Visiting Britain Once Again

Saturday September 15th, 2012.  It is five months and a day since I returned from my semester abroad.  I am back at Arcadia for the fall 2012 semester after a long summer of longing for the place I loved so dearly and desperately clinging to anything that reminds me of it.

That place is London, United Kingdom.  A miracle found me when I discovered “A Taste of Britain” in Wayne, Pennsylvania, a short thirty-minute drive from where I live in Glenside.  Thirty minutes may seem like a far distance—and it is if you do not have a car of your own to take you there—but, considering the rest of the world, Wayne is a short distance from Glenside, especially compared to London.  I spent the entire summer attempting to readjust to life back in the United States.  It was a harder task than I had thought it was going to be.  I longed for London, and looked for pockets of it wherever I went the summer I got back.  I had found exactly what I had been searching for, but failed to find all summer long: a taste of my semester abroad, a taste of London, and most importantly—as the name of the restaurant implies—a taste of British culture.  When I refer to British culture, I am mainly referring to the culture of high tea, which is a tradition in Britain that constitutes a fancy day meal, encompassing dressing in pastels, consuming enormous pots of expensive tea, and lightly spreading jam and clotted cream over flaky scones.

With the above description, this British cultural entity sounds like every young girl’s dream: a giant tea party that includes homemade scones and tea sandwiches instead of plastic cupcakes, real “dress up” that does not involve trying on mother’s oversized heels, and dining with real people instead of overly-rouged dolls.  Although I cannot say that the six-year-old inside of me was so happy for this dream come true the first time I experienced British high tea, I learned that there is more to this British custom than getting dressed up and eating expensive food.  It has been a British tradition since the 1700s, beginning as a meal around three or four in the afternoon, meant for men of the working class. Today, although the meal and the idea of British tea are similar, it has gained much more value in high society and is now a symbol of class, something that is much more prominent in British society than in American society.

Although I am not personally of a higher class, I felt it was very important to experience this component of British culture while I was in London.  Fortunately, the city of London feels the same way because I was able to findseveral cheaper alternatives to 80 pound (120 dollars) high tea at the Ritz.  With the help of my father back in the United States furiously researching affordable high tea restaurants, I was able to find two great places in London that were very reasonable for high tea: “The Court Restaurant at The British Museum” and “Tea and Tattle”.  I used much of my restaurant research skills from my semester in London when I arrived in the United States and had the good fortune to have found this charming high tea place in Wayne.  The statement below expresses my first impression upon walking into “A Taste of Britain”:

I journey to experience “A Taste of Britain” with two people I spent the semester with in London in addition to three friends interested in immersing themselves in a British tea party for the afternoon. Walking in, we are encompassed by mismatched dining ware, each with their own unique set of floral prints.  Then, I look up and spot a copper-tinted ceiling that captures the sun’s rays so slightly and look around to see families around three-tiered trays discussing anything and everything.  Finally, the smell of everything that is British, everything I miss engulfs me.

Scanning the menu, I see various vegetable paninis, creamy soups, and finally, what I had been waiting for: high tea.  The menu is a bit pricey (but reasonable considering the price of high tea), so if you plan on going, make sure you put aside a few hours; if you are spending your money, you should get a worthwhile experience out of it.  A full afternoon tea includes tea sandwiches, a fresh scone accompanied by clotted cream, lemon curd and preserves (jam), an array of small pastries, and a pot of a tea of your choice, but is $18 per person.  There is a variety of alternative meals you can get if you do not want to pay that much money.  My friend and I each received our own pot of tea and giant scone with clotted cream and preserves, and we shared a dish of tea sandwiches (8 sandwiches).  The following was my experience at the exact moment my meal arrived:

The tea is served in a bright yellow pot and I pour it into a pristine white cup with tiny deep blue flowers (pictured), while the scones and sandwiches are arranged artistically on slightly misshapen circular plates with bright pink flowers on them (pictured).  Even better is what is held inside of the delicate cup: my order of warm pomegranate green and white tea. The sandwiches include cucumber and cream cheese, olives and cream cheese, and egg salad.  Alternating between the warmth of the fruity tea dripping down my throat, the creaminess of the clotted cream smeared over preserves on a slightly sweet scone, and the savory relief of the minuscule sandwiches, I am as close as I can be to heaven, at least one that is run by the British.

This was such a great experience, so if you have ever been to Britain and want a taste of it,  if you are interested in high tea at all, or even if you are looking for a nice meal out with good company, I highly recommend “A Taste of Britain”.  In an age of technology and fast food, it is so important to remember the art of a good conversation, the importance of culture, and the immense amount of food there is out there that many Americans have yet to try.   My conclusion to this journey is a corny one, but one that has been told before:

A pot of tea for one?  $2.95

A scone with preserves and clotted cream? $4.50

Shared tea sandwiches? $8

A taste of Britain to bring me back to my incredible semester in London?  Priceless

Photo Credit: Emma Hickey, Loco Mag contributor

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