Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Lady Mendl Moment

I Heart New York. And after this recent trip, I Heart Lady Mendl's Tea Salon.  When my friend, P, asked me what I wanted to do while in town, and I mentioned I wouldn't be opposed to afternoon tea, she immediately did a little research (as she is wont to do) and made reservations at the celebrated tea salon. As it turned out, it was exactly the spot I had been researching myself, so I couldn't have been happier.

The history of Lady Mendl herself is rather fascinating and a little racy for her time, and I think she would approve of the salon that now bears her name. It's a place where people can gather in a chic, comfortable atmosphere and enjoy each other's company. 

P and I go way back - back to our exchange to France in college. And while we live on opposite coasts, she is one of those non-negotiables in my life. I don't get to see her nearly enough as I would like, so each visit is precious.

On Saturdays and Sundays, there are two seatings available, and we opted for the first one at 2:30 - as did apparently half of NYC's female society. It was a packed house, and we were glad to be a little early, as we were able to secure a corner table with zebra-carved chairs. (Ivory? Hard to tell). The wait staff was plentiful and exceptional, and we were immediately served an amuse-bouche of a mini quiche. This is where it can be tricky to review a tea room with one of my closest friends. I get so caught up in catching up that I miss the details. The most important detail, however, is how the place made us feel. And it created the perfect environment. There was a comfortable mix of small tables and chairs, comfortable divans and low tables, and large tables to accomodate bridal or baby showers.

Next, we were offered the tea menu, which provided a solid selection of black teas, green teas, oolongs, white teas and herbal infusions. There were also house specialty blends. I went with the "Connoisseur" blend, while P went with the Red Lychee. The tea pots came out fully steeped and with the tea leaves removed, so there was no need for strainers. The wait staff poured, and it was the very rare occasion when I ever re-poured for myself. Talk about service!
Shortly after the tea was delivered, a gentleman came around with a platter of tea sandwiches. There were four to choose from, so of course we had to try one of each. While I'm a fan of the tiered service tray that typically delivers your entire tea service, I admit I liked this personalized service and the option to gorge on your favorite. (Not that I would ever...) He even came around for seconds, which allowed me to indulge in just a couple more cucumber sandwiches.
Of course, the downfall of eating more than 4 tea sandwiches is the inability to finish dessert! All I know is that it was a beautiful slice of some kind of cheesecake along with a chocolate covered strawberry and some gingerbread cookies with cream filling. It was all we could do to even have a small bite of each. Delicious, rich and gorgeous. No need to fear leaving unsatisfied!

I can't speak for P, but I believe I drank about 2 pots of tea. The luxury of lingering over an afternoon tea for a couple of hours is something I never get over or take for granted. We caught up on family, mutual friends, weddings, babies, work, places to live, places to travel, current interests, current conondrums and more. There's nothing more comfortable than being able to lay thoughts out on the table and have someone be able to understand it all without needing any additional explanation. They know where you've come from, what's important to you, who the key players are and your intended trajectory. They know when you're looking for input or just needing an ear. 

Here's to good and faithful friends! And here's to Lady Mendl's for providing such a conducive environment for enjoying tea moments with them!

Lady Mendl's Tea Salon at the Inn at Irving Place
56 Irving Place New York, NY 10003
Reservations required: 212-533-4466
  • Served Monday to Friday: 3pm or 5pm seating
  • Wednesday and Friday Matinee Seating: 12pm
  • Saturday and Sundays: 12pm, 2:30pm or 5pm seatings
  • 5 Course Tea, $35 per person