Before I started writing about a proper cup of tea, I thought long and hard about what should be my benchmark cup of tea. There’s really only one place I have returned to again and again and always had a lovely cup of tea and that’s Fortnum and Mason’s. I use their tea at home and I love the delicate perfume of their Earl Grey. I have had afternoon tea upstairs on the top floor, cream teas downstairs in the Fountain, and just a cup of tea in the Gallery Bar/Restaurant. On one unfortunate December Saturday some years ago, I even had a pot of Earl Grey in the ice-cream parlour on the first floor. On a trip to London in June this year, I saw they had taken a full page ad for London Pride in the British Airways magazine “Proud to be the Queens’ Greengrocer” it said. That made me smile. Although I did not find time for a full ceremonial tea experience, I managed to grab half an hour between bacon shopping and leaving for the airport to go and take photographs of the cup of tea against which the others are measured. Or so I thought.
The Fountain restaurant has been refurbished recently and I had taken lunch there last time, so I decided to go to the Gallery and enjoy my tea whilst looking over to tourists buying tea and shortbread. The Gallery was almost empty, nonetheless I waited to be seated. I told the maitre d’ that I just wanted to have a cup of tea. “That will be upstairs on the first floor, madam” he said. I stood firm. “I don’t want to have my tea amongst children throwing ice-cream around” “Going forward, we will be promoting that area for coffee” he said. But I did not want coffee, I wanted tea, and I knew that it is not even on the menu upstairs and that the cups are pastel coloured thick porcelain of the type that best holds cappuccino and not at all suitable for tea. That December Saturday sprung back to life in my head and I remembered 12 nine year old girls there for a birthday celebration of one of their number. I remembered the noise they made. Once I explained to the maitre d’ that I understood very well that he did not want to block prime lunchtime tables with ladies drinking tea, but that he might consider that it was 2pm and the area was almost empty and the likelihood of a last minute rush to occupy the 40 or so empty tables was low, he grudgingly said he would make an exception just for me, and serve me tea.
I chose a Ceylon tea. The tea had a rich colour and was quite delicious. But, when tea is served with a grudge, it is also served without a pot of hot water, and so, my brew soon became a tarry bitter beverage. I was disappointed.
The team on duty was young and international. They were friendly and polite. I do not know if the missing pot of water was due to lack of training or slipping standards. I did not have the energy to ask for the missing water.
Well, it is a mezzanine in a shop and the acoustics are not good, so it does seem like you are sitting in a posh version of BHS cafeteria. The tea cups and pots are fine china and the cutlery and tea strainers are silver. The tables are oak and have some very nice art deco detailing.
There were not many tourists in the restaurant. The tables near me were occupied by Brits who had been shopping or who had been visiting the Royal Academy summer exhibition across the road. When I went upstairs, the ice cream parlour was full of tourists drinking tea and children eating ice cream. Wrong. Just wrong.
My London home from home is just yards away from F&M, so normally I would not bother to use the facilities there, but I think you probably expect at least a photo. The place is not luxurious, but functional and clean enough.
It would be unfair to pronounce based on this one negative experience. I have had a great many fine cups of tea at Fortnum and Mason, and indeed, on that day, when I went upstairs to buy a couple of bits and bobs, the service was outstanding. However, I would welcome suggestions from anyone who can recommend somewhere where a fussy lady might find a cup of tea against which the others are to be measured. Not afternoon tea, mind, just a cup of tea, for it is the tea itself and the service, that so many cannot get right.
A weekend in London with my friend WifieWhoLunches: we had planned a few days of drinking champagne in nice places and generally being kind to ourselves. We work so hard the rest of the time, you see. Anyway, on Sunday evening, after an early dinner, we decided to see the city from above. We had started our day at the Southbank Centre on the lovely garden terrace at the top of the yellow staircase. And so, having failed to book at Paramount, not wanting to queue for The Shard, and having already enjoyed great drinks and outstanding service at the Oxo Tower, off we went to the rooftop bar at the Park Lane Hilton. Tips for high places in London or elsewhere are welcome, just add them in the comments below.
Well, every bar in London has a reasonable selection of gin, so nothing to worry about there. So, we decided to go for gin based cocktails from the “Prescription” list. As we ordered our “Penicillin” the waitress looked surprised. “I just need to check, do you like smoky whisky?” she asked. We laughed. You see, the Penicillin here is a concoction of Monkey47 gin and Laphroaig and a few other little bits. Well, we like smoky whiskies, we always did, and since we stopped smoking cigarettes decades ago, whisky and salmon are our only sources of that smoky taste. It tasted delicious. Such a pity my sort-of-nephew CocktailBanker was not with us to critique the cocktails and service. If you think I’m fussy, you should hear him on his specialist subject: “How to prepare and serve a proper cocktail, properly.”
We were welcomed by a smart young man who took our coats and then passed us into the care of a young lady. All weekend we had enjoyed excellent service, usually given by bright young things from other parts of the European Union. Such a fabulous opportunity for these young people to improve their English, and wonderful for us to enjoy the enthusiastic service they deliver.
The bar is comfortable and relaxing. It is not overly decorated, with just the 1930s style bar and lighting. All the window nooks were occupied when we arrived, but we were happy enough to sit on the leather chairs in the second row and watch the people as well as the view.
The bar was not busy when we arrived. There was an exotic looking long haired young man dressed like a rock star and he was accompanied by a stick thin (heroin chic?) young lady who may have been a model, or may have been someone he just met that day, or may have been his good lady wife. Their appearance was scruffy, but obviously expensive. It looked like the lady had had more than Penicillin. In the nook opposite, a family seemed to be celebrating some anniversary and a few couples were taking a drink and enjoying the view of sunset from the 28th floor.
The main purpose here seems to be to offer the glamorous clientele the opportunity to touch up make up and so on, since there are lots of seats and mirrors, but only one wash hand basin. It was spotlessly clean and very comfortable.
What my guests thought
Well, no translations to be checked on behalf of CraftyLinguist. But my friend WifieWhoLunches has been to a fair few fancy hotels and restaurants, and she certainly knows what she likes and does not like. She likes venison, goat’s cheese, chocolate, duck, red wine, white wine, tea, cakes, sticky toffee pudding. But most of all, she likes good service, and champagne. Her final verdict was:”We enjoyed lovely cocktails served by friendly and helpful staff looking out at the sunset over the skyline of London. Great end to a great day out.”
We had a lovely time at Galvin at Windows and, although we probably paid the same for those 2 cocktails as we had paid for dinner earlier, it was a great experience and we award Galvin at Windows 4.5 tumblers out of a possible 5.
10 hours to spare between flights into and out of London Heathrow, surely enough time for a proper cup of tea. At first I considered heading into town to check out the “reference cup of tea” once more. However, I was in luck, it was a public holiday and my friend SurreyDanceLady kindly volunteered to pick me up from T5, take me for a proper cup of tea (and a perfectly acceptable lunch) at Great Fosters, and drop me back to T3 for my onward flight. Great Fosters is only one junction round the M25 from LHR, so it is really an ideal spot for anyone who wants to spend a few pleasant hours between flights, or impress a client with a nice lunch or afternoon tea.
Great Fosters has a Tea Guild commendation, so we were optimistic. The selection is quite small, but that is compensated by the quality of the offering. I ordered Darjeeling and SurreyDanceLady opted for peppermint. When the silver teapots arrived I was quite excited. “Reference cup of tea” is served in a silver pot. I waited a few minutes before pouring. That’s when it all went pear-shaped. The silver pots have the meanest little spouts that pour more tea on the table than into the cup. The just-one-between-two-of-us strainer had about eight small holes, so it took the best part of, oh, say, a minute to pour just one small cup of tea. The cups were fine Limoges, not entirely in keeping with the building and surroundings, but quite good cups just the same. Since I drink my tea without milk or sugar, I like to have either the possibility to remove the leaves to prevent bitterness, or a pot of hot water lest the tea becomes too strong.We had booked a table for lunch, so we did not try any cakes. A homemade chocolate chip cookie was served with the tea. It was edible.
Every single member of staff was polite, friendly and helpful. When we arrived there were two young men working behind the reception desk who reminded me very much of Gilbert and George. Our waiter for the cup of tea was friendly and efficient and the service at lunch was equally good. The wine waiter deserves a special mention, but further comments about our lunch go beyond the scope of this blog, even if those were perhaps the best chips I have ever eaten; better even than in Belgium. We had really wanted to eat in their fine dining restaurant, but it is closed on Mondays. If the standard of the Estate Grill is anything to go by, then I will be very happy to try the Tudor Room. As we left, they had started serving afternoon tea. Every available spot was decked out with linen and silver.
Great Fosters has been furnished with care and taste. A mixture of traditional olde worlde English and lovely modern elegant rooms guarantees that everyone will find a place where they feel comfortable. The floral displays are impressive and although I was there for several hours, I did not find a speck of dust anywhere. Linen and silver, tasteful furnishings and fine art are the order of the day. I particularly liked some of the modern art that was hanging and wished I had time to find out more about it.
Great Fosters also has lovely formal gardens and a large pond and wooded area, so we enjoyed a little walk before lunch. Unfortunately the noise from the nearby M25 rather spoils the outdoor experience.
The other guests
The guests changed as the day went on. We arrived fairly early and met hotel residents. As lunchtime neared, a few “ladies who lunch” appeared. When we took our seats at lunch it was mainly couples in the dining room. However, near us there were three round tables with “Happy 80th Birthday” balloons. I was hoping that some spirited octogenarian would arrive with a bunch of spritely pals. Instead a family group arrived. The birthday boy looked like he probably spent most of his retirement on the Costa del Sol and I reckon that there were a few camel coats in the cloakroom that day. Afternoon tea guests were a mixture of lunching lady types, families taking their mum for a treat and people on reconnaissance visits for Essex girl hen parties.
The ladies on the ground floor is decorated in keeping with the rest of the building and the colour is very similar to my bedroom, so I consider it to be restful and elegant. However, behind those duck egg doors, the cubicles are cramped and functional. Soap and handcream are supplied by Crabtree and Evelyn. SurreyDanceLady thought that was OK, but considering that so many things are home-grown and other suppliers are carefully selected, I think soap products from an artisan would add a nice touch. We were happy to see proper hand towels.
SurreyDanceLady had this to say:
‘A ‘nice’ place for a decent cup of tea and lunch near Heathrow Airport? I think Great Fosters Hotel fits that description very well. It’s about a 10 minute drive from Terminal 5 if you follow the signs correctly. A beautiful, restored Tudor hunting lodge retaining some lovely period features and giving a sense of history to the occasion.
I think the first thing to note is that the service is excellent. Without exception the staff are friendly, polite and nothing seems like too much trouble. We asked for morning tea and were offered the lounge or the terrace. We chose the latter as it was a lovely morning. Our waiter didn’t offer a tea menu initially so small deduction on the teapot scale for that. Fussyladyabroad felt the tea choice was somewhat limited but opted for Darjeeling. I had my usual peppermint. It arrived promptly in lovely silver teapots with very nice Limoges china. We discussed the fact that a quintessential English hotel really should provide English crockery but the Limoges was very pretty. Only one tea strainer between two – another small deduction.We had booked a table for 1pm but decided to go in a little earlier – no problem at all. Could we store a bag and coat – of course, no trouble. An excellent lunch menu, very attentive staff and a wine waiter with a luxuriant moustache – I enjoyed it all very much.
We decided to take our post lunch tea and coffee away from the restaurant, where the 80th birthday party was in full swing. Could we have our drinks in the lounge? Our waiter regretfully advised that the whole place was fully booked for their very popular afternoon teas but did offer us a short tour of the public reception rooms on a ‘here’s where you could have sat’ basis. Back to the chilly terrace for us but the seats did have lovely fleece blankets for guest use. Drinks arrived promptly again with a complimentary plate of petit fours which were very yummy indeed. The pouring ability of the teapots hadn’t improved.
I had a lovely few hours there and would definitely recommend as we were treated very well. There were a few issues but they were minor really. If we are just judging tea I would give it maybe 3 teapots out of 5 but overall I would give 4 stars because the staff were great and the place is beautiful.’
The afternoon tea at Great Fosters is probably worthy of this award, but I suspect the accolade was earned more for the ambience and the food part than for the tea itself. There was nothing at all wrong with the tea, but it was not quite what a Fussylady might expect for a proper cup of tea.
The tea itself would earn this place 3 little teapots out of a possible 5, but the beautiful ambience and the friendliness of the staff earned a further teapot, so that Great Fosters joins the group of 4 teapot establishments.