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Bad beans – adventures in high end high teas around London

One of the best parts about traveling is the opportunity to try things you've never done before – different foods, drinks, shopping experiences, modes of transportation, experiences.

One of my favorite ways to do this is with food. While Pete is often ambivalent about different foods and tastes, I am all for doing new things, trying new things (within reason) and having a good old go at different stuff.

When I knew several days in London were on the itinerary, I researched the best places for that most iconic of English foods: afternoon tea. I found all kinds of lovely places from the ridiculously expensive to the kind-of-surreal experiences. For instance, you can have tea on an old-fashioned double-decker bus that actually provides a sight-seeing tour as well ( You can also go extremely high-end with the classic tea at the London Ritz Hotel, which (at this writing) costs up to L68, or about $87+ ( Also available is the Alice in Wonderland tea with appropriately themed foods and drinks (

We didn't opt for any of those. Instead, we chose tea at the Oxo Tower Restaurant ( which is renowned for it's Thames views of the area of London dominated by St. Paul's Cathedral, and tea in the Jubilee Room of Fortnum and Mason's, the famous foodie haven near Piccadilly Circus (

They were inspired choices, especially Fortnum and Mason.

Oxo Tower was first. This delightful space is floor-to-ceiling walls overlooking the Thames. We were seated at a table for two right by the window, and right away our server references Pete's food allergies, which I had informed them of prior to arriving. Tea arrived, and a special plate of sandwiches for Pete that were allergen-free. The scones were absolutely delicious, and I was sorry I could only eat one. However, having already enjoyed the smoked salmon, cucumber, egg mayonnaise (egg salad for those of us in the states, but tonied up a bit), plus the amazing seafood hot bites that came as well (the choux pastry with crab was notable, but the beef Wellington Yorkshire pudding was to die for), I was nearly full. Oh! I forgot to mention the amazing elderflower and raspberry possit, and the chocolate something that was crunchy and creamy and all-together delicious, and the several other sweets offered.

So it was just one scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam for me! I left full, of great food, great sweets, a great view and wonderful servers wishing us well.

Today we had the great good fortune to enjoy an absolutely lovely – though very different tea -- at the Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum and Mason, smack in the heart of Piccadilly Road, which leads toward, or, depending on your perspective, away from Piccadilly Circus, of neon sign and Eros statue fame. We prefaced our tea experience here by shopping all four other floors of the amazing upper-class purveyor. We sampled wine (me, only, of course), chocolates, some tea.We also bought shortbread biscuits, lemon curd and Turkish Delight (my favorite).

Immediately after we were seated, our server and a manager joined us to discuss how to best serve Pete his tea, since many items on the menu either were known to contain alcohol or had unknown ingredients in them. I was so appreciative of their sincere and thorough desire to keep my husband alive, a goal to which I also aspire.

In the end, the chefs and management decided to improvise an entire new menu, just for him, and in due course served him a lovely tier of goodies, all safe for him to eat. They even gave him his own tub of clotted cream so my jam spoon wouldn't cross-contaminate that Devon-y goodness for his scone.


And wonderful.

I had the typical afternoon tea, and I have to say, Fortnum and Mason's Coronation chicken is, and always will be, a huge hit for me. This mustardy, creamy filling is a standard at tea here, and I love it. The other sandwiches, egg mayonnaise, smoked salmon and cucumber, were also delightful. The scones were even better than the Oxo Tower ones, which were no slackers in the deliciousness department, and the accompanying desserts were also amazing, especially the strawberry tart. As if this wasn't enough, the tea also comes with a slice of cake from the cake cart. I chose a double chocolate ganache one, but the Victoria sponge and vanilla cheesecake also looked amazing. I was so full, I had to take the cake back to our hotel room, but I will have that later when I finish this blog.

So why did I name this “Bad Beans”? I began by saying how fun it is to try new things – things you might not try in the States. One of these is Tonka, a vanilla-like bean that's not allowed in the U.S. One of the tarts at Oxo was strawberry with Tonka … an interesting experience.

We're not missing much on the Tonka score.

It wasn't exotic, except for the bad beans, but having tea in London is just something you have to do. Something that is rare in the United States and ubiquitious here.

It's all part of the travel experience.

A yummy part.

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