Over the years, I’ve been sipping and tasting my way through many a high-teas across UK and Europe. From London’s grand historic hotels, The Ritz, The Dorchester, The Lanesbrough to The Ritz in Madrid and The Ritz in Paris. And strangely enough, the very finest of this very British tradition is the best in the cacophonic, exuberant but exasperating, 200-year-old, over-populated, traffic-choked Bangkok.
Right here in this tumultuous city, there is a space which is not just stunningly beautiful and gracious but also a cocoon of comfort. Since over 140 years, this gorgeous Mandarin Oriental hotel has retained it’s essentially, stylishly Oriental soul and still manages to preserve its British colonial spirit.
SIPPING LITERARY HISTORY
It breathes timelessness. It is here in it’s elegant and historic “Authors Lounge” that I sip (literally too) over a century of legendary literary history. Two of my passions come together in a sacred union…High tea and English literature. I enjoy the classic British High tea, served in the Author’s Lounge.
I have been going back regularly past three decades. Each time fall even more in love with it. Helmed by the dynamic Amanda Hyndman, the Mandarin Oriental continues to breathe colonial charm and high end luxury. The brilliant and charming dynamo Amanda takes me through the colourful and amazing history of the Authors lounge through all the photographs, paintings, books and many an interesting anecdote. The Oriental has welcomed world renowned authors, celebrities and heads of state over 140 years and has long been famous for its service, style and elegance. The whopping USD18 million restoration last year has recreated the magic of the past
The la grande dame has been immortalised by globally renowned authors who lived and wrote here. “The Oriental is the worlds most glamorous hotel in the world” said the prolific British Romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, who lived here regularly and her suite bears her name.
In 1923 Somerset Maugham contracted malaria and almost got evicted from The Oriental. But he loved it so much that he came back and wrote “The gentleman in the Parlour” here.
Through it all we nibble on superlative finger sandwiches (cucumber,chicken, ham). Outstanding pastries, tarts, madelienes and a meltingly, rich, chocolate cake. And the most delightful scones with clotted cream and rose petal and pomelo jams.
The well known Noel Coward wrote “Lord Jim” and “The heart of darkness” here. Amanda explains that it was originally an open roofed garden featuring a pond signposted ‘please don’t feed the tortoise’, the Authors’ Lounge has since 1976, featured a glass roof and is the place to enjoy afternoon tea. In keeping with the great literary heritage of the hotel, it has been recently restored and the ‘Heritage Authors, are now immortalised in four new private lounges.
HIGH TEA CEREMONIES
I salute Duchess Anna of Bedford for having sent out the invite for “tea and a walk in the fields” over a hundred and fifty years ago. The lovely lady set in motion High tea, the most dainty of all culinary traditions. Now, Tea Council Inspectors check standards and coveted annual awards are given for the Top London Afternoon Tea. Which Tea ceremony do I get most high one? The Chinese tea ceremony “Yumcha” server fills the cup just over half way, because the Chinese believe the rest of the cup is filled with friendship. The Japanese tea ceremonies of the Chanoyu, the Sencha are performed sitting on the floor around a low table. But it’s the fabulous historical elegance and daintyness, the graciousness of Amanda Hyndman and the charm of the Authors Lounge that sets part this high tea in Bangkok as the worlds best, It sure is my cup of tea.
The brilliant French maestro, Executive chef Aurelien Poirot infuses French gourmet excellence into food here. He keeps to the traditional British Scone recipe and very generously shares it with us.
500 g Butter /1,900 g Flour /500 g Icing sugar /100 g Baking powder /800 ml Milk /200 g Raisins
Mix dry ingredient together/ Add butter little by little until it become crumbly / Add milk and beat until dough combined / Take the dough out & knead by hand until the surface is smooth / Roll out & cut /Turn each scones upside down onto tray / Brush with egg wash / Bake at 180ºc for about 15 mins (Rotate tray after 7 mins)
My Cup of Tea
I confess. I am a “High-tea” addict. Over the years I have partaken of the British tradition of the classic High tea in all the gastronomique meccas. In all of London’s legendary hotels, The Ritz, The Lanesbrough and The Dorchester. And now joy of joys! I find that this elegant tradition has crossed the Atlantic and is as, if not more beautiful and memorable in NYC. But first an open letter to the creator of the High tea.
I raise a toast to the very British tradition of high tea (ofcourse I do it with a cup of the finest Earl Grey tea)!
BRITISH HIGH TEA
Over the years, I’ve been sipping and tasting my way through many a high-tea in London’s legendary hotels and each time I salute Duchess Anna of Bedford for having sent out the invite for “tea and a walk in the fields” over a hundred and fifty years ago. The lovely lady set in motion the most dainty of all culinary traditions.
I raise many a toast to the most legendary, the highly-awarded and the worlds best High teas (which Ive partaken of)…London’s grand historic hotels, The Ritz, The Dorchester, The Lanesbrough and even The Ritz in Madrid and Paris. An amazing tradition which evolved with time…of tea service, side plates, bread and butter plates, cake stands, and every conceivable accompaniment advancing across the drawing room. Tea gardens, tea dances , a whole code of etiquette followed. Now, Tea Council Inspectors check standards and coveted awards are given every year for the Top London Afternoon Tea and Top Tea Place.
Not just the domain of the society grand dames, this tradition is hugely popular with the younger fashionable set too.
CHINESE TEA CEREMONY
Quite different from the British High tea is the Chinese Tea ceremony. I have attended only one such ceremony where tea was made in small clay teapots. The pot rinsed with boiling water and then tea leaves added to the pot using chopsticks or a bamboo scoop. “The art of preparing and making tea is called Cha Dao” informs my Chinese host. I enjoy the way the cups are arranged in a circle and the server pours the tea in all of them in one go.
I notice that he fills the cups just over half way. I am told that the Chinese believe that the rest of the cup is filled with friendship and affection. What a delicious thought!
JAPANESE TEA CEREMONY
Known for their stylish and elegant Chanoyu, the Sencha ceremonies, these are worth partaking of.The Chanoyu ceremony takes place in a wooden or bamboo teahouse called a Chashitsu. Plenty of wonderful rules around being calm, washing hands enjoying the Teishu making the tea using powdered green tea called ‘matcha’ and sitting on the floor around a low table.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
Sure all the High teas and tea ceremonies Ive attended have been fabulous, but this one, here in Bangalore is easily the best. Please take a look at the photograph Ive shot. Time stands still, luxurious high tea from another era is flamboyantly served under the 150 year old Rain tree. Every detail in this 125 year old beauty of a landmark Taj Westend hotel is perfect. The Taj West End was started as a 10 bed genteel boarding house for upper class English Gentlemen by the Bronsons in 1887 and today remains at the top of the world class hotels. I take many trips back in time here in all their bespoke experiences they’re offering to celebrate history. From getting high on their Heritage Champagne Walk, admiring the oldest and first red colored Post Box operational till date, soaking in the Art Corridor to sitting under the magnificent Rain tree which is older than the hotel and has stood tall since 1848. Here with the charming colonial 1905 block as backdrop in the Mynt Lawns, I choose from a selection of delectable treats.
Along with this Art of High Tea an inspiration from the Colonial era (with a menu crafted for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians)The brilliant executive Chef Sandip Narang having honed his mastery all over the world and set up award winning restaurants in India also offers a well contemplated Anglo Indian Menu that draws inspiration from the British Raj, of western dishes infused with spices and other local ingredients. At the Westend’s High tea, take your pick… open sandwich of smoked salmon, cucumber and dill sandwich, crispy fish finger with tartare sauce, lemon tart, frosted cupcakes, coffee macaroons, strawberries in chocolate to name a few. Pair it with a wide ranging tea selection from Darjeeling to Monking Jasmine, Earl Grey and Egyptian Camomile.
I’ve been passionately in love with The Westend and been visiting it since many decades. It’s old world charm and colonial architecture blends with the high tech and amazing restaurants (including India’s first Vietnamese restaurant, Blue Ginger) weave a memorable spell, The dynamic Somnath Mukherjee ensures that each and every detail is perfect. Over the years, staying in these cottages interspersed over 20 acres of lush greenery and spreading canopies of trees has always been magical for me. I’m fascinated to learn that it was under these trees that Nobel prize winner Ronald Ross discovered the cure for malaria. It was here that Sir Winston Churchill often dined as a Cigar – smoking war journalist; and later went on to become the Prime minister of Britain. It is here that under the ancient Rain tree that I sip (literally too) 125 years of legendary history. This is most certainly, my cup of tea.