Monday, March 17, 2008

The Orangery @ Kensington Palace

"Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey,
Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea."

With these lines Alexander Pope forever linked in my mind Queen Anne and tea. So it is only appropriate that Queen Anne’s little palace conservatory extension at Kensington Palace (1704, Sir John Vanburgh designed, no less, and three times over budget) now houses one of London’s great places to take afternoon tea.

The Queen’s orange trees were housed in a sumptuous baroque space – soaring ceilings, windows and Corinthian columns; classical statuary and Grinling Gibbons carving. Apparently, she hosted al fresco summer supper parties here as well, hence the decoration. The all-white space works well for the modern café, with its rows of decorative metalwork furniture and dainty miniature orange trees on the tables. It seems to aim for the luxe tourist and/or well-heeled local; it is so nice to see this sort of thing being done well in this sort of location. The café certainly lives up to its elevated architectural surrounds. Service was very friendly and obliging but perhaps a little off-focus: but the place was hopping all afternoon (Anne and I settled in for a lengthy gossip over pots of tea and cakes; there was no pressure on us to move out)

We ordered the exclusive Tregothnan tea – the first tea to be actually grown in England (in Falmouth). One has to applaud the ambition – at 50º N it is the most northerly latitude at which a tea garden has been planted. However, great flavour requires high altitudes and – even as someone who prefers weak tea – I found this one slightly underpowered. Our cakes included lemon meringue (a generous slice with a tart lemon curd filling and just right crisp and chewy meringue topping), chocolate fudge cake, and an apricot and almond slice. A plate of prettily arranged dainty finger sandwiches included cucumber, smoked salmon and ham.

A very successful afternoon, and I am sure Queen Anne would approve of her Orangery’s modern incarnation. I’d definitely go again.

The Orangery @ Kensington Palace
(High Street Kensington tube)

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