A proper cup of tea at the Queen’s/Queens’ grocery store

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.

gallery fortnum and mason

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.

The 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.tea fortnum and mason

The service

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.

The ambience

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.  tea strainer F&M

Other guests

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.

The facilities

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.

bathroom fortnum and masonbathroom fortnum and mason

Final recommendation

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.


http://www.fortnumandmason.com/c-159-the-gallery-fortnum-and-mason.aspx

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A proper cup of tea at Great Fosters

A proper cup of tea at Great Fosters

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.

The 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.

Image

The service

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.

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The ambience

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.

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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.

garden

tudor building

flowers

ducks

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 facilities

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.

ladies

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.’

 Final recommendation

tea guild award

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.


http://www.greatfosters.co.uk

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_%26_George