Jane Pettigrew chats with Bruce Richardson over tea at The Athenaeum.

I had the opportunity recently to preview the new Gentleman’s Afternoon Tea offered at London’s 5-star Hotel Athenaeum, located in fashionable Mayfair on Piccadilly across from Green Park. Afternoon tea unfolds here every day in the sunny Garden Room, enclosed on one side by the hotel’s unique ‘Living Wall’ – home to 260 types of plant, many of which are rare. It’s as if you were having tea beside a botanical garden.

Sara Loy enjoys her first
London teatime.

The stylish room is divided into comfortable seating areas that lend a sense of intimacy where you can sip tea and gossip without fear of being overheard. I think it is one of the most unique and beautiful settings for tea in all of London – tasteful without being pompous.

Straight off the plane after an overnight flight from Atlanta, I met my London writing companion Jane Pettigrew for a three-hour editorial meeting over tea. We were joined by Benjamin Press intern Sara Loy. It was three o’clock and we were all famished!

The Athenaeum staff knew ahead that I wanted to try their new masculine tea menu while my female guests enjoyed the traditional Evergreen Tea. We were very happy to see the traditional three-tiered server arrive with all the usual crustless sandwiches, scones, and sweets. But when my manly afternoon tea plates began to appear, my fellow diners wanted to know if they could switch genders for the afternoon.

The savory first course presented on a slab of slate.

My savory first course was presented on a slate slab. Hearty food needs a solid stage and these creations would have made George III envious. There was a very handsome Suet Pastry Crusted Miniature Beef Steak and British Ale Pie, Wild Boar Sausage Rolls, and a homemade Paté that could have fortified a London lorry driver for a full day’s work. Chili Cheese Straws sat crisscrossed at the center as they waited to be dipped in a bright copper mini-pot filled with Decadent Welsh Rarebit Dipping Sauce.

What gentleman’s tea would be complete without a dram of whisky? The Athenaeum employs one of only two whisky sommeliers found in London. And since I am from Kentucky, I understand the beverage. The sommelier perfectly paired a dram of 15-year-old highland malt to balance this savory feast. And it complimented the malty pot of Assam tea I had already consumed.

Soon two Crispy Bacon Scones, dripping with warm Wookey Hole Cave Aged Cheddar, appeared. I decided anything so poetically named had to be delicious. They were small and easily devoured in two bites. I resisted the urge to add a dollop of Sara’s clotted cream because that bit of extravagance would have rendered the pastries unhealthy!

While my fellow diners enjoyed their sweet course of tarts, meringues, and syllabubs, I feasted on Sticky Toffee Pudding, Whisky Fruit Cake, and homemade Whisky Truffles. Do you see a theme emerging here?

Alas, man does not live by whisky alone. Endless pots of Assam, Ceylon. and blended teas continued to flow while we shared tidbits of food, took notes, and remembered teatimes in exotic locations worldwide. It was an afternoon feast of delights. We accomplished a good bit of work as we discussed current and future tea book projects. All work meetings should be so pleasant.

After two hours, the dessert trolley arrived. Not wanting to disappoint the server who pushed the calorie-laden cart especially to our table, we politely agreed to try just a few more bites before calling it a day. 

The dessert trolly at The Athenaeum Hotel, London.

Our appetites satiated for the moment, we waddled into the bustle of Piccadilly Street and headed toward the Green Park tube station. Sara and I decided to walk back to our hotels in hope of burning some of the calories we had consumed. For a moment, I thought I might not need to eat again during my weeklong stay in London. Then I remembered – we were scheduled to repeat this repast at the Langham Hotel in less than 24 hours! 

I decided to walk the long way home.

Bruce Richardson, Jane Pettigrew, and Sara Loy enjoy tea at The Athenaeum Hotel, London.

Tea Maestro Bruce Richardson is the author of several tea books, including THE GREAT TEA ROOMS OF BRITAIN..

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