Singing Lessons – Love-Sick Tutors – My First Afternoon Tea Out – Finally in London – Afternoon Tea at The Modern Pantry
When I was about 12, my Mum decided it would be a good idea for me to have some singing lessons. By this point, it was clear I had no natural ability for singing, so if I were to learn how to carry a tune, I’d need some guidance. We were living on Long Island at the time, and my Mum found a music student at one of the local universities who did tutoring on the side. I remember Meredith as always dressed in black, floating clothes that covered her generous form. She had a lovely smile and radiated warmth, as well as a real passion for her craft. Her voice was beautiful, strong and rich and deep, and by her side I felt mine to be terribly thin and reedy. Still, I learnt to really enjoy singing, and she taught me a long list of classic tunes by the likes of Doris Day and Peggy Lee: sprightly and chipper and rather nonsensical.
After a while, though, I noticed a sad change in Meredith. She smiled less, her normally animated face appeared strained and instead of Doris Day she developed a penchant for tragic Italian love songs, strumming out their haunting tunes on the piano with an expression of such tortured misery that I felt slightly alarmed. It was the same old story: a break up with her boyfriend, and I fervently hoped Meredith would find someone else soon, as I found Italian very difficult to sing and all the songs sounded exactly the same to me: dramatic and depressing. Boys, sighed my 12 year-old self, clearly no end of trouble. To my joy, Meredith soon found love again and put aside Italian opera in favour of up-beat Broadway classics.
Aside from awakening a love of Doris Day within me, I also remember Meredith fondly because she introduced me to the only place on Long Island that offered a proper English afternoon tea. It had been my dream for years to have afternoon tea out at a proper tea place. As a child, reading Enid Blyton had caused a fascination with British food, and as I’d progressed on to Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, Oscar Wilde, Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh, my visions of England always involved country mansions, cucumber sandwiches, clotted cream, grand London hotels and tea sipped from thin, delicately patterned china. How I longed to try afternoon tea at Claridge’s, The Savoy or The Ritz!
A tiny tea shop in Stony Brook, L.I., stuffed to bursting with floral tea pots and lace dollies, was, however, as close as I could get; Meredith, though, had assured me the scones were very good. Of course, they were American scones – enormous and triangular – but that didn’t stop me from imagining that I was in a cosy English drawing room, where Bertie Wooster could at any moment walk through the door and call out What-Ho!
Mum and I only in fact went out to tea in Stony Brook a couple of times, as really we could make far better cakes at home, but it was my first experience of a proper tea service, with a three tiered cake stand and a waitress to top up our teapots with hot water. It started me off on the path of Afternoon Tea Connoisseur, tracking down the daintiest and most delectable teas wherever I went.
Now I’m in London (aka. the Motherland of Afternoon Tea), I am of course completely spoilt for choice. I’ll never forget my initial excitement on taking tea at The Ritz; sadly, as so often happens, it didn’t quite live up to expectation, but since then I’ve found many a place where I felt I could look up and see Algernon guzzling cucumber sandwiches.
This blog brings me so many lovely things, not least a renewed desire to form a comprehensive list of my Favourite Afternoon Teas in London. Believe me, I’m taking my research very seriously! Since I first came to the city almost 11 (!) years ago, it’s transformed into a destination for foodies world-wide, and I’ve never known so many delightful sounding teas on offer. For the past several months, I’ve been especially keen to try afternoon tea at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, and a few weeks ago I finally got organised enough to make a reservation.
The Modern Pantry’s Tea is not traditional (there are no cucumber sandwiches, for one thing!), but instead it offers an antipodean twist to the classic which works exceedingly well. It’s clear the chefs at this restaurant know what they’re doing: the flavour combinations are imaginative and delicious (I especially enjoyed the parsnip, cumin and black garlic puree on chia seed bread and the coconut and cardamon scones), and there is nothing predictable or dull about the menu. I want to go back for the peanut butter cheesecake slice alone – pure heaven! I also appreciated the attention to detail: your tea is accompanied by a small sand-timer, so that you can pour it perfectly brewed. Oh, and if you’re dithering between just the tea or a cocktail too, then I absolutely suggest going all in and ordering the white peach Bellini. You won’t regret it!
My one quibble is that the scones are prepared in advance and already spread with jam and cream, which means they aren’t warm, and you can’t choose your own ratio of cream :: jam. Apart from this fairly minor detail, this was one of the best untraditional teas I’ve ever had!
Have you ever had afternoon tea at The Modern Pantry? Where are your favourite places to go for this meal? Note, if you’re tempted to try out The Modern Pantry’s afternoon tea yourself, it’s only served Friday – Sunday 3pm-5pm, and you must reserve it in advance.