Sunday, November 2, 2008

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

Sunday, November 2. 2008

Our day began early even before the rest of Holborn was stirring. Llew and I decided to attend the 9 am Mass at St. Etheldreda's Parish at Ely Place as I could not wait to introduce him to this gem of a medieval church in the heart of the city of London. The mass was said by Fr. Simon Giles, a visiting priest from Radcliff College, Leicestershire. Barbara was in church too and we said a quick hullo to her before she walked briskly off to pick up the Sunday paper.

Llew and I got back home for a swift cup of coffee before showering and getting all decked up for our big date with our friend Bande Hassan, CEO of Habib Bank who invited us to Afternoon Tea at the Ritz--one of London's most celebrated traditions. It was, in fact, nine years ago, that we had all entered the Ritz together to take tea, only to be stopped by a maitre d' who politely informed us that we were inappropriately dressed for the occasion in our sneakers. In all the years that we have kept visiting London, we could never get reservations the week we were in town. Finally, Mr. Hasan made this appointment nearly three months ago in preparation for Llew's November return to the city.

On a day that was far milder than yesterday and with sunlight gilding the streets, we arrived at the lobby of the hotel--one of the world's most famous. Within the superbly decorated space with its Aubusson carpet, marble columns and gilded plasterwork, we awaited our host's arrival. I was struck by a charming arrangement of vivid pink roses in a tall mercury glass coupe that dominated the center table. The softness of pinks, greens and beige kept the space classy without becoming opulent.

Soon, Mr. Hasan arrived and we checked in our coats before proceeding to the Palm Court where tables were artfully arranged in classic style to allow us to partake of one of the country's most beloved meals--Afternoon Tea. After we were seated politely and carefully--Llew and me on an intimate bench, our host opposite us--menus were presented to inform us about the variety of items we'd be served. A three tier cake stand arrived piled with finger sandwiches--ham, chicken, cucumber, smoked salmon, cheese, tomato and Egg Mayonnaise in small brioche rolls. The waiter then took our order for tea--I chose Earl Grey which I always enjoy with a squeeze of lemon while Llew and Mr. Hasan chose the Traditional Blend. In beautiful silver tea pots, the liquid was perfectly brewed. More sets of sandwiches were available if we wished for seconds. People around whispered quietly and I tried to, discreetly, spot any celebrities, but there was no one I could recognize among the beautiful people that filled the space.

Ten minutes later, the waiter returned with our scones--Apple and Raisin Scones with large pots filled with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Though the scones were nowhere as soft, crumbly and melt-in-the-mouth delicious as the ones we had eaten at the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchihall Street in Glasgow, Scotland, only a few weeks ago, the strawberry jam was particularly flavorful and make each morsel memorable.

When we eventually turned our attention to the sweets, pastries and mini cakes on the top most platter, we were already stuffed. But they looked far too appetizing to be ignored and no arms needed to be twisted to reach an indulgent hand forward to move the macaroons, chocolate truffle cake, raspberry cream tarts and Mille Feuilles to our plates. Every little temptation was so beautifully made and so exquisitely presented. We were truly enchanted by the efforts made by the management to charm and delight during a two hour meal whose service was unhurried, polite and very polished.

We thanked Mr. Hasan profusely for his generosity in treating us to so fine a privilege and since he had some shopping to do on Oxford Street, we walked along with him along Old Bond and New Bond Streets with their million dollar merchandise throughout the length of the two streets until we arrived at Oxford Street. Once again, I sat down to rest my feet while the two friends whose friendship goes back several decades spent some quality time together.

After we said goodbye to Mr. Hasan, Llew and I went to Marks and Sparks on Oxford Street as I badly needed an undergarment fitting scheduled. This was done very well by a young assistant called Kimberly who did an excellent and very patient job fitting me and recommending the right style and size for my figure type. I was so glad of her expert advice and left the store with a few packets in my bags and the decision to order a few more upon my return from Greece.

By this time, my feet had started to feel tired and we hopped into a bus and arrived at Holborn before night blanketed all vestiges of light. We had so much to do as both of us have to pack for our early morning departure tomorrow for Gatwick airport and our flight to Athens, Greece. We're looking forward to exploring ancient cultures and to cruising upon the Aegean Sea.

I will not be able to contribute to this blog for the next 10 days. So I should sign this installment off by saying, Au Revoir...

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