Bring back the Afternoon Tea!
Twee is not a word I associate with, or associate with my associates. So I was just as surprised as anyone when I suggested we all go for Afternoon Tea. The sheer novelty of it meant we'd agreed and booked it before we had really thought it through. Do we need to wear a shirt? Do only rich people do it? Is tea a verb? Is it weird for people under the age of 60 to tea? The answer to all those questions is no, at the beautiful Dean Street Townhouse at least.
Afternoon Tea as a concept is very special indeed. It fills that festering void between the afternoon and evening, when lunch is a distant memory and dinner still just a glimmer on the horizon; when we all sit in plump chairs and ponder the point of cushions; when your Gran falls asleep, not because she's old, but because she's run out of things to eat.
But somewhere along the line, the concept of the Afternoon Tea has been degraded to a moment where someone is bored to the point actually doing someone a favour, and half-heartedly mumbles the word: "Tea?"
A mug of tea has nothing to do with Afternoon Tea. Tea what you have at work in a Sports Direct mug. It's what you dunk McVities in or spill on your keyboard. If my thoroughly pleasant two hours at Dean Street Townhouse taught me anything, its that we need to reinstate Afternoon Tea as a meal, next to Breakfast, Elevenses, Brunch, Lunch, Dippy Doppy Doos and Dinner.
Afternoon Tea (I'm capping it up, because it's a thing) at Dean Street is brilliant. Everyone should try it. Think of a wintery afternoon spent near a log fire, with cakes, sandwiches, scones, jam and clotted cream. Think of the blue porcelain china, the gentle clink of cups on saucers, the steaming tea poured by the politest, most attentive waiters I think I've ever met.
The service at Dean Street Townhouse was so polite and eager to please that there was even a sign on the toilet door that read "no need to watch the step". Unfortunately this didn't extend to taking our coats, which we were forced to dump unceremoniously next to our chairs. Still, I was distracted by the gorgeous dining room, already candlelit and atmospheric by 3pm on a Saturday. There were chequered tiles, patterned wallpapers and a log fire blazing away, and happy couples whispering conspiratorially.
To be honest, the food was nothing to shout about, but that wasn't a problem. The finger sandwiches were just that, dainty and perfectly delicious. They also made you feel like a giant, holding a tiny sandwich in a comparatively enormous hand. But their contents were evidently high quality. The "assorted cakes" too were a little Coalition (does what it says on the tin apparently) - selected with no apparent cohesion in mind. The scones, however, were fantastic. Perhaps helped by the fact that even a bad scone is still a good scone, I could have sat there and eaten them until my stomach sent a warning shot north.
This would, of course, be frowned upon in such a lovely venue, as vomiting is in most social circles. But there is no pretence about Dean Street. Among the cosy, well-dressed couples were ladies who lunch, downing Prosecco and squarking about boys, friends in hoodies and surrounded by Primark bags, and a bunch of lads laughing at the idea of tasting the wine before pouring all the glasses. We were all sunk into our cosy armchairs with the smell of the log fire and tea sending us into our own little worlds, albeit it with one eye on the last scone.
The recession has done two things to the restaurant-dining public. It's happily made us ditch pretence, and go for cheap eats, hearty recipes and comfort foods; and it's reinforced the idea that if we don't have as much money, we might as well spend it on good food. Rather than in HMV.
It was this need to spend £16.75 on some cucumber sandwiches that brought me to the Dean Street Townhouse. I don't really have a sweet tooth, nor do I really like cucumber. But something about an Afternoon Tea caught my imagination on a day when London looked like it was dusted with icing sugar. It was a chance to pretend for once that I was rich and so overwhelmingly contented with my life that I could find nothing better to do than sip tea from porcelain and marvel at superfluousness of cake stands. It turns out I wasn't pretending.