For those who are interested, the total consumption by myself was 2 cups of tea, three pots of tea, 5 little sandwiches (no crusts), 4 slices of cake and a selection of sweeties. Rest assured that I do not make a habit of this. Let me also make it clear that this does not include generic cups of tea consumed at breakfast or in the evening.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Ruth, Maja and I met in St Pancras, a wonderful place to watch the world go by, admire the architecture of the station sweeping in graceful arcs overhead and home to a branch of Peyton and Byrne. They make the most wonderful cakes. They look so beautiful that choosing is hard and going without friends is nigh on impossible because then you would only be able to try the one you order. I chose banana and chocolate cake. Sounds simple, but don't let that deceive you. Three layers of rich chocolate sponge are sandwiched with two layers of soft, light, banana cream, pale yellow in contrast to the deep cocoa shade of the cake. Topped with a dark chocolate ganache and finished with a rather frivolous dusting of pink sugar sprinkles, it was heavenly – my favourite slice of the day!
There was a long queue – understandable – and I went through ahead of the others hoping to snag a table. Which I managed to do – it was the last one just outside the doors. Chairs posed more of a problem. For a while, I loitered next to the table-with-no-chairs trying not to eat my cake and sipping my tea. Before long however, the next table finished up and left, and as they did so, brought all their chairs to me. I smiled my best birthday smile and thanked them before proceeding to spend the next few minutes defending them from predatory chair snatchers from other tables. However, before long we were all seated, swapping gossip, stories and cake. Ruth went for the lemon and poppy seed cake with brightly coloured icing, inadvertently offending the woman behind the counter by calling it green instead of yellow. It was green. But tasty! Maja had a chocolate hazelnut tart and managed not to offend anybody. Discussion ensued traversing topics as profound as the nature of materialism and as practical as the area one should expect to knit from a single ball of angora wool to make it worth the price.
Inevitably late, (her words, not mine!) Tori joined us at twelve and we began to prepare to potter onwards, towards Drink, Shop and Do. Still feeling like four pretty sophisticated ladies of independent means who also happen to like tea and cake. A lot.
How to describe Drink, Shop and Do? Think of vintage fifties with a dash of seventies and then add some brilliantly mismatched furniture and china teacups. Picture with this some twinkly lights and a bar and put it all in a large white room with plaster decorations. Upon arrival we immediately swooned over the decor and one large round table with a glass top. You could imagine Alice standing underneath it looking up through the surface at a cake marked “Eat Me”. Instead, we looked down through it onto a hoard of boxes of Scrabble. It was reserved but not until two thirty, and clearly we would have moved on by then.
It being lunchtime, we decided to add sandwiches to our repertoire and ordered afternoon tea. Cue the sandwiches – smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber, cheese and pickle, and ham and mustard – followed by orange drizzle cake so moist it practically left a puddle on the plate. Following that was a plain sponge sandwiched and topped with lavender infused icing which was fragrant but not overpowering. Finally, we were brought a teacup of sweets. All the delights were artfully arranged on a china cake stand and I feel we achieved true elegance.
Interestingly everything you can see is for sale. Before they brought our afternoon tea over, the cake stand was priced £35 on a shelf. One presumes that there it will return, upon the consumption of its occupants. You could buy your teacup (very pretty as I swapped with Maja), your saucer, your teapot (in my case, golf themed, so no), the decorations on the walls... I wondered what would happen if one wanted to buy the teacup of another customer. Could one demand it’s immediate retraction from business? Could one, in fact, buy the other customers? I put this question to Tori and she offered to buy me. Unhelpful.
Gradually, others arrived: Robert, Liz and Lauren all made it and we had a good natter. I had begun to think that life could not be much improved at this point. However, this was when we discovered the existence of sherbet on the menu. For £1.50, you could purchase a teacup full of the sherbet of your choice and a lollipop to dip into it. Investigating this more thoroughly, I found I could mix lime-green sherbet and blue its-flavour-shall-remain-nameless sherbet, half and half. So I did, in good company with Ruth – pink cream soda sherbet – and Tori - blue sherbet. Oh, and a second pot of tea, lapsang souchong, to wash it all down.
At around a quarter to three, the party who had booked the table arrived and we had to abandon our scene of happy hours passed in good company. Plus I was feeling a bit jazzed by the sugar and perky on the caffeine so it was probably time for a walk into Old London Town. We kissed goodbye to three of our number, and Ruth, Maja, Liz and I proceeded.
Wandering through Bloomsbury is a bit like going back in time. The terraced houses march in beautiful uniform rows, whispering ages gone by. Debating the cuts and the unions’ protests we stumbled across an unplanned teashop on the way to the next place, named, minimally, No 26. However, there was an enormously fat Victoria sponge in the window that was positively oozing jam and cream and so we ventured within.
It was a contrast to the previous place, partly with the quite masculine, uber-chic minimalist decor, and partly given that we didn’t feel much like cake having literally eaten a cup a sugar. Liz and Ruth didn’t even feel like tea and succumbed to the darker influences of tea’s stronger sister: coffee. I had Earl Grey, just to keep the end up. We loitered for perhaps half an hour before waving goodbye to Liz and pottering on to appointment number 4...
YumChaa is nestled in Soho and is frankly my favourite place to get tea in London. The cake does not quite equal Peyton and Byrne and it doesn’t have the themed fabulousness that Drink, Shop and Do has, but it is utterly charming, again, with mismatched furniture and shabby-chic wallpapering that brings to mind a lived-in-and-loved cottage. Plus they have innumerable little pots of tea on the counter that you can inhale until you hit on the brew that speaks to your soul. You may think I take my tea too seriously. You are mistaken: it is merely that you do not take yours seriously enough. I indulged in a pot of one of my favourite teas; Russian Caravan. Rich and with a slightly smoky, exotic background, it’s my go-to tea at YumChaa. I also ordered a slice of the chocolate loaf for good measure.
However, the lady serving it promptly stuck two slices on my plate. She explained that the first slice had been cut very thin so she’d give me a second free of charge. I may have looked alarmed because she pointed out that people normally had quite a positive reaction to being given an extra slice.... I burst into giggles and countered that she had no idea how much cake I had already eaten and thanked her for my birthday treat. I wrapped up one piece to take home. Ruth had a selection of macaroons and a delicious pot of caramel sweetheart tea which I promptly added to my mental must-have list for the future. I shared some of my cake with Maja who was flagging and could manage neither tea nor cake. She lacks experience but we’ll make something of her yet. Ruth offered us a nibble on her macaroons. Innuendo five.
We sat and chatted until six. Protesters wandered in and out, drinking tea and writing slogans such as “Tory Scum” on their faces with lipstick. We spent a fascinating ten minutes watching a girl braid her own hair in an incredibly complicated and lovely way without a mirror whilst carrying on a conversation.
Gradually, we began to feel sleepy. We gathered up our stuff and departed, hopping on the tube to take us home. But not before a half hour spent wandering a vast Paperchase on Goodge Street. Scored some Washi tape.
For those of you keeping count, I had: 1 cup of English Breakfast Tea, One pot of Ceylon Orange and Cherry, One Pot of Lapsang Souchong, One cup of Earl Grey and One pot of Russian Caravan. Cakewise, we're talking one Banana and Chocolate cake, 5 finger sandwiches, Orange drizzle cake, Lavander sponge, a handful of sweets, a cup of lime-and-blue sherbert and a lollipop, and a slice of chocolate loaf cake.
Oh, and by nine we were pretty hungry so Ruth, Maja, Robert and I polished off a couple of large Dominos pizzas, some potato wedges and some garlic bread.
Author’s note: If the thought of eating all this makes you feel slightly queasy, allow me to reiterate that I do not make a habit of it, however much I would like to. Also know that all it takes is a bit of willpower, some good friends to help you, a love of food and some practice. It’s not for amateurs.
P.S. This is part of my experimenting with writing the journalling before I ever make the scrapbook pages. I really think this will help me to get more detailed, as-it-really-happened journalling that I will love to remember.
P.P.S. It's census night! Going to make mac and cheese, watch the census episode of the West Wing and fill in that baby.