Quite frankly, I love tea. Every morning I simply must have an Earl Grey (I know, how pooosh), otherwise I struggle. I’m not the biggest coffee drinker, so tea is my go-to, be it minty, fruity, loose leaf, tea bag heavy, I’m all over the stuff, and I am that person who takes teabags in their suitcase when going on holiday. No shame.
And, it seems I’m not alone in my love of tea, it’s thought that in Britain we drink 165 million cups of tea a day (however, I’m not sure how they work this out, sounds a bit 1984 George Orwell). So, you can imagine the reception Paris-born Mariage Freres got when it opened in Covent Garden. This tea emporium-cum-museum appears demure and inconspicuous from the front, but inside opens up to a huge tea treasure trove, Tardis-like. In Paris, Mariage Freres sold its wares for over 150 years, since 1854 in fact, when it was founded by brothers Henri and Edouard Mariage, but we’re saying all sorts of merci beaucoups to have them here now!
Comptoir de Thé, on the ground floor, displays 1,000 varieties of rare teas, and whilst I could’ve sat and sampled them all, I headed upstairs to the tearoom/ Instagrammer’s lighting dream for fine fare and, well, tea!
Salon de Thé is, undeniably, one of the most elegant dining rooms. White-jacketed staff roam around with silver teapots and smiles, and the room itself looks somewhat akin to the flowery chamber Gatsby waits for Daisy in, in the Baz Luhrmann remake. The menu is just as expertly thought through as the interiors, infusing everything on the menu from scrambled eggs to cocktails with matcha, rooibos, lapsang souchong or any tea that tickles your fancy. Such creativiTEA!
If you try nothing else, make it the Snob Salad. It’s seasoned with Marco Polo®, homemade Foie Gras, artisan marinated smoked salmon and shrimps, bulgur with turmeric, poivrade artichokes and green beans, marbled toasts of Japanese Matcha green tea and turmeric. Yeah – a tonne of ingredients, which is why it sits bulbous like on the plate in all of its snobby glory.
Another menu delve should see you picking out the utterly fantastic cod fillet, flavoured with rose royale tea. A recurring theme to the dishes was that the tea flavour wasn’t too obtrusive but simply made as a subtle extra. Other partnerships made in tea heaven include the salmon matcha with sautéed spinach and toasted sesame and fragrant Siam rice with barberries, and crunchy open sandwiches including rainbow chai with roasted turmeric chicken, cashew nuts avocado, baby spinach and beetroot leaves seasoned with Thé sur le Nil® vinaigrette.
So, sat in your bright white surroundings, why not go even further off-piste with the ÉTOILE MYSTÉRIEUSE®? This playful cheesecake dessert is sure to draw the eye of any magpie-like visitors, what with the addition of 24-carat gold speckled on top. The dessert, mushroom- like in appearance, becomes the plaything for any foodie Instagrammer and tastes superb too glazed with Very Beautiful® ‘Fruit Tea’ and French meringue polka dots!
Meander through the tea menu but, I warn you, you’ll have your work cut out choosing one with every tea the imagination can conjure up adorning the pages. I did what I think is the wise thing and opted for a tea-infused cocktail, the Opéra Blue Dream with blue tea, red fruits, vanilla aromas and gin and the Mirabeau Ballet with black tea, red hibiscus, liquorice, lychee and white rum are both worth a try.
As far as final thoughts go, I loved it. It was different, and isn’t perhaps a go-to for a dinner out but more of a stumble-upon-spot that ends up being one of your most cherished dining experiences. Snug in a Georgian townhouse in central London, this five-storey tea extravaganza is certainly still wowing just as much as it did in 1854. Truly spellbinding!
Delight in the Mariage Frères magic at 38 King Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8JS, www.mariagefreres.com