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Archive for August 24th, 2007

Shipp’s Tea Rooms, Borough Market

While it’s true that nobody moves to England for the weather, the wetness and coldness of this “summer” has set new records for crappiness, methinks.

One result of all this poor weather has been that I’ve increased my appreciation for hot beverages, and tea in particular.

With our friends Alyssa and Seth in town this week, I thought we should go the extra mile and have a proper afternoon tea.

Afternoon tea, in case you wondered, is basically a meal eaten between 4:30 pm and 6 pm, and it traditionally includes sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a pot of tea, and scones served with clotted cream and jam.

Usually, I recommend the Claridge’s afternoon tea, which serves tea goodies on Bernardaud china (yes, I flipped the china to peek – sue me) in a plush art-deco tearoom hung with Chihuly chandeliers. I particularly enjoy the hotel’s live music, the dozens of teas offered, and the ability to order as many beautiful pastries, pots of tea and sandwiches as you want.

The only (and admittedly, major) downside to Claridge’s is the £31 per person price tag. The photo below shows a few of the pastries and scones served for tea at Claridge’s:

Claridge’s Tea pastries

So, to mix it up a little, we decided to try Shipp’s Tearooms, which just opened in Borough Market, next door to Neal’s Yard Dairy. It got a good writeup in this week’s Time Out, the location is convenient, and at £17.50 a person for afternoon tea (as well as an a la carte menu), it sounded like a steal.

First, let me be clear that tea in a “grand” hotel and tea in a stand-alone tearoom are very different creatures. And now that I’ve tried a stand-alone tearoom, I think I’m a hotel tea fan, despite the price hike for the hotel version.

I’d give Shipp’s another try, because the service was friendly and efficient, but the decor is not my style, and the food tasted a little stale. The tearoom is high-ceilinged and dressed in shabby-chic, which I think is a difficult look to pull off. Most times, I think shabby chic looks just shabby. The tearoom’s tables and chairs are different styles and shapes, as are the table linens and tea things. And while I’m not saying happiness is a matching set of everything, a few of the table linens looked kind of straight-from-the-attic, which made me (imagine?) a musty smell in the air.

Afternoon tea at Shipp’s Tearooms

There are about ten teas that you can order by the pot for £3 or as part of the afternoon tea prix fixe. Of the sandwiches, slice of cake and scones that made up the afternoon tea, only the homemade strawberry jam stood out as a big winner. A slice of chocolate cake was dry and saved only from cardboard status by the thick frosting, and the sandwiches were all disheveled-looking, as if they’d just survived an earthquake.

I wouldn’t be so picky if I thought serving sandwiches with straight edges were a difficult thing to pull off, or if it hadn’t cost £17.50 to put cucumbers and salmon between two slices of white bread.

In any event, the company was fantastic, the buzz in the room very relaxing, and the service was good. So like I said earlier, I’ll try the place again, but not before I try another tea room I’ve heard about in Notting Hill, the Tea Palace.

Ahh, the search for a cuppa’, how very English.

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