There are certain things that mostly old people and little kids enjoy: dinner at 5 p.m., bake sales, chihuahuas, board games, tea parties. It's why grandparents and kids get along so well. So when I booked an afternoon tea at Brit's Pub for an auntie/niece date and she woke up sick, I wondered, could I just as well enjoy what amounts to sober happy hour without her? The experience is prepay at $17.95 per person ($9.95 for kids), so I was locked in.
You studied abroad in Europe, so you know that the Spaniards have their siesta, the French have their patisseries, the Italians just live life every second of every day, and the Brits have their tea. What do Americans have? We have happy hour. We grind it through, eight and ten and twelve hours a day, and then we flood the bars for a couple of hours to take the off edge before we go home to attend to familial duties, and then do it all over again the next day. Work-drink-work interspersed with the gym.
So what would it be like to have tea in the middle of the day (particularly when nobody else was doing so?)
Afternoon tea is served Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., so the aroma when walking through the front door is punishing -- Brit's is a pub, after all, so at the tail end of lunchtime the air is thick with beer, burger, ketchup, and french fry stank. Not exactly the environment you want to swish into while wearing your fancy dress.
Despite images of ladies of a certain age (and little kids) in big hats and white gloves, "high tea" historically refers to the evening meal or supper of working classes and takes place between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Afternoon tea is usually served between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. and was introduced by the wealthy classes because they could -- "laying the table with the best things." We have no idea why Brit's serves theirs long before any of that, except to not bump up against happy hour, probably.
Upon arrival, a table in the secondary room (still packed with meatwich-snarfing lunch crowds) is set with chunky, utilitarian teapots -- everybody gets their own. Select a tea from a list of about half a dozen, and switch to a second halfway through if you like. An Earl Grey and a Chamomile Honey were served loose-leaf, hot, and flavorful; you're instructed to let it steep properly for about five minutes. Cream, lemon, honey, and rock sugars were thoughtfully served on little side plates (with doily!).
There are simply not enough doilies in modern life.
Finger sandwiches, fresh fruit, a little loaf of lavender bread, sweets, jams, jellies, and butters are served on one of those tiered stands you see on all the buffet tables at weddings, an elegant gesture but the plates were so worn we wondered if they were "antique." Nope. They've just seen thousands of trips through the dishwasher.
A little nest of scones was warm and tender and tasted homemade; with a big swipe of clotted cream it made for a uniquely good treat that we'd welcome next to any cup of strong morning coffee. The finger sandwiches -- tuna salad, prosciutto, apple and jam, and cucumber were also plain but pretty and good, though served in strange portions of one each per guest, which felt a little awkward. Trade you a tuna for a cuke? One slice each of Cotswald cheese was also yummy but paltry. Brownies and cheesecake slices were of the boxed variety.
As our next-door neighbors took delivery of cheese toasties and roast beef sandwiches and our stomachs growled, we started wondering if there was such a thing as booze with tea. It wasn't breakfast, brunch, lunch, or happy hour. What the hell was it?
As a gesture to the motherland, it's nice that Brit's offers tea, but they might be wise to limit it to once a week and make more of a hullabaloo out of it. I don't want to say I'm happy my niece got sick, but probably she wouldn't have liked it all that much anyway, tucked between beer- and burger-swilling lunch-timers dressed in khakis and Old Navy button-downs. Though she probably would have overlooked the chipped saucers. Kids are better at pretending that way.
Ultimately, there just wasn't enough there there to justify $50 including gratuity for two. We were still hungry, very sober, and probably too old, too young, or too American to really enjoy it.
Luckily, it was finally time for happy hour and we didn't have to walk more than a few yards to get to the bar.
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