I’ve loved Brown’s since I had breakfast in the Oxford one many moons ago. It’s a mid-price range place that covers your needs from breakfast to dinner and looks really nice inside without being stuffy and pretentious. It’s a smart casual place, which is what you need when you want to have a good time without putting in the effort to dress up. We had a couple of gift cards that came from family members that insist they need to buy Christmas presents, and it was a very welcome compromise. Back in the time before lockdown, we have attempted to go for an evening meal at the Mayfair branch after Mass at Farm Street, since the worse-half was, at the time, reading Brideshead Revisited after two years of me pleading for it to happen.
Mayfair is still closed, and I was itching for a change of pace even if it came at the cost of wearing an uncomfortable mask that makes me cough and get a headache, so we decided to turn it around and have an early afternoon tea at the Victoria branch instead, before Mass at the Oratory. It’s a quiet hidden spot in Cardinal Place, or at least it was at the time. We passed by the Botanist on Sloane Square on our way back to the station and you’d think Covid-19 was never a thing judging by how packed it was. It was still well attended and lively, even with the social distancing measures, and the staff was courteous, so it never felt like living in some kind of dystopia.
I don’t think I have been to many afternoon teas in my life in London, it’s the kind of thing I do either with visitors because it’s a traditional British thing, or at hen parties because it seems to be the norm these days. I eat small meals frequently rather than big meals so that I can keep a resemblance of stable blood sugar, and often afternoon teas come too full for what I can stomach. This was one such case, I think the only time I managed to eat the whole portion was in the thick of winter at the Rembrandt. It makes me quite sad, actually, that I could only eat the savouries, the scones, and part of the chocolate mousse because the cakes looked amazing.
We started with a virgin cocktail, and I ordered the Elderflower Sherbet, which was nice but a bit on the sweet side for me. The afternoon tea itself had all the classics with some contemporary twists. The individual pots with good quality leaves gave us two full cups before the tea became too steep and undrinkable, with a lovely aroma that made it a pleasure to drink. I like the touch of individual tea pots, not everyone does it but I am a light tea drinker so I like not to have to argue over how long we should let the pot infuse.
I loved the sandwiches, although a couple were on the wet side for my taste, and I was particularly fond of the twist on the egg mayo, which came in a brioche bun (I’m a big fan of brioche buns) and the salmon and cream cheese, which came on some kind of a whisky & thyme oat cake. The salmon itself was a crowning jewel, delicate and meaty. Then we had two small homely scones, which were plain one and not fruit ones so they were winners with me. I really don’t like to mix the taste of the sultanas to the jam, I’m sorry. In addition to the expected strawberry jam there was some apricot jam too, which was a lovely touch. It’s not my favourite jam for scones (that’d be blackcurrant), but I love apricots almost as much as peaches and I haven’t had apricot jam in years.
Call me sentimental, but it reminded me of tea with my paternal grandmother who used to make a cake with multiple jams swirled in it whenever she had jars running low. She is also the one who instilled in me the idea of an afternoon break with tea and sweets when I was little, so even if I don’t tend to go for the full works very often I have some form of afternoon tea as part of my routine. Alongside the salmon, the first place for most delightful aspect of the afternoon tea at Brown’s was the chocolate and praline flower pot. It was an explosion of chocolate carefully crafted to look like a real flower pot, to the point that my husband did not realise the pot was edible until I pointed out that it tasted like coloured white chocolate.
I never managed to finish it for two reasons: it was really rich, and I was really full. I had been pacing myself, but it was still too much to conquer. Perhaps I had too much for my late breakfast even if it was meant to be light enough to keep the tea as the main meal of the day. In the end, my dinner after Mass consisted of a can of Pimm’s and half a bag of fizzy Colin the Caterpillar. It’s a huge regret that I did not manage to finish the food, so perhaps next time I’ll have to have a lighter or earlier morning meal (perhaps both), or just ditch the rules of etiquette and start with what I missed the last time.
All in all, it was a pleasant experience. The tea comes at a reasonable £20 per person, which is on the lower range of the price range for afternoon tea in London, but it still had that little luxury feeling that sometimes is missing from more expensive places where all you pay for is the name or the location (or both).