I’m not entirely sure why the post I’m about to write was not my first of the summer. It would have made sense, you see, because I’m about to give an account of my culinary adventures in England, and I took a trip there at the end of May. I suppose when I first got back I was far too consumed missing it to actually sit down and be coherent enough to write it all down. Maybe it’s all the fuss about the royal baby, but as of late I’ve been feeling quite sentimental and decided it was high time to tell the story.
Just for some background, I spent ten days in England with my mom. Our main purpose was to go on a week long bike trip through the Cotswolds, but at my insistence my mom agreed to spend a couple days in London before we set off for Oxford, where the biking would begin. My mom loved the biking and the countryside and the all the pub food— the fish and chips, meat pies, all the cakes. I loved the cities— Bath and Stratford and Oxford and most of all, London. I got to go Shakespeare crazy, visit castles and underground cities, even spy on a garden party at Buckingham Palace. I had the most delicious rainbow trout of my life in Oxford, a chocolate and butter bread pudding that nearly made my head explode in Stratford, and several quite memorable meals in London including some rather spectacular Indian fare, a pre theater three course “lunch” complete with a chilled fennel soup amuse bouche, and naturally (and quite typically my favorite) high tea at the Landmark Hotel.
I hope not to sound too overdramatic but fear I will anyway when I say that high tea was an out of body experience. Just try and keep in mind that this is coming from a Harry Potter fanatic, an avid Downton Abbey watcher, someone who used the theme from the Sherlock Holmes movies as floor music. Don’t even get me started on British accents. Talk about melting me. And the logical part of me understands that most Brits don’t sit around every afternoon and sip tea in suits and frilly dresses. But the romantic part of me? Well, let’s just say I have a bit of an overactive imagination and leave it at that. I had a reservation for high tea a week before we left.
We ambled over to the Landmark after visiting 221b Baker Street. The hotel is really a rather beautiful place. That day London was gray, all fog and drizzle, which made for quite the atmosphere but also meant that I was freezing and having a very bad hair day. When we walked into the dining area, I was met by an open room filled with light streaming through a sunroof several stories above. The walls were painted in a creamy, cozy white. There was a harpist on a balcony overlooking the seating area. I swear there was even one diner wearing a suit and holding a pocket watch.
After being seated I decided on the “chocolate high tea” option, as one does, with a white peony tea. The tea came first, then the finger sandwiches: cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon, and chicken salad. Each time I would finish them our server would come over with another tray and say, “Another, Madam?” Needless to say, the poor boy was forced to make frequent trips across the room holding that heavy tray on his shoulder because it took me all of thirty seconds to scarf those down and I just couldn’t get enough. After finally having my fill of sandwiches, the quintessential three-tiered tray was served. The top tier held a basket with a mixture of plain and chocolate chip scones. These came with a selection of toppings, which included the freshest butter I’ve ever had, a kind of lemon custard preserve, and strawberry jam. The bottom two levels contained the same four bite sized desserts, one plate each for my mom and me. There was a salted chocolate and peanut butter tart, a spiced chocolate crème brûlée, a chocolate shell filled with a layer of creamy coconut and chocolate mousse and topped with a crunchy caramel crisp, and my favorite, a dense but somehow still fluffy chocolate cupcake topped with chilled lemon icing. I’m not one for putting lemon and chocolate together, but they definitely pulled it off.
I finished first and stared at my mom until she offered to let me finish her sweets. I didn’t even give my customary, “are you sure?” I just smiled greedily and pulled her plate towards mine. After I gobbled up the rest of the food I ruefully reflected that it might have been better to end the trip on this high note. My standards had just been pushed up so far I doubted anything could top this wonderful experience. Lucky for me, or maybe lucky for the British, there seemed to be an overabundance of sticky toffee pudding everywhere, so I can’t say I suffered too much. What I will say is that my phone background is still a cup of tea and my heart is still sitting at a table along with a scone and some butter and jam.