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inn at irving place 2

My sister and co-blogger, Wendi, recently visited me in NY and and kindly offered to take me to afternoon tea at Lady Mendl’s. She managed to hide her disbelief that, after living barely an hour outside Manhattan for over 10 years, I hadn’t managed to get there on my own. (Side note: Wendi spent a year studying outside London and has been a fan of all things English ever since).

A charming find, Lady Mendl’s is located at the Inn at Irving Place in lower Manhattan (www.innatirving.com). Just setting foot inside the doors sets you back about 100 years. We were seated among floral paneled walls, button-tufted furnishings, shaded lamps, white tablecothes and well-dressed women who’d opted to spend their Saturday afternoon the same way we had.

Cracking open the tea menu (4 pages of tea options alone), I was surprised to find out that Lady Mendl was Elsie de Wolfe. The famed de Wolfe is a well-known interior designer of the early 20th century and, in fact, helped put the interior design profession on the map. A purveyor of all things beautiful, she labeled herself  a rebel in “an ugly world” that included, but wasn’t limited to, the works of William Morris and others of arts and crafts ilk.

Elsie de Wolfe married Sir Charles Mendl and lived next door to the present-day Lady Mendl’s. It doesn’t take much to picture early 20th century social society in this New York City relic that pays attention  to proper Victorian-inspired details.

Mother Daughter May 09 017Speaking of details, our afternoon tea was high on them, including miniature everything, from the sandwiches and scones to the floral vase and candle on our table to the single sugar cube beside our tea cup with a tiny rose on top of it. My sister managed to hold on to her sugar cube for the duration of the event (see photo, to the right of her tea cup). Mine was tragically absconded by the waiter when tea spilled and the saucer was exchanged.

If you’re not a fan of the afternoon tea ritual yet, give it a try. It’s not cheap (count on $25 – $40 per person) but you won’t need to eat for days and it’s a great way to spend a relaxed couple of hours with your favorite friends or family.

Lady Mendl’s is one of the more authentic environments if you’re in NYC, but restaurants or hotels that offer afternoon tea options are found in many cities. Or try it at home. Besides plenty of tea, such an elegant affair could include:

* mini-sandwiches (best served on a multi-level serving tray)
* scones with clotted cream
* delicate pastry deserts
* pinkie finger in the air while drinking (optional, but a lot of fun!)

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Following afternoon tea at Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon in New York City recently, Loreen and I decided to try to find Strand book store (its inventory includes new, used, out of print and rare books, and you can get some really good deals).

As we passed through Union Square heading down Broadway Avenue, Loreen suddenly uttered those magic words I love to hear – “I’m pretty sure there’s a chocolate shop around here somewhere.”

Sure enough, within a few blocks we had stumbled upon Max Brenner’s Chocolate by the Bald Man.

Chocolate by the Bald Man storefront

We were not in the least bit hungry considering what we’d just eaten at Lady Mendl’s, but as a serious chocoholic, I was compelled to go in and check the place out. Loreen loves chocolate too; she didn’t need any convincing to make this stop.

Stepping into the store was like entering chocolate heaven. These pictures might help to explain but you really have to experience the place in person to get the full effect.

Chocolate by the Bald Man Interior 3

Chocolate by the Bald Man is an eat in/take out restaurant and a gift shop designed to appeal to chocolate lovers and potential chocolate lovers. Brown ceiling pipes run overhead (no doubt carrying chocolate!!),  and light and dark brown, beige, and caramel colours are used throughout. Solid blocks of chocolate and vats of melted chocolate help to decorate the space.

You can sit down for a bite or take away something that looks and sounds delectable. The menu is not all chocolate-based but it does boast quite a few chocolatey desserts as well as a few unique savoury options like Waffle Fries dusted with chili and cocoa powder and Black and Tan Beer Battered Vidalia Rings with Dark Chocolate Ranch Dressing. Crepes, quesadillas, pastas, pizzas, salads and burgers round out the rest of the menu which is creatively divided into categories such as Things to Dip, Food on a Stick, Tossed Around, and For Your Hands.

Chocolate by the Bald Man interior 1

If you don’t want to eat anything, you can buy chocolates or drinking chocolate mix or chocolate gift or spa items. The Hug Mugs (cocoa bean-shaped mugs designed to be cupped) caught my attention and look like a fun way to enjoy hot chocolate.

Chocolate by the Bald Man Interior 2

At the take-out counter, a display case contains chocolate pizza and other baked goods as well as syringes filled with chocolate. That’s one shot I wouldn’t mind taking.

Chocolate by the Bald Man - chocolate syringe

Just exactly who is Max Brenner, the balding chocolate lover? In fact, there actually is no such person. The business was created by two Israeli business men, Max Fichtman and Oded Brenner. Fichtman is no longer involved. Brenner still is, and apparently resembles the caricature of the bald man (or perhaps it’s vice versa). There are Max Brenner stores in a few countries including Israel, Austrialia and Singapore.

Whether the food or the chocolate tastes any good is a mystery we’ll have to solve on our next visit. As hard as it is to believe, we left empty-handed, vowing to return with empty stomachs another time.

Max Brenner Chocolate by the Bald Man
* Union Square
841 Broadway (between 13th and 14th Streets)

* East Village
141 2nd Avenue (at 8th Street)

Ph: 212-388-0030
www.maxbrenner.com

A couple weeks ago, Murray and I made the 50-minute drive from Kitchener into Mississauga (Streetsville to be exact) to have afternoon tea at The Tea Room in the Robinson-Bray House (223 Queen Street South, Ph: 905-542-7674).

Robinson Bray Tea Room in Streetsville (Mississauga), Ontario The side entrance to The Tea Room at the Robinson-Bray House in Mississauga, Ontario 

The house was built in 1885 and owned by at least two families – the Robinsons and the Brays. In 1983, it was designated a building of “architectural and contextual value” by the City of Mississauga. It now houses several businesses including a gift shop, spa and The Tea Room.

The Tea Room is in the back of the building. You can enter either through the front or the side of the House. When we left through the front after finishing our tea, I noticed that a large room at the front of the house was vacant. The space had a lovely bay window looking out onto Queen Street. My first thought was that it would be a lovely area for The Tea Room to expand or move into.

But I’m ahead of myself. Let me share our tea experience.

You could order off the menu but we really didn’t give it much consideration as The Tea Room was serving a Valentine’s tea ($23 per person) which sounded really nice. It started with a delicious garden salad with sliced strawberries and cucumbers and pralined pecans. This was followed by a two-tiered stand filled with tea sandwiches, and heart-shaped chocolate chunk scones served with devon cream and preserves.

Sandwich Plate
The tray of tea sandwiches included (clockwise from top right) egg salad on a mini croissant (which turned out to be a roll as you can see above), chicken and brie on a slice of baguette with sweet mango chutney, a roast beef and horseradish mayo wrap with caramelized onions, salmon mousse in a phyllo cup, and a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich. 

Then, because we hadn’t eaten enough yet (!),  it was time to choose a dessert. I don’t recall all the choices; the first couple our server described were all we needed to hear. Murray chose a Chocolate Crepe with Amaretto Cream and Mixed Berries.

Chcocolate Crepes with Amaretto Cream and Mixed Berries Chocolate Crepe with Amaretto Cream and Mixed Berries 

I opted for the Passionfruit and Mixed Berry Trifle, served in a tea cup.

Passionfruit and Mixed Berry Trifle garnished with a chocolate-dipped cooked and berriees The Passionfruit and Mixed Berry Trifle was garnished with a chocolate-dipped cookie and berries. 

 

A tart-sweet ending to a delicious tea. Whipped cream, passionfruit custard, cake and berries – a tart-sweet ending to a delicious tea! 

Everything was washed done with a pot of Earl Grey tea for me and Assam tea for Murray.

The Tea Room’s servers were friendly and attentive. The decor of the two-room tea room was nice enough, although nothing outstanding.  I’ll confess I wanted to straighten out the slightly askew picture hung off centre under a shelf on one wall of the room we sat in, but to Murray’s relief I managed to suppress the urge.

Other than the egg salad that was served in a slightly soggy mini roll instead of the promised croissant, the food was very tasty, especially the salad and desserts. Needless to say, we didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day!