Afternoon tea at Brown’s Hotel in London was one of the teas I was most looking forward to having on my tea room tour of the U.K. The historical importance of Brown’s Hotel was a big draw for me. The hotel is considered to be the oldest hotel in London. Founded in 1837 by James Brown, the former valet of the famous British poet Lord Byron, and his wife Sarah Willis, Lady Byron’s personal maid, the hotel is now under the ownership of the Rocco Forte chain of luxury hotels since 2003.
As I walked through the doors of the hotel, a giant display of flowers greeted me in the center of the foyer. One look around the room at all of the vases of pink peonies that sat on each table and I knew that the hotel was ready for spring. I was excited to partake of hotel’s special floral themed afternoon tea, a celebration of the annual Chelsea Flower Show held every May.
The tea room itself, called the Drawing Room, looked like something out of Downton Abbey, with wood paneled walls, an elaborately tiled ceiling and plush upholstered chairs at every table. I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if Mr. Carson himself had come out to serve me.
The host sat me at a table an inviting corner nook called the “writer’s corner.” This was the place where some of the most celebrated authors in British history had penned their most famous works, including Rudyard Kipling and Agatha Christie. Surrounded by a bookcase full of old books and a large window that let in lots of natural light, the writer’s corner felt like the perfect place to do some writing.
My server was a woman from Bulgaria who introduced herself as Yonka. After a cheerful conversation about a shared love of flowers, Yonka brought out a chilled pitcher of jasmine green tea to the table. Served as a palate cleanser, the cold and refreshing drink was minimally sweetened and had a light green tea flavor with the aftertaste of jasmine flowers. It was just the thing I needed after running around the Tower of London earlier that day in the midday sun.
I requested an alcohol free drink to start out the tea, rather than the typical glass of champagne, so Yonka brought out the perfect “mocktail,” a gorgeous lavender drink called the “Lavender Me.” Made with the combination of a lavender infused syrup and freshly squeezed citrus juice poured over ice, the drink was the perfect balance of sweet and tart, it was so good that it made me forget that it didn’t have alcohol in it. It was also one of the prettiest drinks I’ve ever been served, topped with a sprig of lavender and a dried orange slice.
The lavender drink was followed by a steaming hot pot of tea that Yonka herself had designed for the hotel’s spring menu by working with a local tea purveyor. It was an incredibly aromatic blend of black teas and rose petals, that together smelled and tasted like a bouquet of roses in a cup. It was so smooth that it didn’t even require any sugar or milk, which is how I usually like my tea.
Yonka soon brought the first course to the table, which were the savories and tea sandwiches, served on a three tiered silver plated stand. Not only were they substantial in size, they also featured some unusual ingredients not typically found on the average afternoon tea menu. The selection included a homemade potato bun topped with Scottish smoked salmon and pickled shallots; a mini bagel topped with corned beef, horseradish mayonnaise and a gherkin pickle and a potato bun topped with hummus, roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese. The beetroot with hummus was a welcome surprise, which had a wonderful combination of smoky hummus and sweet beets. The smoked salmon, sourced directly from Aberdeenshire in Scotland, was also of the highest quality one could get.
On the middle tray were the tea sandwiches, including a tomato, mozzarella and basil on onion bread; a Burford brown egg salad with mayonnaise, English mustard and watercress on white bread and a chicken salad on malted wheat bread. All of the sandwiches had the perfect ratio of filling to bread and were made with different varieties of bread to give them different colors and flavors. The Italian inspired sandwich was especially good due to the pungent flavor of the fresh basil.
Next to be served were the desserts and scones served with clotted cream and jam. The scones were light, buttery and nicely browned on the top with a crisp exterior and fluffy interior, perfect with the clotted cream and jam.
Also on the tray were a “bouquet” of desserts designed to look like little flowers, including a chocolate cherry tart with pistachios; a matcha green tea sponge cake with mango mousse and jasmine flower infused passionfruit glaze; a violet and black currant macaron piped with little buttercream flowers on a shortbread biscuit flower; a milk chocolate, peanut butter and banana bar with a chocolate glaze and a choux bun filled with a raspberry, rose and lychee cream, topped with pink fondant and a candied rose petal. The dessert that packed the most “flower power” was the macaron, which had a spectacular violet flavor that tasted like my favorite violet candies.
All through out the tea a pianist played his own version of hit songs on a grand piano that sat at the front of the room, which really livened the place up without being intrusive. I put in a request for Lady Gaga’s song “Shallows,” which he played with gusto.
Brown’s Hotel really succeeded in delivering a high quality traditional afternoon tea without a stitch of stuffiness. Not once did I feel hurried. I could’ve sat in the writer’s corner the rest of the day sipping tea, eating scones and listening to the music, but I was heading off to catch the musical adaptation of the movie “Waitress” at a West End theater. Before leaving, Yonka packed up a box with a couple slices of Victoria sponge cake and two additional violet macarons to take with me, yet another example of the exemplary service at Brown’s.
By keeping the seating in the Drawing Room to a minimum, especially compared to some of the other big hotels in London, the hotel’s staff were able to focus on delivering excellent customer service that was attentive, friendly and personal. I especially appreciated Yonka, who went out of her way to provide me with the special afternoon tea experience I was hoping to have while on my trip to London. With that, I can say that I highly recommend Brown’s Hotel if you’re looking for a place to have afternoon tea in London with a rich history and appreciation for the long standing tradition of afternoon tea. In addition to the Chelsea Flower Show afternoon tea, the hotel hosts a number of other themed teas through out the year, including a fabulous Christmas tea and a healthier version of their tea called the “Tea-Tox Afternoon Tea. No matter what time of year, I’m confident that Brown’s Hotel will always be there to serve up a slice of British tradition with a warm smile and a hot cup of tea.
Find out more about Brown’s Hotel here.
Check out my UK Travel Guides here.
Guide to Afternoon Tea in London
Itinerary for an 11 Day Tearoom Tour of the UK