I had read many positive reviews about Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in New York City, so this past weekend on a recent trip to NYC, I decided to check it out with my sister Loreen who lives on Long Island.
We’d made reservations for the 5 p.m. seating on Friday afternoon. Weekdays there is also a 3 p.m. seating, while on Saturday and Sunday the options are 12, 2:30 and 5 p.m. Reservations are recommended (Ph: 212-533-4466). I made reservations online a few days before coming to NYC. If you do this, you’ll need to call the tea house the day before your visit to confirm.
The tea room is located in The Inn at Irving Place (56 Irving Place, between E 17th and 18th Streets in the Gramercy Park area). It’s easy to miss as there is only a small sign on the exterior of the building.
Once we found the location and made the climb up the steep steps to the front door, we were greeted inside and shown to our table in the front room. (I’m not sure if there is an alternate entrance to the tea room for those who have difficulty with steps.)
It was assumed you knew there was a set five-course menu as the only menu we were shown described the teas available. I chose Lady Mendl’s Darjeeling while Loreen opted for fruity Lychee tea. We both enjoyed our selections.
The tea pots were set on a tea tray next to our table – a nice idea which kept things a little less cluttered than the typical tea table. It also helped eliminate the inevitable tea stains on the tablecloth – the result of inevitable drips from the tea pots. Well, it almost helped. The server poured our first cup of tea for us in dramatic fashion, raising the tea pot into the air with a flourish to extend the pour. In doing so, tea splashed into Loreen’s saucer and some clean up was necessary.
Clean up also followed our first course (a less than memorable mixed green salad with a few slices of strawberry and cucumber, and a kernel of corn). Unfortunately, when the same server was clearing the salad bowls from a neighbouring table he dropped one which landed with a disruptive crash. The poor fellow didn’t seem to be having a good day.
As with the salad, the tea sandwiches were served family-style with the server portioning out helpings from a heaping platter. I was a little disappointed with this style of service as I prefer having all the courses artfully arranged in a two or three-tiered stand at the table so I can enjoy the presentation, and I know what I’m getting and can indulge at my leisure.
We tried one of each of the four types of sandwiches – egg salad, smoked salmon with dill cream cheese, cucumber with creme fraiche, and smoked turkey and cranberry. A second round of sandwiches was offered and we indulged without hesitation. I noticed all the other guests in the room (all women) did the same. No dainty appetites here!
Sandwiches were followed by a couple scones with Devonshire clotted cream and preserves. For the dessert course we were served Lady Mendl’s Signature Cake – a Mille Crepes cake (a delicious and tender wedge of a “cake” made of layered crepes – I counted 12 – sandwiched together with what I assumed was a pastry cream/whipped cream mixture, and served over a berry coulis).
Chocolate-dipped strawberries and cookies completed the tea.
We did not leave hungry.
A few thoughts about our visit to Lady Mendl’s…..
According to its website, Lady Mendl’s has been “consistently rated the best and most romantic Tea Salon in New York City.” Hmmm. I’ll give it points for ambiance. And there were some nice touches like the tea trays, the decorated sugar cubes on the saucer of each tea cup, and the small bowl of crystallized ginger on each table, but if this is NYC’s best tea house, the city needs more tea rooms, and the individuals submitting the ratings need to visit a few more tea rooms outside of NYC so they have a better point of comparison. Except for the Mille Crepes (which I really enjoyed), I thought the food ranged from less than to just a little above average in both flavour and presentation. Especially given the $35.00 charge per person.
A 20% gratuity is automatically added to the bill. I’m all for tipping good service, but I don’t think it should be part of the bill. What if the service does not merit anything close to 20%? Interestingly, on the bill, there was also a blank spot where you could write in an amount for a tip. I wonder how many people don’t notice the automatic gratuity and add a tip.
Lady Mendl’s website erroneously bills its tea as “high tea” when in fact it is “afternoon tea”. (High tea is a light supper; afternoon tea consists of tea sandwiches, scones, and a dessert.) This is a common mistake made by many tea houses, and a pet peeve of mine.
By the way, if you’re wondering who Lady Mendl is, or rather, was – the tea salon is named after Elsie de Wolfe, an American interior decorator, who married Sir Charles Mendl. My tea companion, Loreen, is an interior designer. It was a rather fitting place for us to enjoy a relaxing cup of tea.
Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon
56 Irving Place
New York, New York 10003