York and Bettys Café Tea Rooms

While I’m a long way from being considered cosmopolitan, traveling in Europe over the last few years has changed my perspective on the world and my appreciation of other cultures. Even the Tour de France feels different to me now. Not that I had watched it in recent years after all those scandals. But my trips to France this year (more on that in future posts!) and England in 2013 have compelled me to tune in a few times, both for the race and for the atmosphere and scenery. The second stage was of particular interest since it started in York, England, the final city that we visited last year and home to the famous Bettys Café Tea Rooms.

Betty's - York

Located in northern England, about 200 miles from London and a couple of hours away by train, York was founded by the Romans in the first century and over the next thousand years served as an important city for Anglo-Saxons, early Christians, Vikings, and Normans. Its significance continued to grow during the medieval period.

York has several museums focusing on different aspects of its history, and many buildings and structures remain from various eras, including:

  • The medieval City Walls and gates (known as bars). The well-preserved walls circle the city center and can be walked, with a few gaps along the way.
  • The Multangular Tower (left), part of which is an original Roman structure, and Clifford’s Tower, a remnant of the medieval York Castle.
  • Medieval houses and streets, including Goodramgate (left) and The Shambles.
  • And the most famous site, York Minster.

As one of Europe’s largest Gothic cathedrals, York Minster takes a couple of hours to explore, with stained glass windows, religious artifacts, monuments, an undercroft, a tower, and more. (The Great East Window remains under restoration until 2016.)

And just a short walk from York Minster is Bettys Café Tea Rooms.

Swiss immigrant Frederick Belmont opened the original Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate in 1919, with the York café, now the flagship, opening in 1937 in St. Helen’s Square. Apparently the identity of “Betty” remains a mystery. (To read more, visit Bettys’ website.)

There are three ways to enjoy Bettys in York: the flagship location, which was our choice; the more upscale Art Deco Belmont Room, which has a separate entrance; and a smaller café on nearby Stonegate. We learned of Betty’s through our travel guidebooks, which said that there would be a line. And there was.

Betty's line - York

On the day of our visit, the line moved quickly. Many people chose to sit in the windowless lower level, known during World War II as Bettys Bar (for a story about the Bar, click here). We waited for an opening on the main floor and were seated within 15 minutes.

Bettys Café Tea Rooms offers a varied menu (click here for links to the menus). Dorene ordered her usual Afternoon Tea.

Dorene’s Assessment

  • Tea – Bettys Tea Room Blend, a non-flavored black tea described as a “traditional rich blend of top-class African and Assam teas.” Tea was served with extra hot water, always a plus.
  • Sandwiches – There were four on brown and white bread: salmon, ham, chicken, and egg & mayo. All were very good.
  • Scones – A medium-sized sultana scone served with strawberry jam, Yorkshire clotted cream, and separate serving spoons for each! As I mentioned in a previous post, using the same utensil bothers me because, as a jam-first person, I feel bad about sullying the cream. Dorene does cream first, so it matters less. Anyway, the scone had some substance and flavor, and it was not too sweet. “Sultana” was a new word for me. It refers to the fruit: raisins from white or pale green seedless grapes.
  • Pastries – This doesn’t happen often, but the scone was not Dorene’s favorite part. The fruit tart, mini-cake, and especially the lemon macaroon (a bit hidden in the above picture) were winners, an unexpected result.
  • Decor – Decorated in the Art Nouveau style, the windows are the highlight. A tree motif runs along the sides and top, reflected inside by mirrors. A high shelf of teapots identifies this as a tea room.
  • Service – Polite and efficient staff. However, the wait for the food was long. Fortunately, the desserts alone made the wait worthwhile.
  • Atmosphere – With a crowd packed into the large, bustling room, there was little atmosphere to complement the food and decor.
  • Overall rating

    Wonderful Experience
    Wonderful Experience

 

Diane’s Thoughts

Dessert at Betty's

While waiting in line to be seated, I had time to study the cake menu. That’s when I decided to order a light lunch of soup and bread so that I could indulge in a Chocolate and Raspberry St. Honoré. It looks small in this picture, but each bite of chocolate, raspberry, cream, and pastry produced a series of delights. Sadly, it is not listed as an option on the 2014 Summer Menu.

During the wait for food, I did enjoy the chance to look around and appreciate the effect of the windows and mirrors. While Bettys Café Tea Rooms may not have the sense of character that we encountered in other tea rooms, its history, decor, and food created a wonderful experience.

Side Hop

Along with York, Harrogate (home of the original Bettys) also hosted the Tour de France, providing the finish line for stage one (Le Grand Départ). Of course the English found a way to celebrate the rare appearance of the Tour de France in their country with…tea. Bettys is part of a larger firm called Bettys & Taylors Group, and one of their brands, Yorkshire Tea, served as Official Tea Partner of Le Grand Départ and created a commemorative tea, or rather Thé, for the event.

Yorkshire The

Apparently, the fans loved it. I saw posts on Twitter from people looking for the tea, and according to the Yorkshire Evening Post, it has even sold on eBay. I think the U.S. should take note!

Advertisements

Bath, Jane Austen, and the Regency Tea Room

A short visit to Bath, England creates lasting memories of both the uniformity of the cream-colored buildings and the diversity of the city’s historical contributions, including the nearly 2,000-year-old Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, Georgian-era architecture, and Bath’s culture. Yet for many of us, Bath’s most compelling legacy is the 5-year reluctant residence of Jane Austen. And considering the role of tea rituals in each of her novels, Bath offered a fitting venue for combining this beloved author with our pursuit of tea and scones.

4 Sydney Place sign

By using Bath as a setting in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, Jane Austen (1775-1817) forever linked herself with the city. At the same time that these novels bring Bath to life for readers, they also suggest some unfavorable opinions of the city. Her letters provide additional insight into these opinions, while the other four novels, which all include at least one mention of Bath, further hint at Jane Austen’s feelings through the characters associated with the references to Bath (Wickham, Willoughby, the Eltons).

Without hiding from these feelings, Bath has embraced Jane Austen and built a tourism industry around her. The Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street preserves Jane Austen’s presence in Bath through guided walking tours, a permanent exhibition, gift shop, tea room, and the annual Jane Austen Festival (the next festival is September 12-21, 2014).

Jane Austen Centre - Bath. Photo by Dorene

We began our Austen-related sightseeing with the Walking Tour of Jane Austen’s Bath. The tour starts in the Abbey Churchyard at 11:00 a.m. on Saturdays, Sundays, and bank holidays. (The website lists the cost as £12, although I don’t remember it being that expensive in 2013.)

Just prior to the start of our tour, a cold and relentless rain began. With one partially broken umbrella to cover us both, this was not how we had envisioned our Jane Austen journey. Fortunately our tour guide was delightful and accommodating, trying to find covered spots for us to stand wherever possible while keeping us entertained by reading scenes from the books, providing details about Bath society during Jane Austen’s time, and sharing stories about the Austen family, including the shoplifting scandal involving Jane Austen’s aunt, Jane Leigh-Perrot. (Visit the Jane Austen Centre’s website for an article about the scandal.)

Our tour guide had a special fondness for Northanger Abbey, and shortly after beginning the tour, he brought us to the Pump Room, now a restaurant, and explained its significance for Catherine Morland (visit Jane Austen’s World to learn more).

The rest of the tour was outside. Even though better weather would have been welcome, the tour guide was a fine companion and effective in sharing his perspective on the era and recreating scenes from the books. Perhaps because of the rain, the tour extended slightly past the scheduled 90 minutes before ending at the Jane Austen Centre, which is located a few doors down from what is now a dental office at 25 Gay Street, where the Austens lived for about 6 months following the death of Jane’s father.

Inside the Jane Austen Centre, there are three places to visit. On the ground floor is a delightful gift shop. The main section of the Jane Austen Centre is the permanent exhibition. Before entering the exhibition, a costumed staff member gives a 10-minute talk about Jane Austen, and while some of the information was shared during the walking tour, one can never hear enough about Jane Austen. While the exhibition is not large, the displays include many interesting objects and details relating to Jane Austen, the books, her family life, and the era, society, and culture that would have influenced her. (Exhibition fee is £8. We received a 10% discount because we had been on the walk.)

Finally, on the second floor (Americans would call it the third floor) there is the Regency Tea Room. Not that we saved it for the end. After almost 2 hours of walking in the cold rain, we deferred our visit to the gift shop and exhibition in favor of the tea room.

The Regency Tea Room offers lunch items and other treats, but we were there for afternoon tea (click here for the menu). Dorene selected the traditional Ladies Afternoon Tea (tea, finger sandwiches, and a scone). My selection was Tea with the Austens. Along with a better name, Tea with the Austens included a piece of cake instead of a scone. I would have enjoyed a scone, but the cakes were on display behind Dorene’s seat, and the chocolate cake looked irresistible.

Dorene’s Assessment

Afternoon Tea at the Regency Tea Rooms. Photo by Dorene
Afternoon Tea at the Regency Tea Room. Photo by Dorene
  • Tea – There was a good selection of tea, and we both chose the Jane Austen Blend, “a light blend of China black teas popular in Regency times.”
  • Sandwiches – They were nicely prepared and included cucumber, ham with mustard, smoked salmon, and cheddar with chutney. The smoked salmon and cheddar with chutney were especially good.
  • Scone – The scone was very good, of substantial size, with no sweetness (a good thing), and served with ample clotted cream and jam. Notice the jam and cream are missing from the picture above. Dorene had to request them.
  • Decor – There were two rooms with hardwood floors and red walls above white paneling. The larger room had windows, a fireplace, and a portrait of Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. The smaller room by the entrance had just a few tables, the cake display, and the cash register. This is the room we were in.
  • Service – The staff was pleasant and friendly but also seemed frazzled. In addition to forgetting the cream and jam, our waitress spilled my tea while pouring it.
  • Atmosphere – Because we were near the cash register and the entrance, the activity of the staff was visible to us. There was a mildly heated discussion between two of the waitresses, which created tension in the room. The weather could have affected their moods, but we were distracted, and the tea room’s charm was diminished for us.
  • Overall Rating

    Good place to visit
    Good place to visit

Diane’s Thoughts

After years and years of reading and re-reading Jane Austen, I had hoped that the Regency Tea Room would transport me to another era. This didn’t happen. Perhaps with lovely weather and a seat in the room dominated by Mr. Darcy’s gaze, the experience may have been different. At least the tea, sandwiches, and especially the chocolate cake were wonderful.

The ultimate destination for a Jane Austen pilgrimage is the village of Chawton in Hampshire County where Jane Austen lived from 1809-1817. Since our visit to England would lead us in the opposite direction, Bath needed to suffice, and while the experience could have been better, overall this Jane Austen journey did suffice.

Side Hop

The walking tour did not travel to all of the Jane Austen sites, so we visited several places on our own, including another Austen residence and the site of her father’s tombstone.

The Austens lived in a few different buildings in Bath, with their longest residence at 4 Sydney Place near what is now the Holburne Museum. The building is privately owned and can be viewed only from the outside.

During our walking tour we learned that Jane Austen’s father was buried in St. Swithin’s Church, which is just north of the tourist section of Bath, but still within walking distance, with a slight uphill climb. The following day while in the area of the Assembly Rooms (more on those in a subsequent post), we decided on a whim to visit St. Swithin’s.

We thought the tour guide had said that George Austen was buried inside the church, so when we found the church locked, our side trip had seemingly ended. Then a church member arrived a few moments later and offered assistance. She did not know where George Austen was buried, but she let us enter the church to look around. Scanning the plaques on the walls with no success, we had little hope of finding anything.

St. Swithin's Church. Photo by Dorene
St. Swithin’s Church. Photo by Dorene

As consolation, the woman showed us a replica of the 1764 marriage record of George and Cassandra Austen. The church had been torn down and rebuilt several years after their marriage in order to accommodate Bath’s growing population, but church records were retained. The church was also known as Walcot Church or the parish of Walcot, which used to be a hamlet just outside of Bath and is now part of the city. George Austen once served as curate of Walcot.

Austens' Marriage Record

Joined by a second church member, who also did not know where to direct us, the first woman ended up calling someone who solved the mystery. The tombstone was outside in the small yard on the side of the church. We had arrived from the opposite side and had not seen the yard.

George Austen's tombstone. Photo by Dorene
George Austen’s tombstone. Photo by Dorene
George Austen's Memorial Plaque. Photo by Dorene
George Austen’s Memorial Plaque. Photo by Dorene

Originally George Austen’s tombstone was in the crypt, but it was moved outside in 1968, and the memorial plaque was added in 2000.

There is a more proper way to visit St. Swithin’s. The inside of the church is open to the public during the summer months on Wednesdays from 11:00-3:00. There’s also a crypt café open Wednesday through Sunday (visit the website for more details and some history about the church). As two clueless tourists, we were most fortunate to encounter such kindness from a stranger and bring an unexpected yet fitting end to our Jane Austen journey.

Visiting Bath and the Mad Hatters Tea Party

When Dorene and I stayed in London in 2011, we ventured outside the city for a day on a bus tour to Bath, Stonehenge, and Salisbury Cathedral. This seemed like the perfect way to visit some of England’s most famous sites, but our plan had one problem. We didn’t realize that the schedule for Bath would allow time for only a tour of the Roman Baths, a brief glance at some of the buildings, and lunch. This was not a satisfying experience of Bath. Disappointed by all that we missed, we decided in 2013 to enjoy Bath properly over three days.

View of Bath from the Parade Gardens. Photo by Dorene

Bath is about 100 miles west of London, and we traveled by train from Paddington Station, a trip that lasted just under 1.5 hours and included many scenic views of the countryside. Located at the Southern end of the Cotswolds, Bath was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 for its cultural significance. (To read about our earlier visit to the Cotswolds, click here.) Like the rest of the Cotswolds, the buildings were constructed from locally mined stone, in this case a type of limestone known as Bath stone. As a dense city on the slope of a hill, the uniformity of the cream-colored buildings creates a memorable impression.

View of Bath from North Parade Bridge. Photo by Dorene
View of Bath from North Parade Bridge. Photo by Dorene

Bath has almost everything that Dorene and I hope to experience when we travel:

  • Historical sites – Including the nearly 2,000-year-old Roman Baths, Georgian-era buildings (the Circus and Royal Crescent), the reconstructed Assembly Rooms (destroyed during World War II), and more.
  • Religious buildings – Bath Abbey, St. John the Evangelist Church, and a few other interesting churches.
  • Literary significance – Jane Austen! (Check back in December for much more about our Jane experiences in Bath.)
  • Museums – Along with the Holburne Museum and the Victoria Art Gallery, we also visited the Fashion Museum and a unique industrial place called the Museum of Bath at Work.
  • Photo opportunities and general sightseeing – Bath is enjoyably walkable, and bus tours within and outside the city provide additional vantage points for seeing the sights.
  • Evening entertainment – We saw a play at the Theater Royal (Noel Coward’s Relative Values) and also experienced something completely different, the Bizarre Bath comedy walk (I’ll try to describe this in a future post).
  • Shopping – Bath has typical chain stores, souvenir shops, and a mall, and also plenty of independent and local businesses, including those in Guildhall Market, the Corridor, and on Pulteney Bridge.
  • Tea and scones (of course) – On our final day in the city, we discovered what would turn out to be our favorite tea room of all the ones we visited in England (I’ll share this experience in December).

During our brief visit to Bath two years earlier, we had rushed through afternoon tea at a little restaurant with an Alice in Wonderland theme. We decided to revisit the place and enjoy it at a relaxed pace. Remembering little about it, we knew that it was somewhere behind Bath Abbey.

In a compact city with buildings made from the same colored stone, Bath Abbey stands out as a dominating structure that serves as a beacon from various vantage points. Once the site of a monastery dating to the 8th century, a Norman cathedral was built there in the 11th and 12th centuries. After the Bishop’s seat moved from Bath to Wells in the 13th century, the building slowly began to decay. The current building, a parish church rather than a cathedral, was started in 1499. This was not good timing. With religious upheaval soon arriving, the building again fell into ruin. After being salvaged in the early 17th century, significant restorations occurred in the 19th century and late 20th century. For its history, stained glass windows, interior and ceiling, monuments, memorials, wall tablets, and even contemporary artwork, Bath Abbey provides a worthy opportunity for a leisurely stroll.

Dorene at Bath Abbey
Dorene outside Bath Abbey

Behind Bath Abbey (the East End), there is a small circular park called the Orange Grove. Could there really be an orange grove in England? A nearby sign cleared up this question for me. It was named for the Prince of Orange to commemorate his visit to Bath in 1734.

In the building seen in the photo on the left, we found the Mad Hatters Tea Party.

Outside sign and seating area. Photo by Dorene
Outside sign and seating. Photo by Dorene

There are only four tables inside, two on each side of the door, and a few more outside. Given that it was a cool day with off and on rain showers, sitting outside was not an option. There was one available table inside, so we sat down to order Afternoon Tea for Two.

Dorene’s Assessment

Afternoon tea at the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Photo by Dorene
Afternoon Tea for Two at the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Photo by Dorene
  • Tea – Standard, enjoyable tea fare.
  • Sandwiches – Afternoon tea usually includes a few varieties of finger sandwiches, but at the Mad Hatters Tea Party, we each had to chose one sandwich. There were multiple options listed above the counter, which caused us a bit of confusion as we tried to decide which ones to order, finally selecting one with chicken and one with brie. The sandwiches were served on soft, thick white or brown bread, and the quality of both sandwiches was excellent. However, as an afternoon tea traditionalist, Dorene would have preferred finger sandwiches. With scones still to eat, we did not finish the sandwiches.
  • Scones – Medium-sized with plenty of cream and jam. They were not too sweet, which is how Dorene prefers scones.
  • Service – Quick and efficient.
  • Atmosphere – The small space is slightly uncomfortable, but there is an enjoyable brightness and color throughout the room.
  • Decor – The many decorations relate to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books or to the spirit of the books, including backwards clocks, a trick teapot, and reproductions of John Tenniel’s illustrations from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (there are just a few references to the 1951 Disney film). The plates and teapots coordinate nicely with the theme. Visit the Mad Hatters Tea Party website for photos of the decorations inside.
  • Overall Rating

    Good place to visit
    Good place to visit

Diane’s Thoughts

As part of my ongoing initiation into the world of afternoon tea, I discovered what now seems obvious: I should not expect traditional afternoon tea at a place that pays homage to the unconventional world of Wonderland, the Mad Tea Party, and the Hatter.

The Hatter

Many tea rooms in England and the U.S. are named “The Mad Hatters (or Hatter’s) Tea Party.” Technically the term “Mad Hatter” never appears in the Alice books, although the Cheshire Cat does describe the Hatter as mad. And the Mad Tea Party occurs in front of the March Hare’s house, not the Hatter’s.

A Mad Tea Party

No matter. It’s the Mad Hatter who has survived in popular culture, and his tea party continues to inspire and delight. While there may be more traditional and comfortable places for afternoon tea, the Mad Hatters Tea Party in Bath is worth visiting for its tribute to Lewis Carroll’s books.

Even the small space may bring to mind Alice’s tendency to find herself not quite the right size.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland illustrations from www.alice-in-wonderland.net.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrations from www.alice-in-wonderland.net.

Side Hop

Not far from the Mad Hatters Tea Party and Orange Grove is Grand Parade, which offers views of the River Avon. Since the original meaning of the word “avon” is river, several unconnected rivers in England ended up with the same redundant name.

Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon. Photo by Dorene
Pulteney Bridge over the River Avon. Photo by Dorene

Apropos of the unconventional, the bridge crossing the river in this photo is Pulteney Bridge, one of only four bridges in the world lined with shops.

Shops on Pulteney Bridge. Photo by Dorene
Shops on Pulteney Bridge. Photo by Dorene

While the bridge has architectural significance and adds to the beauty of viewing the river against the backdrop of the buildings, having only four of these bridges in the world sounds just right to me. Our inn was on the other side of the bridge, so we crossed it several times each day. Most of the time I forgot that I was walking on a bridge. Of course this illusion makes the architectural achievement even more remarkable, and without question Pulteney Bridge works as a tourist attraction. In most cities, though, I would prefer to feel the experience of walking over a river and enjoy views of water winding through a city.

Tea with Mr. Selfridge…and His Mistresses

The tea ritual: such  precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony…  —Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (part 1 of quote)

In the spring of 2013, PBS aired Mr. Selfridge, a miniseries about Harry Gordon Selfridge, an American who went to London and opened a department store on Oxford Street in 1909. It was an 8-part series with Jeremy Piven playing the title character. I watch many of the Masterpiece series, but this one I skipped. Dorene did watch the series and, after just a few episodes, decided that we would visit Selfridges during our trip to England in June.

Only the first day of our trip would be spent in London, which we had visited two years earlier. With a midday arrival, we decided to keep the first day of our vacation simple with limited sightseeing. After dropping off our suitcases at our hotel in the Lancaster Gate/Kensington Gardens area, we walked down Bayswater Road, which becomes Oxford Street right around Marble Arch. There is a Tube station near Selfridges (Bond Street), but since we were not on a tight schedule, a 30-minute walk along the edge of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park was a welcome way to re-energize after a long flight. Speaking of walking, this is a good time to mention an important point about the Tea and Scone Hop. Because the scones, clotted cream, tea cakes, and pastries associated with afternoon tea may not represent the healthiest of choices, maintaining other healthy practices is key. We were fortunate that our vacation involved walking each day

Not long after we passed Marble Arch, Dorene caught sight of Selfridges in the distance.

Selfridges clock and statue of the Queen of Time. Photo by Dorene
Selfridges clock and statue of the Queen of Time. Photo by Dorene

The inside of Selfridges, which looks like a standard department store, does not mirror the grandeur of the outside. It nevertheless does impress, with 6 floors that total about 10 acres; large crowds of both Londoners and tourists; famous designer collections; the ever-present yellow shopping bags that advertise people’s willingness to spend lots of money there; and a surprisingly long line of people waiting just for a chance to view Prada products.

I am not a high-end shopper and would leave without a yellow bag, but I was looking forward to eating lunch at Selfridges. As we walked around, I had to reorient myself to English floor designations. What Americans call the first floor is the ground floor in England, while England’s first floor is what we would call the second floor. The store guide proved a struggle for me, so Dorene asked a salesperson if there was a restaurant that served afternoon tea. He directed us to Dolly’s on the lower ground floor (basement level) and told us, “It’s in the middle of the store.”

And it was. We had seen other restaurants along the sides, but Dolly’s is simply a section of the display floor, adjacent to an escalator, that has been gated off and turned into a small cafe. It opened in March 2011 and was named for Mr. Selfridge’s mistresses. “He had two mistresses named Dolly?” I asked when Dorene told me this. Not quite. Originally from Hungary, identical twins Jenny and Rosie became known as the Dolly Sisters for their vaudevillian act. Click here to see the menu, which includes a rather scandalous picture of the twins.

Sign at the cafe. Photo by Dorene
Sign at the cafe. Photo by Dorene

Dolly’s has an enclosed kitchen in the center and a display case of pastries on one side. This leaves limited room for tables in narrow passages on the remaining three sides of the kitchen. Our wait for a table was about 15 minutes, and one or more people seemed to be waiting at all times. Yet in the spirit of afternoon tea, the staff did not try to rush patrons in and out.

Dorene’s Assessment

Afternoon Tea for Two. Photo by Dorene
Afternoon Tea for Two. Photo by Dorene
  • Tea – an enjoyable, standard English Breakfast Tea. Dorene appreciated the strainer for the cup that captured the loose tea leaves from the teapot.  An attached tray could be moved under the strainer to catch any dripping liquid when moved to the side.
  • Finger sandwiches (4 for each of us) – smoked salmon, chicken, egg salad, and cucumber and cream cheese. The amount of filling in each sandwich was small, but they were all good.
  • Scones – one fruited and one plain. Dorene and I both prefer plain scones, but I took the fruited one since I know how much she loves her scones. Dorene thought that the scone was small and mildly sweet. She’s more accustomed to scones in the U.S., which tend to be less sweet than those in England.
  • Pastries – one lemon and one strawberry tart. We took half of each, although Dorene was too full to eat the strawberry tart.  The lemon tart had “citron” written on top in chocolate, and the amount of lemon flavor was just right. The strawberry tart had a generous amount of strawberries.
  • Service – pleasant staff. Our waitress knew that we were visiting Dolly’s for the first time, and when we were finished, she asked what we liked best. “The scones, of course,” was Dorene’s reply.
  • Atmosphere – noisy.  While there is a novelty to ordering tea while sitting in the middle of a historic department, there’s no way to escape that you are sitting in the middle of a bustling department store, next to the escalator for that matter.
  • Decor – Dolly’s is described as having an Art Deco design. Dorene is an aficionado of the Art Deco movement and did not think that there was much to say about Art Deco at Dolly’s.
  • Overall grade – B

Diane’s Thoughts

The first sandwich I ate was the cucumber and cream cheese. I was so hungry that I finished it in just a few bites – probably breaching some form of afternoon tea etiquette. I was also concerned about another etiquette issue. After spreading the strawberry jam on my scone, I dipped my knife into the clotted cream. The remnants of jam on my knife ended up spoiling the pure color of the cream in the dish, which I feared betrayed my lack of social grace. I asked Dorene whether there should have been a separate knife for the cream. She hesitated, said that there probably should have been separate knives, but clearly had never before put any thought into the issue. Later, I figured out why this was not an issue for her. Dorene spreads the clotted cream onto the scone first and then puts the jam on top. Her knife is clean when it touches the clotted cream.

Had I been eating my scones wrong?

I googled pictures of scones, and while jam on top of clotted cream seems the more common method for eating scones, there were some pictures with the cream on top of the jam. I guess I’ll stick to my way.

While afternoon tea at Dolly’s does not invoke the “serene harmony” depicted in Muriel Barbery’s quote above, there is at least the opportunity to step away from the bustle, excess, and, yes, the absurdity. As evidenced by the variety of customers we saw at Dolly’s that day, from businessmen and tourists to multigenerational families and single shoppers, there is truth to the idea of the universality of tea. The price of 28.95 pounds for Afternoon Tea for Two does not quite support the notion of “at little cost,” but given that everything in London is expensive, tea at Dolly’s was worth the experience.

Side Hop

Like a sidebar, this section of each post will include additional thoughts or information beyond our quest for tea and scones. Here are some options for learning more about the people behind Selfridges and Dolly’s:

  • For a history of the department store, visit the timeline on the Our Heritage page of Selfridges website.
  • For a brief analysis of the relationship between Mr. Selfridge and the Dolly Sisters, visit the Jazz Age Club website.
  • Gary Chapman, author of The Dolly Sisters: Icons of the Jazz Age, has a blog devoted to the sisters, dollysisters.wordpress.com.
  • The sisters were even the subject of a 1945 movie starring Betty Grable and June Haver. IMDb does not list Mr. Selfridge as one of the characters. For a synopsis of the movie, visit TCM’s website.
  • The book that was used as the basis for the miniseries is Shopping, Seduction, and Mr. Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead.
  • For fans of the miniseries, PBS has ordered a second season, which will air in 2014. Now that I know more about Selfridges than any other store I’ve ever visited, perhaps I may get on board.