The Place: The London Tea Room (1520 Washington Ave., 241-6556), the cheeky British tea house and cafe across from the City Museum. The Lunch: As the weather turned drizzly and gray, the mood turns to tea. When it feels like London, eat like you're in London. The tea house's menu has some typical American coffeehouse fare, but doesn't shy away from its English roots. We ordered a half-sized serving of creamy tomato soup with half of the cheese and Branston sandwich. While the panini press that grilled the sandwich might not be traditionally British, the contents certainly are -- sharp and crumbly English white cheddar offset by sweet and spicy chutney. It's perfect for dipping into the rich coral-colored soup, studded with chunks of tomato.
Our dining partner didn't shy away from another very British sandwich - the Bacon Butty. Toasted bread, buttered then piled high with thick, meaty rashers of bacon.
You might want to order the green tea to counteract the health effects of the sandwich. It does come with a spring mix salad with a tangy vinaigrette that balances the heartiness of the sandwich.
You can order run-of-the-mill beverages at the London Tea Room; the table next to us was full of Diet Coke drinkers. But why would you, when you're at the place that probably makes the best tea in town? We opted for two Pots for One. Each pot has two cups of tea, so we swapped after the first cup to get a bigger sampling. The English Cuppa is a straight-up pot of Yorkshire Gold black tea that's bold and full of tannin. The Monk's Blend has a natural sweetness from pomegranate and vanilla blended with black tea.
The ritual of hot tea - waiting for it to steep, carefully managing the china pot and lid while pouring, the clink of tiny spoons stirring sugar and cream, followed by the slow sips of hot infusion - provide a mindful break in a busy day. There's no rushing through tea. It doesn't take enough time to throw off the day's schedule, but it's just enough to force you to slow down a bit.
And there are scones! Those hard, dusty triangles served in pastry cases need not apply. These are real scones, the ancestor to American's fluffy biscuits, with moist and flaky layers studded with black currants or golden raisins. The outer layer's crisp and golden, surrounding tender pastry so delicate they all but dissolve on the tongue.
Keep calm and carry on? After this lunch, we most certainly can.