TIME FOR TEA
Tearooms can reveal a lot about a city’s character, culture and history, as well as being the perfect place to spend an hour in the afternoon. Here are six of the best.
Palm Court at The Ritz
As tearooms go it is hard to find one more steeped in tradition. Afternoon tea has been served in the Palm Court since 1906 when the cream of Edwardian society reveled in the opulent setting – complete with fountains, marble tables, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and wrought-iron birdcage chandeliers. Originally known as the Winter Garden, the exquisite palm-festooned salon has remained delightfully frozen in time, with waiters in tailcoats serving silver teapots and tiered cake stands to the accompaniment of the resident pianist.
The Authors’ Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental
Opened in 1887, the Authors’ Lounge is housed in the oldest wing of Siam’s first luxury hotel. It’s been visited by literary figures including Joseph Conrad, W. Somerset Maugham and John Le Carré. With its white marble floors, sweeping staircase, rattan chairs and potted palms, and a menu ranging from cucumber ricotta cannelloni with fresh herbs on oat bread to Thai rice in coconut cream, the afternoon tea may move you to poetry. No?l Coward once said, “It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.”
The Russian Tea Room
Founded by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1927, and a home away from home for Russian émigrés fleeing the revolution, this tearoom quickly became a haunt of showbiz figures. Legendary agent Sam Cohn had Table 1, Leonard Bernstein wrote the opening bars of Fancy Free on his napkin, and Madonna worked the coat check room. Walking through the revolving doors to enjoy a decadent tea of sandwiches and blinis you enter a red, green, and gold room every bit as elaborate and gleaming as a Fabergé egg.
Emperor Lounge at the Taj Mahal Hotel
This pink sandstone palace is the hotel of choice for diplomats and dignitaries. The suitably palatial surroundings recall the traditions of the Raj with local delicacies such as Maharashtrian vada pav (potato fritters) taking their rightful place beside mint and cucumber finger sandwiches, scones and cakes. Be sure to order a cup of authentic Masala chai, a spicy blend of Assam tea and ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper and cloves.
Across the street from the Tuileries Gardens sits the chicest of Paris’s grand tea parlors. Opened in 1903, this stunning belle époque salon de thé quickly became the place to be seen in fashionable society. Its Versailles-style mirrors have caught the reflections of Audrey Hepburn, Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust and Coco Chanel, who would keep an eye on the world around her from Table 10 while indulging in the rich hot chocolate. Don’t miss the Mont Blanc, a mountain of meringue, whipped cream and chestnut vermicelli.
The Verandah at the Galle Face Hotel
Opened in 1864, this venerable grande dame turns back the grandfather clock each afternoon with a delectable meal recalling the days when Ceylon, as Sri Lanka used to be known, was synonymous with tea. The colonnaded corridors, teak floors, rattan chairs and whirring ceiling fans have attracted adventurers, writers and local gentry. Genteel waiters serve a delectable tea of smoked fish and avocado finger sandwiches, fish cutlets, and seeni sambol (sweet onion relish) with the local tea picked in the hills of Nuwara Eliya.