I love Downton Abbey. When Stephen and I visited his family in London last week – I headed to a fancy afternoon tea at Brown’s Hotel with his sister. Our only argument: who would get to be Lady Mary.
Brown’s Hotel is proper and historic. Opened in 1837, it was the first grand hotel in London. It’s here that Rudyard Kipling wrote many of his novels and where it’s believed that Agatha Christie took inspiration ‘At Bertram’s Hotel.’ Now days, they open their doors to ‘normal’ people like me, and offer gluten free, Tea-Tox Healthy and traditional afternoon tea menus.
We were seated in the middle of the room, next to the fireplace in low and comfy chairs. The table was set with a fine china sandwich plate and a silver small fork, knife and teaspoon. While this was very fancy for me, it would have been casual for the wealthy back in Victorian and Edwardian times.
I ordered the gluten free menu while Corinne decided on the traditional afternoon tea. Our courses were served on a silver tier with removal plates – so we could easily go in order of sandwiches, scones, then pastries. Our pots of tea came out first – then we began with my favorite course of savory, finger sandwiches (5 kinds: coronation chicken, egg salad, smoked salmon, cucumber and turkey). Hers were on various white, wheat and rye breads. Mine were made on two types of Genius Bread – a surprisingly delicious gluten free bread made in England.
The next course were scones with clotted cream and jam. Corinne looks like she was in heaven as she cut open her warm scones (she said later it was her favorite course). I wanted to like my gluten free scones – but the texture wasn’t right – did enjoy the clotted cream and jam though.
The third course were small pastries of mini cakes and desserts. Again Corrine had the better desserts – while my mini pastries (with the exception of a chocolate cup filled with cream and berries) were more like cardboard in texture.
Fourth course was a choice of cake and sorbet for me. Corinne had a Victoria sponge cake and I had a raspberry sorbet.
The tea was prepared in the English style of tea steeped loose inside a teapot with a strainer placed on top of the teacup to sieve the leaves. The waiters refreshed the teapots half way through (at this point you can ask to try another one, we did) so you always have hot tea to sip. The tea list is complete with herbals, white, oolong and green teas (even matcha). We stayed a more traditional path sticking with black teas: Darjeeling 2nd Flush (our favorite), Assam and Brown’s Afternoon tea blend.
The service, atmosphere, live piano music, silver teapots, fine china at Brown’s Hotel is really something to see, especially as a traveler. My imagination swirled with the pouring tea – finding my inner Lady Mary with all the history, gossip, sweets and manners.
Afternoon Tea is served Monday -Thursday 2pm-6.30pm, Friday-Sunday 12noon-6.30pm