Although the notion of teatime has always been as British as green wellies, tweed jackets and roast beef, there is no doubt that the last decade has seen an explosion in the number of new tea rooms and hotel tea parlours all over the land. Once the preserve of the elderly or of small children before their bath and bedtime, teatime is the new apotheosis of chicness, social determinism and baking prowess. And teatime’s success is richly deserved. Since the middle of the Georgian era the genteel classes have taken a mid-afternoon snack as dinner was traditionally served later than it is today. The idea caught on since the Duchess of Bedford, Lady of the Bedchamber 1847-1841, visited Belvoir Castle in Rutalns, and asked the servants to bring her Darjeeling tea with cakes and sandwiches. The idea then spread throughout the aristocracy, which then disseminated across the aspirational middle classes and by the end of the nineteenth century it was the practice across the British Empire to stop for tea between 4pm and 5pm.
How interesting it is to see then a Greek publishing house and a French photographer come together to create a very comprehensive guide to that most British and metropolitan of institutions, the taking of tea in London. “Teatime” is a 250 page, 26cm x 30 cm hardback book created to celebrate the richness and diversity of this most singular of British meals. After a long and successful career photographing the top chefs, restaurateurs, hotels and food and drink artisans in the world, Jean Cazals, who lives in Notting Hill, has taken a journey around his favourite 50 tea rooms, hotels and restaurants in the capital, some very famous and some of which I had never realised were specialised in tea and patisserie until I read the book.
Papadakis is an independent, family owned book publisher based in Berkshire, and they are famous for their books on art, architecture, decorative arts and natural sciences. They work to the same high standard as Taschen and their books are collectible, combining the authority and definition of a discipline that is well researched and recounted, with the individual voice and professional enthusiasm of the compiler.
Jean Cazals’s photography has graced the pages of umpteen national newspapers, lifestyle and travel magazines and cookery books, and he has won many awards for his work, yet this is his first book in his own name. He shoots with a Panasonic Lumix G3 camera, mainly in natural daylight, but there is a moody penumbra, a juxtaposition of chiaroscuro and light that underpins his technique. The photographs will have you immersed for hours: this is an accomplished book that merits a central place on the drawing room table, guest room tallboy or front of bookcase. Heavy, glossy, stylised, graphic and sensual, it packs a punch as both a travel micro-memoir and a gastronomic reference touchstone. If you know someone who is a lover of tea, patisserie and fine hotels and restaurants, this is the ultimate gift.
When asked why he had decided to create a book on tea time in London, Jean replied:
“The link between interior, atmosphere, people and teatime. A 5 o’clock indulgence is unique to Great Britain, something that links all social classes, something that did help them win the War, something that teaches you to stop and think.”
The book itself helps you stop and think, as well as analyse the confluence of escapism, theatre, affluence, urbanisation and the desire to meet, socialise and watch the world go by in modern society. Teatime exists as a ritual because there is demand for it, even at exorbitantly high prices and in ever more complex, layered and sophisticated manifestations. More is undoubtedly more in this Alice in Wonderland party: cakes are moulded in the shape of stiletto shoes, multiple stripes of jelly glisten in cocktail shot glasses, little marshmallow knots sit in rows on black slate and biscuit and caramelised popcorn lollipops stand on coloured, shiny sherbet stands.
The text is written by Jemima Sissons who is a travel writer and editor, and she has created a short and succinct summary of the different venues: from the black laquer and imperial red interiors of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, to the neo-byzantine glamour of The Criterion, the earthy, organic natural tones of Daylesford Farmshop and Café, and the informal, down-to-earth approach of Rose Carrarini’s bakery, she describes the history, people, provenance and philosophy behind each place. As you turn the pages you see technicolour wallpapers, vintage teacups, terracotta teapots, silver cutlery, upholstered leather banquettes and floral sofas.
You will learn that Fortnum and Mason started its illustrious history in 1707 as a supplier of candles to the Royal Household, that One Aldwych originally opened in 1907 in its original incarnation as the newspaper offices of The Morning Post and that from your tea table in the National Portrait Gallery you will be able to look out onto Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
In La Fromagerie you take tea and chocolate pecan nut brownies next to lines of cheese books on a wooden table. At Peggy Porschen’s tea shop you can escape, like a child, into a sea of polka dot pastel pink and frosted icing gingerbread houses as you eat your way through apple strudel cupcakes. In the resplendent ornateness of The Savoy, a three tiered silver salva cake stand is filled with wafer thin salmon sandwiches, pastel coloured macarons, fruit cake, carrot cake and vanilla lavender eclairs.
For each entry there is a recipe, a signature dish that represents the era, provenance and style of the establishment: The Modern Pantry proffers “Green Tea Scones with Gooseberry and Vanilla Compote”, the perfect Victoria Sponge is detailed in The Ritz entry and do take a look at Chef Stephen Tonkin’s “Gloucester Old Spot Sausage Roll” at Dean Street Townhouse.
Despite the enormity of this work and the time and research it must have taken to compile it, I cannot help but envy the team. I wonder whether they ate all the photo subject matter after the shoot, whether the photography was done before or after opening hours, in the tranquillity of a private viewing, and how the decisions were arrived at to include some venues whilst excluding others. Oh to have been a proverbial fly on the wall!
This book will inspire you to go and investigate: like all good culinary guides and reviews, it makes you want to sit at that table, in front of the fruit tartlets, cream puffs, chocolate biscuits, meringue nests and pots of Ceylon Orange Pekoe and tall glasses of Champagne. You will want to smell, taste, touch and see whether it is all as good as the imagery in the pages. A well-made tea is surely worth more in satisfaction and uplift than a good lunch or dinner, for it encompasses simultaneous savoury and sweet treats with a hot drink and pomp and circumstance to boot, at a time of day when most of us are genuinely hungry.
The Foreword is written by the Queen of Patisserie, Claire Clark, an English born chef who taught at Le Cordon Bleu Cookery School and worked at Claridges and The Wolseley, before being hired by Thomas Keller as Head of Patisserie at The French Laundry in California. She is also the Author of “Indulge: 100 Perfect Dessert Recipes”, published by Absolute Press with photography, again by Jean Cazals.
Much shines through in this book: the talent of all the chefs, designers, stylists, architects and management behind these wonderful 50 places and the skill and craftsmanship of Jean Cazals and the Papadakis team in creating this work. It is exciting, engaging, communal and colourful. Much like a well prepared tea.
Jean Cazals: www.jeancazals.net
Follow Jean on Twitter: @jcazals
Papadakis Publishers: www.papadakis.net
Follow the team on Twitter: @papadakisbooks