From time to time I get asked to go along and check out a new tea venture. It's always very nice to be asked but between work, trips abroad and life in general it rarely seems to work out. So I was pretty pleased to be invited to visit the Bond & Brook restaurant in Fenwick on Bond Street recently, and on a day that I was in London, not working and, joy of joys, already in the area. The fact that they had a new pairing with Tea Palace - whose cafe closure I have lamented previously - just made it all the more interesting.
I was the first to arrive which, as pretty much anyone who knows me will confirm, is not the norm. I realised I hadn't been upstairs in Fenwick for years and that since I was last there a major makeover had taken place. Gone was the 1950s department store feel: now the space is white, light, airy and ever so slightly intimidating - but considering that I hate clothes shopping and do at least ninety percent of it online it is probably unsurprising that this temple to fashion was a bit overwhelming for me. The chic white vibe is also very much in evidence in Bond & Brook. The space is dominated by a rather beautiful elliptical pewter bar, behind which is a white bookcase filled with tomes devoted to fashion. There is a selection of mid-century-modern furniture and everything looks crisp and glamorous. I was glad I'd made the effort to put on a dress as my usual jeans and trainers would have felt very out of place. Clearly this wasn't going to be somewhere you'd come to slob out and drink a quick cuppa.
I needn't have worried about being the first there as Gavin from Rhubarb, the top-end caterers who run the restaurant, chatted with me and soon made sure I had a glass of champagne in hand. Once the other tea enthusiasts had arrived we all sat down to a rather delicious afternoon tea accompanied by a selection of five of Tea Palace's offerings. As we sampled the sandwiches, cakes and scones, Tara, Tea Palace's founder, guided us through a fantastic selection of their wares. We sampled a Darjeeling, a Keemun, an Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong, a Sencha and a Jasmine Silver Needle white tea. Each one was absolutely lovely: clean, crisp, perfectly brewed and full of flavour. These teas were a world away from the kind of dust-filled teabags you find in supermarkets. I don't want to get too fancy but there is something about tasting a series of really good teas that is enough to make you swear off the kind of rubbish that most Brits drink for life - if you haven't already of course. Once we had sampled each tea we got to choose a brew to savour throughout the rest of our visit: I opted for the Jasmine Silver Needle as, although I usually prefer a black tea with cake, the delicate taste of the white tea was just fantastic.
The food was more than a match for the tea with dainty finger sandwiches, French Fancies, a lovely moist brownie, delicious fruited scones with jam and clotted cream and one of the best Battenbergs I have ever tasted. The afternoon was made all the more enjoyable by sharing my table-for-two with Leanne from Tea Talk Magazine. It was so nice to find a kindred spirit who, like me, loved tea but would rather go without than drink a cup of bog-standard splosh.
All in all it was a very enjoyable afternoon sampling some really excellent tea and food. Bond & Brook certainly doesn't fall into the category of everyday tearoom - at £17.50 a head for their afternoon tea it's probably more of a treat for everyone except the wealthy ladies-that-lunch that I suspect make up a good portion of their clientele (please note that we had a taster afternoon tea rather than the whole kit and caboodle). But to go here it wouldn't have to be the ultra-special kind of occasion that results in a trip to one of the posh hotels either. Bond & Brook falls somewhere in the middle. In many ways it reminds me of Tea Palace's own cafe that used to be in Notting Hill - and I was certainly disappointed when they closed. Aside from the quality of the goods on offer my favourite thing was the feeling of serenity - especially given its location just off Oxford Street - and I can well imagine heading there with a friend I hadn't seen for a while or when I think that afternoon tea can act as a substitute for the restaurant dinner I can't be bothered to hang around for. Either way, I will definitely be returning. And with such a central location there's every likelihood that you Londoners will be passing that way too. If you're in the mood for a glamorous and delicious afternoon treat look no further.