum Soho’s “Gent’s Afternoon Tea.” Polish it all off with fudge cake topped with whiskey ice cream, and a complimentary cigar to smoke on the roof terrace afterwards.
Lest the ladies feel left out, Sanctum Soho also offers “High Tea for High Heels,” with items like a mini-smoked salmon, caviar and lemon crème fraiche bagel, a Scotch-style quail egg, a double baked chocolate brownie and a Sanctum Signature Cocktail.
Dukes St. James London
Perhaps the only beverage as beloved by the British as tea is the gin and tonic, also known as a “G & T.” Now, Dukes St. James combines the best of both worlds with their new “G & Tea.”
Yes, folks. We’re talking about tea-infused Beefeater gin, accompanied by traditional finger sandwiches, pastries and scones. Guests can choose from two varieties: Earl Grey or Black Vanilla-flavored gin. Enjoy it over ice, or as a hot punch. Just be sure to drink it in a lady-like china teacup, and no one will be the wiser…unless you’re seduced by one tipple too many and end up truly “in your cups.”
As Robert De Vivo, Dukes’ food and beverage manager notes, “You can have a second without feeling woozy. If you move to a third, that’s when the party begins!”