More Tea Vicar?

A quintessentially Chiswick guide to delights of afternoon tea

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If you have a favourite spot for afternoon tea, I'd love to hear about it. Please email and we'll publish a more comprehensive guide.


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From cucumber sandwiches to cup cakes and sipping from fine china, what could be quintessentially English than afternoon tea?

I vividly recall my Grandmother insisting on using the 'good china' even when my siblings and I were far too young to appreciate such finery.

"Tea tastes better when sipped from fine china," she would, and still does at the grand old age of 95, insist.

Now I've inherited some of this delicate crockery, I have to agree with her. There's definitely something wonderful about this tradition.

I also find old fashioned etiquette that surrounds the event enchanting and the formal titles that depict what is eaten and when.

For example:

  • Low Tea/Afternoon Tea — An afternoon meal including sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, curd, 2-3 sweets and tea. Known as “low tea” because guests were seated in low armchairs with low side-tables on which to place their cups and saucers.
  • Royale Tea — A social tea served with champagne at the beginning or sherry at the end of the tea.
  • And High Tea — High tea co notates an idea of elegance and regal-ness when in fact is was an evening meal most often enjoyed around 6 pm as laborers and miners returned home. High tea consists of meat and potatoes as well as other foods and tea. It was not exclusively a working class meal but was adopted by all social groups. Families with servants often took high tea on Sundays in order to allow the maids and butlers time to go to church and not worry about cooking an evening meal for the family.

I loved the story told by America film director Jason Winer about his visit to Chiswick born Dame Helen Mirren brewing her tea up in a microwave. Winer undertook painstaking research on afternoon tea etiquette before meeting the Oscar winning actress but his meticulous preparations proved to be in vain.

"It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. My agent was actually freaking out, he was like, 'Have you ever had tea with a British person? There are rules. There is all sorts of etiquette'," Winer told US website Collider.

"He forwarded me a link to a tea etiquette website, where I learned silly things like you're supposed to stir the tea back and forth with the spoon, and not in a circle."

When arriving at her home to discuss a film project, Winer discovered a reality of mismatched mugs, Lipton tea bags and water heated up from the microwave and his illusions of English grandeur were shattered.

Although Chiswick is known for its coffee shops, there are some real gems serving afternoon tea that in my opinion deserve a visit including Classic Image Gallery for its pretty patio and pleasant service, Patisserie Valerie for pure indulgence and Chiswick House Cafe for enjoying the summer sunshine.

If you have a favourite spot for afternoon tea, I'd love to hear about it. Please email and we'll publish a more comprehensive guide.

April 27, 2011