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  Tea for Two at the Dorchester Hyde Park, London


Once you only had tea at the local Chinese restaurant or in bed, sick with a cold or flu. And then, it was never anything but Lipton. But times, happily, have changed. Today a great range of teas is available at specialty shops and fine restaurants. Even “Afternoon Teas” are catching on. For an authentic Afternoon Tea though, one still must “cross the pond” to where the event was launched by the Duchess of Bedford back in 1840. It’s been an integral part of British tradition ever since, and many are the establishments that offer this genteel experience. But few, if any, can rival the style, variety, and aplomb of “Afternoon Tea” at London’s Dorchester Hotel.

Dusk was gently falling on Hyde Park when we arrived at the Dorchester late on an October afternoon bathing the  lobby in a golden glow. Before us was the Promenade, a splendid Edwardian hall that ran the depth of the hotel, lined with sand-colored pillars crowned with gilded Corinthian capitals and huge urns filled with potted palms and great bouquets of lilies. At its head, a gentleman in tails was playing American standards on a grand piano.

From our sofa-for-two recessed in an alcove, we looked down the Promenade at an array of tables covered in crisp white linens surrounded by plump little divans and plushy arm chairs. The crowd was well-dressed, intergenerational, and clearly in a celebratory mood with the merriment extending to a neighboring table of Moslem women, their heads seriously swathed with black scarves, who nevertheless joined in a rollicking “Happy Birthday to You” when a candle-lit cake was served nearby.  

Marc Correal, the Promenade’s youthful manager, noticed one of us checking out the brand of an eggshell-thin bone china teacup with a delicate floral pattern. “It’s Wedgwood,” he said. Marc comes from Stoke-on-Kent and knows his porcelain. He also knows his teas and so we took his suggestion and chose the house blend from Sri Lanka from the 20 kinds of tea the Dorchester offers. “Made from the leaves, the traditional way,” Marc said, as the steaming, flavorful brew was poured through a little strainer into our cups.

Marc Correal knows his porcelain and his teas
One can add a glass of champagne to the standard Afternoon Tea or go even further and indulge in High Tea which we’d thought meant a more elaborate ritual. Not so. “High Tea is actually a meal, a light supper. It goes back to Victorian times,” Marc said. “The Dorchester is one of the few places that still offer High Tea. But it is quite popular especially as a pre-theater meal when people don’t want to have a big dinner.” Our situation exactly, we thought.

“The salmon is running in Scotland now; it is excellent,” Marc told us, as we sipped a glass of slightly salty champagne of the most gorgeous shade of rose and contemplated the first course from a tiered tray. These were finger sandwiches, little crustless rectangles of white and brown bread filled with the  salmon (which was excellent) and also tuna from Scotland, egg and chicken salad, and the ubiquitous cucumber sandwiches that always brings Oscar Wilde to mind.  Next came the scones, made from the Dorchester’s own fifty-year old recipe, served with rich Devonshire clotted cream and plum jam.

Were we having the standard Afternoon Tea, our repast would conclude here with an assortment of pastries. But the High Tea offers a choice of hot dishes of the sort you might find at a Sunday brunch: Eggs Benedict, Welsh rarebit, chicken, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, stilton and leek tart.  We went for the Eggs Benedict and then succumbed to an selection of delectable pastries: flaky almond tarts, berry crumble, lemon cheesecake, strawberry yogurt mousse, and most irresistible of all pastry made of  strudel dough filled with strawberry cream.

Then it was off to the theater – a disappointing production, sad to say. But High Tea at the Dorchester had been theater enough, a beautifully choreographed event in a stunning setting. And we’d learned something as well. Now when the subject of High Tea comes up, as invariably it does, and the misconceptions fly, we’re able to set the record straight.

The Dorchester
Park Lane
London WIA 2HG, U.K.

Phone: +44 (O) 20 7409 0114
Tea Reservations:  +44 (0)20 7629 8888

Travel Bytes:

MOST NOTABLE - - A dream of an Afternoon Tea can also be had at the Ritz, London’s eternal emblem of elegance. But we had arrived for lunch at what many consider the most beautiful restaurant space in Europe to see how Executive Chef Domin Blais, new on the job at our last visit, was coming along. In the space of four months, he’s added definition and distinction to the Ritz Restaurant with an elaborate French-influenced menu enlivened by seasonal specialties. We feasted on oak-smoked salmon, autumnal vegetables with black truffles, lobster bisque with Armagnac, and a divine papillotte of fettuccine with lobster, scallops and prawns. No need to wonder why the dinner celebrating the Fiftieth Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation was held at the Ritz.

The Ritz London
150 Piccadilly
London W1J 9BR
Phone: (020) 7493 8181

Photographs by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.


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