England Anthology: High Tea at The Wolseley...and then the royal residence

Have you even been someplace so beautiful that you couldn't quite believe your luck and joy in being there? For me such a place would likely be in the shadow of an enormous tree in the middle of a great forest or verdant field or by a bubbling creek. It's not going to be in the midst of a huge, noisy city.

Unless that city is London.

No, I don't speak of Buckingham Palace or even Westminster Abbey. I speak of The Wolseley on Piccadilly at which I took high tea with my sister-in-law, Natalie, and my good friend, Holly.

I have been fascinated with the idea of "high tea" since I was a little girl. Reading of its delights in many novels and having a passion for pastries, I have yearned to taste the assorted pretty little cakes and to hold the delicate cups and saucers just so. When the Hobbits mourned their loss of afternoon tea while on the journey with Frodo in Fellowship of the Ring, I sympathized. It has always sounded like such an indulgent, perfectly English tradition.

So, when the chance presented itself, I took tea at a few cafes here in the States, quaint little places where tea cozies were often used, the Union Jack was ubiquitous and hand-painted roses abounded.

To take tea in an ornate London café parallel to the Ritz was something else entirely.

Getting to the Wolseley was an adventure. Holly and I left the Underground, and immediately took a wrong turn, continuing our error for quite a distance before my good friend and traveling partner had the chance to observe my obnoxious habit of asking random people for directions in order to avoid figuring things out for myself. A kind motorcyclist directed us to a line of cabbies waiting between hotels, saying "they know everything", and I hurried to them and frantically waved at one gentleman's window. My pronunciation of "Wolseley" threw him for a minute, but then he asked, "To take afternoon tea?", and I nodded urgently, for now time was running out to make our reservation. He then pointed in the other direction, very courteously explaining that the café was back the way we had come, right next to the Ritz - in fact across from the entrance to the Underground! (I wish I had taken a picture of this cheerful cabbie; he was quite unusual. Little did I know that he was the friendliest, most helpful stranger we would ever meet in London.)
I had no time for more than a quick thank you as he indicated other cabs with noses pointing in the right direction. Anxious, I could have run full out down Piccadilly in my most lady-like dress, jostling frowning Londoners out of my way, but I had to endure twitching in my seat as our cab crawled. At last we hopped out and jogged to the beautiful façade, not looking one bit like prim, proper, tea-sipping patrons.
As soon as we walked in the door, we saw Natalie, whom we were to meet, and were greeted in turns by a maître d and servers so suavely attentive and apologetic for any delay that I, a middle-class American so frugal that I avoid any pampering that exceeds chocolate candy bars on sale, could feel myself blushing.
But I got used to it the minute I set my purse by our table. I was in love, not with our courtly server but with the architecture influenced, so it would seem, by Venice and Florence and the Far East.

Surroundings this sumptuous were bound to thrill a lady so unused to extravagance. I had never eaten in such a gilded, beautiful place!
And Holly didn't seem immune to The Wolseley's charms, either.
As I sampled the sweets, exotic sandwiches and Darjeeling, I stared at the gleaming walls, windows, bar, and chandeliers in the unabashed and silly way of a male admiring a red Ferrari or a voluptuous woman. I reveled in its ambience and felt that my presence there in the company of a dear friend and a sister that I seldom see was the pinnacle of my first London day.
Natalie and me -photo by Holly

Later we did pass by that other gilded place, Buckingham Palace, when we took a stroll through lovely St James's Park post-tea.

But here the simple nature girl within me was resurrected, for I far preferred the vibrant tulips to the edifice.
Photo by Holly
Perhaps I just have no love for royals unless I'm being made to feel like one.


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