Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon

I recently had the incredible pleasure of joining tea etiquette authority/author Ellen Easton for afternoon tea at Lady Mendl's Tea Salon (at The Inn at Irving Place). I'll leave Ellen's fascinating and unique personal history and immense tea knowledge for another day and focus on Lady Mendl's for now.

If you love great tea and food but normally avoid afternoon tea because you find it too fussy, then this is the place for you. They take care of every detail so you don't have to do anything but show up on time, enjoy and pay the bill. The food, from hearty smoked salmon on pumpernickel and goat cheese with sun-dried tomato on seven grain to delicate, creamy crepe cake and petits fours, is magnificent. (Don't let the idea of afternoon tea or the low, especially by NYC standards, price fool you -- this five course meal requires that you arrive with an appetite.) The tea menu, which includes a number of single-origin teas and even some custom blends, is delectable. (If you'd like, you can add candied ginger, orange zest or beautiful handmade sugar cubes, but the teas also stand perfectly well alone.) The decor, from the custom-upholstered furniture and the working fireplaces in each room to the fresh flowers that coordinate with each room's unique color scheme, is impeccable. (Perhaps this is why famously detail-oriented director Wes Anderson considers the Inn at Irving Place a favorite spot for writing and editing his films.) The staff is attentive and knowledgeable without being cloying. (Although I'm sure Ellen would want you to brush up on your tea etiquette before you arrive, the waitstaff do not seem the types to turn their noses up if you happen to commit some mild faux pas.)

I really have to say that this was one of my favorite tearoom visits of all time, especially as it was in the middle of my recent World Tea News article frenzy and I needed a dose of serenity with a dollop of luxury more than anything. There's a certain understated elegance about the whole experience of Lady Mendl's that seems lost on many New Yorkers and tourists alike. The simple act of sitting down to enjoy tea, food and company is so often lost on an espresso-chugging, power-lunch kind of city. I'm glad to find that it remains intact, tucked away in a nearly unmarked building on a quiet little street near Union Square in the heart of old New York's Gramercy Park.

PS -- Reservations required. Call (212) 533-4600 to make them.

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