Sunday, 9 June 2013

"Wouldn't it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn't have tea?" - Noël Coward

There is a running joke in my world that whenever someone mentions a place my usual comment is “There’s a really nice tearoom there…”. It’s a joke that contains a grain of truth. I’ve been lots of places (not all, obviously!) and have enjoyed many a beverage and meal in a number of charming tearooms. And coffee shops. Not to mention cafeterias, restaurants, bistros, diners, mobile coffee wagons, and…you get the picture.

But tearooms, yes. They’re lovely when done right. We took a trip to America in 2009 to visit family and friends. Before we went I trawled the internet for interesting tea-drinking establishments along our route from New Jersey to Connecticut to Boston to New York and discovered something strange – in the States “tearoom” doesn’t mean an attractive, possibly retro-decorated, room serving sandwiches, cakes, scones, perhaps the odd hot dish or two along with hot and cold beverages. It means a tearoom “experience” for which you have to book a group in advance and is usually connected with an event of some sort: a little (or big) girl’s birthday or an engagement do, sometimes with hats and dresses supplied. It was not possible to rock up and just drink tea and eat cake. One promising sounding place got a poor rating on a review site because it did not offer tea leaf readings! Oh my goodness, I remember them from my tiny-hood at my mother’s favourite after-shopping lunch place, Kelly’s in Philadelphia. Is this still a big thing? I was gobsmacked.

So we ate at the Reading Terminal Market, Pat’s King of Steaks, the Sycamore Drive-in Restaurant, Rein’s New York Style Deli, and some other places that will remain nameless because they were nice but unmemorable, good but I've forgotten their names, or not all that good. But no tearooms, not a single one, with or without tea leaf readings.

The very good news is that all over the UK there are delightful tearooms, most of which you can simply walk into without a reservation and eat delicious things.

This is one of them…

Alun and I recently took a short break in Durham, in the north, because we had been saying for a long time that we wanted to have a look at it, and we wanted to take a train trip to somewhere where we didn’t have to change trains (so a return to the Rye of our honeymoon was out). While we found that dinner in Durham was a bit of dilemma (lots of chain places or restaurants that looked like they hadn’t changed their menus or décor since the 1970s), the town is packed with nice tearooms and cafés. The best of what we tried was Tealicious. Funny name, super tearoom.

The room is painted in light colours and “girly” without being too twee, the food was very nice, indeed (photos below), the owner charming. And while the house speciality is proper leaf tea (we had a Miner’s Brew for two, guaranteed to put hair on your chest – strong but didn’t), no one offered to read our leaves, thank goodness. For heaven’s sake, what more would you want? 

About 10 years ago I started a tearoom sketchbook that I kept up sporadically, and have recently revived. Of course I didn’t have it with me that day in Tealicious. But I did take photos and promised myself that this blog would, at least some of the time, talk about tearoom experiences.

If you’re travelling around the UK and want to visit tearooms, ask me. I don’t wear this mantel of Tearoom Queen lightly.

PS: "High tea" is a sort of dinner. It's "afternoon tea" that you want, and don't let anyone tell you differently...

Very inviting...

Tea and scones of the finest (and please no discussion about the correct pronunciation of "scones").

A recent page from the Tearoom Tales.

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