While I love to read classic literature any time of the year, the dark days of winter seem an especially appropriate time to pull that 500-page novel from the shelves and get lost in a good long book. This has been true of my book club pretty much from the beginning. We’ve been together since 1992 (pats self on the back) and every winter we choose a classic, taking advantage of our break over the holidays to tackle a longer-than-usual selection.
Having chosen British literature for a number of years, in 1997 we decided it would be fun to keep with the theme and meet downtown to discuss the book (The Law and the Lady by Wilkie Collins) over tea. Usually the day we’ve chosen is bitter cold, which only serves to enhance the experience of eating tasty scones, finger sandwiches, and pastries while sipping tea from pretty cups as a fountain burbles and harp music plays. For two or three hours, it provides a very pleasant refuge from the cold and slush outside.
After many years of going to the Drake for tea, a few years back we decided it was time for something new. We’ve tried the Hotel Intercontinental, which was mediocre at best, and the Russian Tea Time, which was an unusual high tea service, but a nice change. I’d tried in the past to make reservations at the Peninsula, but for various reasons, the timing never worked out—until this year and I can tell you, based on our book club tea this past Saturday, The Lobby at the Peninsula is our new favorite.
Everything about our afternoon was outstanding. The Lobby is a grand room, with high ceilings and huge full-length windows along one wall. While the view isn’t necessarily amazing, it is a view and even on an overcast day, natural light floods the room. This was a very welcome change to the Drake, which is a completely different atmosphere, with dark wood, no windows and a fountain in the middle of the room.
The afternoon tea service at The Peninsula is impressive. The table was lovely and the service very good. The room wasn’t too noisy so conversation was easy to hear, especially important during a book discussion. (This year’s selection was The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope; a great choice for a good discussion.) A solo violinist provided the perfect musical accompaniment.
I’m not a big tea drinker, so the selection of teas offered that appealed to me was limited, but there is an option for coffee or cappuccino, which is nice. I went with an herbal tea, choosing the ginger twist, which was fairly light, a minor disappointment.
Where the Peninsula tea really shines (and definitely outshines the Drake, which hasn’t changed its menu in years) is with the food. Everything, and I mean everything, served with the tea was delicious and there was so much of it. No one left the table hungry after sampling one of each: a plain scone, a vanilla orange spice scone (with clotted cream, strawberry marmalade, and lemon curd), rhubarb cookie bar, Meyer lemon cheesecake cookie, smoked prosciutto sandwich (with manchego and quince paste on a grilled brioche), lobster & shrimp salad sandwich (with snap peas and fennel jam on nine grain bread), roasted winter vegetables & tomato confit sandwich on black Bavarian bread, a piquillo pepper & almond quiche, mint pana cotta with blackberry preserves, mango Bavarian with passion fruit cream, ginger brioche bread pudding, apricot marzipan tart, and a milk chocolate oolong tea custard. Everything was amazing and before it was done, we’d decided to come again next year.