Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Brown's English Tea Room

It is Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope, or the Duchess of Bedford, who is said to have started the tradition of afternoon tea in England. She found that a light lunch wasn’t quite enough to get her through to dinner, and by four in the afternoon, she was dying of hunger pangs. There she was, in a situation we all find ourselves in from time to time – ordering her servants to secretly bring her pots of tea and bread to her bed chamber. But then she had a better idea. She invited her friends to join her for five o’clock tea in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. As I always say, if everyone else is doing it, the calories cancel each other out.

Unlike Gwendolen Fairfax, in The Importance of Being Earnest, who complains to Cecily Cardew that there is sugar in her tea and cake on her plate instead of bread-and-butter, the Duchess of Bedford went the whole hog. Her menu was made up of delicate little cakes, a variety of sweets, and bread-and-butter.

Starting from December 2012, Rocco Forte Brown’s Hotel is celebrating a hundred-and-seventy-five years in business. If you are a tourist in London, or if you would just like to get a taste of Victorian England, try The English Tea Room, at Rocco Forte’s Brown’s Hotel on Albemarle Street. You will be in auspicious company. Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book at Brown’s, and Agatha Christie based her novel At Bertram’s Hotel on Brown’s. But unlike Bertram’s, Brown’s is not too good to be true.

Walk into the wood-panelled rooms of the tea room, that looks like a study on a country estate, with its ceiling relief, decorated architraves and other period features, and enjoy your afternoon tea to the very chilled-out jazz rhythms of their resident musician, who plays at the piano every afternoon and evening. Though the extensive tea menu boasts a de-tox and a champagne option, I would choose the authentic experience and go for the traditional afternoon tea.

Start with choosing from the seventeen teas available on the menu. There is a range of black and green teas, and herbal infusions for the caffeine-free. The personable servers (who look like they are part of a wedding party in their tail-coats) will bring out your tea in silver tea-pots, and then out will come the tiered cake-stand. Now, you might think, how good can sandwiches get? Try the sandwiches at this tea room. That’s how good sandwiches can get. They are miniature finger sandwiches, but you can eat as many platefuls as you like. From chicken, ham, smoked salmon, to avocado, cucumber, and cheese-and-pickle, there’s a variety to suit even the most exacting sandwich connoisseurs.

Just as you are thinking this tea cannot get any better, out will come the freshly-baked scones with a pot-ful of Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry jam. The scones melt in your mouth, and I would diet for a few days before going there, to make up for the large amounts of cream you are inevitably going to consume. If you’re getting full by now, then I would say leave the miniature cakes, and save room instead for the cake trolley. At the end of your meal, your server will bring out a cognac-laced chocolate cake and a Victoria sponge. Try a little of each if you dare. Phew. 

Sustainable City Awards

Livia Firth, the creative director of Eco Age, a consultancy that offers solutions for people who want to think greener and live longer, has gone from a doctorate in film, through making thought-provoking documentaries, all the way to acting as judge at the Sustainable City Awards held at Mansion House on 19 March. Firth - wife of Colin Firth, wearer of sustainable and ethically-sourced red carpet creations, recently nominated a United Nations Leader of change - was a fitting judge for the sustainable business awards that have teamed up with the British Fashion Council in their twelfth year. She handed the best fashion designer award to Fair Trade hat company - yes, a milliners! - Pachacuti.

Pachacuti designer Carry Somers makes hand-blocked hats, and gives colourful twists to classic fedoras and panamas that are specially made for her in Ecuador. Somers's hunt for ethical Fair Trade fashion once found her seven months pregnant and shipwrecked off the coast of Belize, fighting poisonous spiders. As Hagrid would say, "If anyone wanted ter find out some stuff, all they'd have ter do would be ter follow the spiders. That'd lead 'em right! That's all I'm sayin'."

Marks and Spencer walked away with the award for the most ethical high street chain, because of their invention of clothing like the world's most sustainable jacket. The jacket, priced at £349, is made from Australian organic wool, that is dyed and spun in Italy, and then shipped to China for the final stage of production. All the material is ethically sourced, even if their air-miles-per-jacket ratio isn't looking too good. M&S were further commended for their Oxfam shwopping venture, and for keeping Lisa Snowdon in employment. Just kidding.

Thrifty Couture took the award for Overall Winner. The company takes reclaimed clothing to make affordable fashion items. If that's not enough, they give unemployed youngsters from inner-city London apprenticeship training.

Firth could have been an awards contender herself for her Green Carpet Challenge, where she encourages A-list celebs to spend their millions on sustainable fashion choices that are at the same time ethical and glamorous. As she says, "There are no excuses now not to lead a more sustainable life style."