I am sitting in the ladies (rather plush, if I might say so) at the Ritz Hotel, in London. I just have to scribble down some notes before I forget everything. And I need to take a few pictures because the ladies here are lovely – gave me a few ideas for my own bathroom. Don’t tell anybody else, will you!
But I do have to share this with you. Friends of mine invited me to a cup of tea. And it cost £62! I can’t even do the maths to convert it into Euros. And then we decided to have a glass of bubbly. Oh, only £22 a glass. So, the damage was over £330 for four cups of tea and a few nibbles.
And it’s not like you can just pop into the Ritz for a cup of tea, after a whirlwind tour of all the shops. Oh nooo! Well, I suppose you could. They would just serve it in the lobby. But what I just experienced, people just can’t get enough…there is a waiting list, several months long!
So, what is all the fuss about?
I really don’t think there is anything grander in life than having afternoon tea at the Ritz in London. I remember a friend once telling me, to understand the British, you need to imagine a play, or perhaps the theatre. Life in England can be a series of acts in a play. You play the part, costumes, and all, and then you have a ball. Which is why “stately homes” are so popular here. You are invited to participate in the grandeur. You can escape the mundane reality of everyday life, the lousy weather and sink into a different world. It becomes quite addictive! Afterwards, you share your experiences with your friends in the pub and off you go again. This is something we rather lack on the “Continent”, I feel.
So, after having informed myself on the “dress code” at the Ritz, (yes, there is one!) and a little bit of Handel swirling around in my head, I took a carriage (well, a black cab actually) and said to the cabbie “Take me to the Ritz, please”. And he did! And in true “Mi Lady” and “Servant” style, he shared his thoughts with me. Yes, well, moving swiftly on.
When we pulled up, as if by magic, the door opened, and a rather swish looking doorman welcomed me to the Ritz and in I floated. Feeling rather like Cinderella, I was. No, better!
Now, you just can’t march in. Everything is carefully choreographed. We were escorted to our table, and everything was carefully explained. There is one unwritten rule. We had to be out within two hours. Which, if you have a diary full of social engagements, really isn’t a problem. You don’t want to be like stale bread sitting around in one place for too long, now do you?
What fascinated me was the choice of teas. We could choose from 18 different teas. Oh, and it’s not a tea bag dunked in tepid water. No, time to introduce the discreetly flamboyant (he’s from Italy but has acquired that English reserve) tea master Giandomenico. He is personally responsible for all things tea at the Ritz. He seems to be like the conductor at some lush Italian opera. Hmm, yes, but I do wonder how he prepares his tea at home.
Now, I mentioned the nibbles earlier. Well, they are rather grand. What I don’t recommend is a full English breakfast, lunch and THEN afternoon tea and a supper. Unless your constitution can handle it, it’s going to be a burden, even if you do love food.
We were chatting “gaily away”, (I do find light-hearted small talk so uplifting) when a cake-stand magically appeared on our table. On top were some extremely delicious pastries. It did remind me of what the pâtissiers create in Paris. Then came the scones, with salted butter and finally, the sandwiches. Cucumber sandwiches, and, and, and….oh, just have a look at the menu yourself!
Now, much is said about true etiquette on how to eat scones. Don’t cut them, what do you put on first, the jam or the cream? Well, this is theatre, after all, so do what you want! It will give Lady Jane something to gossip about, in her most refined Queen’s English:
“I was at my usual table at the Ritz just last week, and there was poor Daphne…and she made the most horrible faux pas with the sandwich … I did lean over to Lady Margaret and did mutter something about sending her to Finishing School, you know the one I mean, before the Debutante’s ball next year…whatever is polite society coming to….”
I was brought down to earth by the arrival of reality, in form of the check. The show was coming to an end. Perhaps the Ritz could introduce something like what is beginning to appear in the supermarkets. My butler explained this to me just this morning. It seems you can walk in and walk out with your shopping and the purchase is electronically debited from your account. He read it whilst ironing The Times for my husband.
Well, I have no time for such trivialities. Eyes closed, reality blocked out, it was time to go to the West End and enjoy another play at another theatre.
Now, if you wish to have your staff make some scones in your own residence, do mention it to your Housekeeper or Butler. I am sure, they will have the perfect recipe for you. But then, wouldn’t you rather be seen keeping up appearances at the Ritz?