Want to know what high tea in London is really like? In a blast from COM-abroad past, Keelan Higgins shares her advice for scoring an excellent afternoon tea across the pond.
Growing up, I wanted to be a singer, a vet, an artist, a lawyer, an actress, an author, a mother, a wife, a vampire slayer, a traveler, and, ideally, all of those things at once. I can think of at least three more specific dreams, too: to find out that Candy Land was real, to eat in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, and to visit Willy Wonka’s factory.
Obviously, there’s a theme. My love for Candy Land and for movie scenes involving sweets morphed into my love for food. I am a proud foodie, and studying in London has fed that hobby more than ever–while I try not to let the city eat my wallet. Yet when two of my friends from home decided to visit in the beginning of June, I knew it was time to splurge a little.
Researching unique activities and restaurants led me to one of the most Instagram-worthy establishment I’ve ever seen: Sketch.
This place was perfect. The dining rooms were themed – one like a forest, one pale pink, and one reminiscent of a speakeasy. I immediately moved to make a reservation in the pale pink room and saw that the most highly recommended dining experience was afternoon tea… for £58 per person. £72 per person with champagne.
My heart sank – there was no way my friends would pay that much for tea. There was no way I would pay that much for tea. Regardless, I decided to share the idea and see what they thought. Hannah, arguably the most rational and least food-obsessed of us all, said it looked like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Let’s do it, she said.
My childhood foodie dreams definitely helped create my adult foodie dreams, and paying an outrageous amount to sit in a pretty room to drink a pot of tea wasn’t one of them. One of those dreams, though, was to eat at a Michelin star restaurant – and Sketch has two. I immediately booked a three-person reservation for afternoon tea. I felt like Christmas morning was just around the corner.
When we arrived on Friday afternoon one week later, it looked like a strange fun house. We followed the hostess and peered around the corner into a dining-room-turned-mystical forest fit with a floor of faux grass. We turned the next corner, entered the Gallery room, and stared in awe at a pale pink paradise. The chairs looked like old-Hollywood pink velvet seashells and whimsical black ink sketches filled the room wall-to-wall. I sunk into my fluffy seat and smiled into my teacup printed with the phrase “Forget about it.”
We ordered our tea in an excited daze. During the wait, I went to use the restroom. I was trying to make sense of how I felt so far, when a simple quote from a childhood staple popped into my head: “I am the maker of music, the dreamer of dreams!” from Roald Dahl’s classic, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
As that thought passed, I entered the bathroom. The walls were blindingly white, and staircases on either side of the room led to scattered “stalls” shaped like giant, futuristic egg-pods. The whiteness was offset by rainbow-color-blocked ceiling tiles. Standing in that bizarre bathroom, I realized I was living out a childhood dream: I was definitely in the adult version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, and I was going to soak up every second of it.
Upon my return to the table, my vanilla black tea arrived with a quail egg and two elegant strips of toast. The next second, a tall man dressed head to toe in a pale-pink zoot suit approached our table with a giant silver bowl and introduced himself as our caviar man. He explained how to eat it properly, a process involving swishing and melting. With a caviar-spoon “cheers,” we commenced our afternoon tea knowing that this whimsical wonderland was providing the three of us with one of the most unforgettable memories we’d ever have both with each other and food.
Next came the traditional tower of tea cakes and finger sandwiches, followed by the best scones I’ve ever had, and lastly, the Victoria sponge cake and banana bread. By then, we were stuffed, hearts full, inner children jumping.
My experience at Sketch was one of my happiest moments in London and reminded me to always allow my inner child to live and thrive, and that establishing “adult” dreams doesn’t mean letting go of every childhood one. Put simply, my advice to anyone questioning themselves: splurge on the tea.
Keelan Higgins, Contributing Writer
Keelan Higgins is a communications associate at Dotdash in New York City. In September 2017, she graduated from Boston University with her master’s degree in mass communication after studying abroad in London. An avid reader and writer, Keelan believes learning, empathy, creativity, and dessert hold the keys to life’s greatest adventures.