LONDON — This city has secured its place as cosmopolitan mecca by embracing the new — Norman Foster’s Suisse RE “gherkin” tower, the Millenium Bridge, the Tate Modern — without losing sight of the traditions that visitors have long associated with all things British. A pint at a pub still trumps a wine bar, and even celebrity regulars order the fish and chips with mashed peas at
Also near the top of the list of such rituals is afternoon tea. But it’s important to experience the real deal: the tea varieties laid out like fine wine, the cucumber sandwiches crustless and dreamy. The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair, hard by the fabulous shopping on Regent Street, SoHo, and Picadilly Circus, is packed most afternoons for just that reason. The service is stately without being stuffy, with the delicacies, scones and the mandatory clotted cream and strawberry preserves, arriving stacked on silver trays, along with 17 teas.
The room has the feeling that an important social event is taking place, with tourists and locals alike, and the mix of contemporary and traditional style (read: original wood and Hogwarts-calibre fireplaces, with Paul Smith lighting, fabrics, and art). “Tea sommeliers” are on hand for guidance or full-on “tea tutorials.”
The daily event, for an extended time on Sundays, is fitting for a property originally owned by Lord Byron, then bequeathed to his faithful servants the Browns to become downtown London’s first hotel, and recently renovated by Rocco Forte. (The reuse of urban townhouses is similar to another gem, in Dublin, The Merrion Hotel.) Rudyard Kipling, Agatha Christie, and Winston Churchill all loved the place, and photographs of the latter are in all the rooms.
The city is ready for still more adulation. Book ahead for afternoon tea. Walk it off window shopping around Savile Row. The top-hatted doorman will advise a shortcut through Tiffany’s.
Albemarle Street, Mayfair, 011-44-20-7493-6020,
www.brownshotel.com, $62 for traditional tea, $78 with champagne, per person