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Afternoon teas — some reviews

Over the last few months, I’ve been sampling the delights of London’s hotels’ afternoon tea offerings, specifically: The Savoy, Brown’s, and The Ritz. I’ve gone for various celebrations (having a lovely friend and a desire to treat yourselves is a celebration, no?) over a few months, and I thought that I’d write up some of my thoughts for those who are also planning a celebration, or just want to treat themselves.

TL; DR? Go to:

  • Brown’s for delightful little scones and a relaxed atmosphere
  • The Savoy’s Beaufort Bar for the intimate atmosphere and a lovely balanced afternoon tea
  • The Ritz for generous sandwiches, good music and some fun staff, but save yourself the £10 extra for a celebration cake)

Future adventures are going to include the Berkeley’s fashionista tea, the Wellesley Hotel, the Connaught Hotel, and the Bulgari hotel.  

I went to The Savoy on a Christmas gift certificate that was about to run out. They were rather apologetic that they only had tables in the Beaufort Bar left, but to my mind this is the best place to go to enjoy a special tea with a good friend — or partner — when you want a relaxed and intimate atmosphere to catch up in. The black-and-gold Art Deco bar is small, looking out over the Thames Foyer (the main tea area) with its gaudy pagoda, piano, and smart groups out for birthdays and the like.

We had the traditional tea. It came with lemon curd as well as strawberry jam for the scones, which was a pleasant change. The tea range is the more extensive of the three, and the pastries were lovely. We ate slowly, and they were very good at keeping my tea topped up and the sandwiches and scones flowing. They were a little stingy with the cakes later on (they didn’t come around very much!), but you should hopefully have filled up on scones, sandwiches and pastries!

I took my mother and step-dad to Brown’s for their birthdays. The atmosphere here is very relaxed. It felt as though there were quite a few little groups who had simply ‘dropped in’ because they lived nearby, rather than the formal groups that populate The Savoy and The Ritz. The scones are mini, but they are absolutely delicious, with a slightly savoury, salty crust that makes them absolutely moreish. The piccalilli sandwich was also amazing.

On the downside, our ‘larger’ group couldn’t quite fit the teapots and strainers on the table, but they were not very quick at coming around to fill up cups, so we shuffled things about so that we could serve ourselves (this took several, slightly awkward attempts, as each one was spotted and the waiter promptly hurried over to ‘assist’). The cakes also weren’t really worth it. The cream in the Victoria sponge was quite cheap tasting, and the coffee and walnut cake was a bit dry. I abandoned mine in favour of more scones.

My best friend and I went to The Ritz to use up an alternative booking I’d made for my mother and step-dad’s birthday, and hence we went for the ‘celebration’ tea. For £10 extra per person, this came with a cake with a personalised message, and I chose the raspberry and mango mousse cake. It came with the other cakes (there were a lot of others also celebrating) and a quick chorus of happy birthday. The cake itself was covered in very sweet icing, and to be honest, it was nothing special and really wasn’t worth it. Having already eaten quite a lot of the generous sandwiches, we ate a quarter each, and it was a real waste of our time.

The whole tea felt a bit rushed as the celebration cake came out before we had really had a chance to finish with the savoury portion, and almost immediately after the cake cart came around (twice!). I didn’t actually get to eat anything from the cake cart because every time he came, I had either a scone or the celebration cake on my plate, and I strongly suspect that the cakes on the cart would have been superior to the rather tasteless, sugary celebration cake.

On the plus, aside from the generous sandwiches and the perfectly nice scones, the staff were very friendly and jovial, and the music was great (and certainly more enjoyable than the pianist at The Savoy). There was a nice atmosphere here, although I did prefer The Savoy.

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Twelfth Night: A review of sorts

So, a few days ago I went to see Twelfth Night at the Globe. They have on a really stunning production with an all-star cast, and I highly recommend that everyone (whether they know the play or not) go and see it. There aren’t many tickets left at The Globe, but they’re heading to the West End in the new future, and they’ve also filmed a performance for cinema screenings, so there are still plenty of opportunities to see it!

Liam Brennan (Orsino) and Johnny Flynn (Viola/Cesario) were absolutely wonderful together. The play was tongue-in-cheek in all of the best places, and I love that in a performance when it’s done properly (Samuel Barnett has a wonderfully wry expression that’s perfect for it). Peter Hamilton Dyer was a great Feste, giving us a wonderful and knowing fool, and Stephen Fry was, of course, a magnificent Malvolio. Typically – this may be heretical… – I prefer to read most drama rather than watch it, Shakespeare included. Even the big TV productions of Hamlet with David Tennant and Patrick Stuart (both of whom I love), or other Globe productions (I saw Much Ado About Nothing not too long ago), don’t tend to do it for me. I am simply a very text-based person and I like thinking about language rather than speech. I loved this play, though.

Bizarrely, the one note that rang a bit hollow for me was Mark Rylance’s Olivia (bizarre because he is a fantastic – and fantastically well-respected – Shakespearean actor). In the first scene he was excellent at portraying her prideful self-involvement, but there was no softening afterwards, and it became shriller and rather more hysterical as the play went on. I have never really read Olivia in that way – I have always thought that she was flawed, but had more positive character development than that.

Nevertheless, he is very funny with it, so do go if you can!

Nadal v Federer!

Sticking with my tennis theme, I’m so very excited about the Nadal victory (sorry, I spoilt it, but if you didn’t watch it, that’s rather your own fault!). This is the third time Nadal has trounced Federer in a final, and it’s wonderful to see that the worm has turned. I can’t help finding Federer a little overly arrogant, so hopefully the three losses (barring him from his 14th Grand Slam win) will cause an attitude-shift. On the other hand, Nadal’s joy when he wins a match (Wimbledon’s final is still fondly in mind) is heart-warming.

7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2.

I’m not sure whether or not Nadal prefers to play his matches so long, but they’re certainly much more exciting than Federer’s previous slam-dunks, and Nadal seems to recover very quickly (his semi-final was yesterday and of the same length).

I’m very happy. BBC write-up is here. Happy Nadal day!

P.S. Elmundo also has a celebratory write-up (I seem to remember that during Wimbledon, Nadal had a blog with Elmundo, and he was very interested in the footie, rather than the tennis!), and Elpais has quite a nice photo of Nadal and Federer! It’s a real heartwarming show of sportsmanship.

An interesting question…

My Spanish class, in the interest of tracing Spanish modernity into the now (or close enough), watched Todo sobre mi madre. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a wonderful film, and I love Almodóvar. But that is not where I’m going with this (although maybe I will make a post later about such things!)

Instead, we had the following interesting exchange in class:

Girl: But, I don’t understand how he could have gotten the nun pregnant while dressed as a woman.

Professor: (after a classroom-wide pause) Well, how one’s dressed is probably the least important thing when one’s having sex.

Now, I think it’s probable that, as we were talking in Spanish, she simply lacked the words to say what she actually wanted to say. On the other hand, such a literalist interpretation of performativity is certainly something I’ve never thought of before (at least as-relates to the actual physical world, rather than to fictional narratives).

(And I asked the professor later; apparently there is no word for ‘performativity’ in Spanish that isn’t considered a barbarous Anglicism, and he was criticised for trying to create one in an article he wrote. Languages are definitely tricky but fascinating.)

Right to self-determination

Liz Carr has written an ‘open letter‘ to Noel Martin, a neo-Nazi attack victim, regarding his decision to commit assisted suicide following being paralysed by his attackers.

In the past month or so, thanks to the US election, abortion and gay rights have come to the fore of public consciousness, and frankly, this is yet another instance of people’s attack on a right to govern one’s self.

Carr tries to tell Mr Martin several things:

1) that he has wonderful memories of life before his attack/before his wife died (of cancer a few years after his being attacked), which should sustain him

2) that he is now an inspiring figure in the fight against neo-Nazism

3) that there are plenty of places where disabled people can visit beaches and see the world

4) that he has been erroneously convinced by the media that as a disabled person, he is a second-class citizen and should want to die.

I find these points rather insulting and insensitive coming from anyone, even another disabled person. (Carr’s disability is the result of an illness at age 7, not a brutal attack as an adult, so immediately she is in a different situation to Martin.) She essentially tells the man that he hasn’t been making enough of his life; that he should live his life to be an inspiration to others; that he has foolishly allowed himself to be convinced by the media that he should want to die.

She met Martin for half an hour, and this is her basis for writing such a patronising and public response to his choice. It is a choice, he has a right to it, and she is not respecting it. Instead, she seems to be trying to force Martin to approach his disability in the same way that she has, the way that she declares is the right way.

She makes a very interesting claim that shows a total lack of compassion towards Martin:

“Until the day when good quality health and social care are universally available regardless of age, impairment, race, gender or location, I believe there is no place for legalised assisted suicide.”

This seems to say that Martin must continue living as he does—and he wouldn’t have made this choice if he wasn’t convinced this was not a way worth living—to put pressure on the government and society to repair all inequality.

Carr should respect this man’s choice. Although Martin will be making a trip to Switzerland to end his life, I fully support a (regulated and overseen) legalised euthanasia system in the UK. Carr’s behaviour shows that these rights are opposed not simply by people ignorant of the situation terminally ill and crippled people live in. Frankly, Carr is opposing ill and disabled people’s rights just as much as people who discriminate against them. Martin deserves the right to take control of his own life and body, and no one, particularly not Carr, should not be able to stand in his way.