Afternoon Tea in Leicester Square – TWG Tea:
In a somewhat unlikely setting, next door to the Lego shop and opposite M&M’s world is TWG the recently opened and rather charming tea store, museum and cafe. It’s a haven from the frenetic London life outside, a place to escape, whether to shop for tea or make your way upstairs for a bit to eat and a selection of teas served to perfection. I went along to TWG Tea to find out more.
Founded in Singapore in 2008, TWG prides itself on offering the largest collection of whole leaf teas in the world. There are over 800 varieties of single estate teas and then a whole collection of exclusive blends from every tea producing country in the world. In the shop downstairs you’ll find everything you need for the perfect cuppa – from loose leaf and packaged teas to a range of tea accessories. Upstairs, there’s a small tea museum – the only one in the world – and an elegant tea-room where you can eat a light meal (breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea) or just enjoy sampling all kinds of teas from the range.
It’s worth arriving early so you can take a look at the collection of teapots, samovars and caddies on display.
The personal collection of TWG founders Taha Bouqdib and Maranda Barnes the memorabilia provides a fascinating insight into the history of tea around the world. Though as Maranda points out
We distinguish ourselves from the archives of cultural tea traditions…TWG Tea both embraces and challenges history. We look forward to reigniting a curiosity and passion for tea which made the UK synonymous with tea drinking for over 400 years.
If you are not a tea specialist, you may just need help when it comes to picking the perfect tea. TWG has a comprehensive guide, but that in itself would take a day or so to read. Instead, ask for help and describe your perfect tea. Once you’ve agreed, it will be carefully prepared for you with water heated to the right temperature for the type of tea you order, brewed and then the leaves removed so that it can’t over-brew. What you end up drinking is tea at it’s absolute best.
Then, of course, there’s the food. We went along to review the afternoon tea offerings and shared the ‘Parisian’ which includes a plate of open sandwiches, a choice of croques and the option of muffins, scones or patisserie. Most of the standard teas are included in the £50 for two menu, but the finest selections carry a premium. In my head, it’s not really a full traditional afternoon tea, where I’d expect scones and patisserie as standard. But, there’s an extra savoury course and of course, the price point of £25 a head is half that of most London hotels.
The Parisian is a light sharing tea and at £25 a head it’s reasonably priced for what are mostly very good quality components. The tea, of course, is exceptional. My companion raved about her Gyokuro Samurai (which does carry a premium). She’s something of an obsessive about Japanese food and drink so impressing her with a Japanese tea is quite tough. It’s a green tea made by shading the plantation a few weeks before harvest to enrich the chlorophyll in the leaves. That produces a taste which is a bit like a kind of freshly mown lawn meets tea taste. Delicious.
My Silver Moon tea was light and fragrant without being floral – exactly what I was looking for. It’s a special blend of green teas with vanilla, berry and spice accents. A lovely accompaniment to the tea.
As you’d expect there are also iced teas and some stunning blossom teas on the menu. I believe this is Jasmine Pearl – though it was something enjoyed by a friend who met us at TWG after the review.
On to the food. The assortment of finger sandwiches were dainty open sandwiches, each with a tea infusion of some kind. Duck rillette infused with miraculous mandarin tea and onion pickles on toasted bread was rich and earthy. The remainder were seafood based – a malt bread with smoked salmon and creamy Moroccan mint tea infused cucumber dainty and fresh.
A toasted milk bun garnished with chilled lobster chunks and sriracha mayo with pickled vegetables and Genmaicha furikake and a Norwegian salmon and smoked salmon rillette infused with Pai Mu Tan and served with pepper coulis and guacamole. At the price point of the afternoon tea and quality of ingredients, it’s perhaps not surprising that these were to share, though I was momentarily confused and would have preferred a higher price point and full selection each.
There are three choices of Croques – a classic Croque Monsieur, Croque Salmon or the Truffle Croque we chose which comes with a filling of truffled mushrooms. Beautifully cooked and prettily presented, this was probably my favourite part of the food offering. It’s available on its own too and I suspect if I return to TWG Tea it will be for this or one of the other savoury offerings and some fine tea for lunch or early evening light meal.
We tried some of the baked goods – a scone each, a croissant and a fruit muffin. The best of trio was the muffin which was filled with fresh fruit and lacked that over sugary goo that is popular in the coffee chain selections. The croissant was lovely but seemed slightly out of place in an afternoon tea selection.
The scone, which was fresh though not warm was served with TWG tea jelly and whipped cream, a lighter alternative to traditional clotted cream.
We went on to try two of the TWG macarons – probably the hardest thing to perfect. Whilst the flavour was delicious and marked, the macarons themselves were quite cold and a bit chewier than I’d have expected.
It’s important to remember at this stage though that the tea is priced at £50 for two and that the focus should always be on the perfection of what is in the teacup rather than the food offering, which while not incidental is a reasonably priced morsel to accompany the tea.
This is definitely somewhere anyone with an interest in tea should visit. Whether you shop downstairs or pop upstairs for food – or do both – you will be amazed by what is on offer.
Until recently TWG Tea was only available from Harrods in the UK. But they have shops in 19 countries with 70 Tea Salons & Boutiques in the fashion capitals of Singapore, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Dubai, Vancouver, Taipei and Seoul and their tea is distributed across 42 countries. In London, the Leicester Square branch is complemented by a smaller shop and tea room on the Brompton Road.