Sometimes you just need high tea. Yes, it's fussy, affected, disturbingly anglophiliac and drags having a cup of tea out to a two-hour affair, but there's still something delightful about it.
And so a languid Sunday afternoon was spent at Lady Mendl's (56 Irving Place), where a lovely five-course tea ($35) slowly unfolded in a plush, cozy space.
The restaurant is named for Lady Mendl (née Elsie de Wolfe), a prominent, turn-of-the-century interior decorator whose motto was, "Never complain, never explain." Far from just another high-society aesthete, however, Lady Mendl practiced yoga, dyed her graying hair blue, and lived in an openly gay relationship- not quite who you'd picture sitting docilely, pinkie extended, through afternoon tea.
The menu here is very traditional: an appetizer of a mushroom-goat cheese tart was followed by delicate finger sandwiches of smoked salmon with dill cream cheese, and cucumber with mint creme fraiche; tiny, moist scones, served with clotted cream and a rich raspberry jam, were next.
By the time the crepe cake- oozing with layer after layer of vanilla pastry cream- and then tender shortbread cookies and strawberries dipped in chocolate arrived, I was feeling a bit overindulgent.
But that's what the tea is for. The selection is decent, although a bit too skewed toward black and herbal teas for a sencha addict's tastes. With the brazen spirit of Lady Mendl in mind, I chose a pot of Russian caravan, and the smoky, deep Chinese tea was a welcome counterpoint to such rich food.
It was brewed perfectly, and served with grace. I'm curious as to whether they treat green and white tea as well- I suppose I'll just have to go back next week.