London: Indulging in Two Untraditional Tea Experiences

The last time I visited London, I had afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason. The experience was lovely from start to finish; the tea service was impeccably done and oh-so-British. This time around, I wanted to experience another afternoon tea, but I thought it might be fun to do something a little more unexpected. In the end, I found not one, but two, unique tea experiences in London, both of which were highlights of my much-too-short weekend in the city.

BRGR’s Burger Tea:

Okay, okay – the afternoon “tea” at BRGR isn’t really a tea at all, but rather a clever lunchtime twist on the tea experience. You won’t find any Earl Grey here; instead, it’s iced tea and Prosecco to drink (and you sure won’t find me complaining about sipping Prosecco instead of hot tea). Instead of delicate finger sandwiches, you get sliders, and in place of dainty little petit fours, there are more common miniature desserts – think good old milkshakes and brownies.

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The concept is cute and the atmosphere is fun – so what about the food at BRGR? Overall, I would say it’s pretty solid though not spectacular. On the savory end of things, you receive three sliders and fries. I loved the Chicken Caesar Slider, and the fries were pretty tasty too. As for the other two sliders – a Butchers Cut Cheddar & Cheese and a Lobster Blat – they were only okay.

The desserts were the real stars here, I think – especially the Mini Vanilla Milkshake, which was so delicious that I would return to BRGR just to order a full-size one. The Mini Warm Doughnut with Salted Caramel was also fantastic, and the Mini Chocolate Brownie and Mini Strawberry & White Chocolate Cheesecake (served layered in a shot glass) were good too.

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Sanderson Hotel’s Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea:

My other afternoon tea experience, at the Sanderson Hotel, was more of an actual afternoon tea, but it too came with a twist – a delightful Alice in Wonderland theme. What impressed me the most about the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea was how thoughtful every little detail was; each element of the tea service was whimsical and contributed to the Mad Hatter motif. Some examples of my favorite details included -

The riddle on the napkin ring:

(Do you know the answer? Stars, of course.)

The special teas in little potion bottles:

The menu in a vintage book:

And the sugar cubes in a real music box:

As for the tea itself, the Sanderson has all the usual selections plus four special blends created specially for the Mad Hatter’s Tea: strawberries and cream, rhubard and custard, apple pie, and mint chocolate chip. I figured I had to try one of the special teas, and while I was seriously tempted by the strawberries and cream, I could not resist the mint chocolate chip. As it turned out, I made a good choice: the tea smelled – and, more importantly – tasted just lovely. Plus: look at that teapot! Like I said, every little detail was just spot-on.

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When the tea tray came out, it was also quite impressive:

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The little sandwiches were the most traditional – and therefore, least memorable – aspects of the tea. They included a smoked Cumbrian ham, a cucumber and chive cream cheese, a cold smoked salmon, an egg mayonnaise, and a mini quiche (the latter of which was my favorite savory selection):

The scones were also fairly standard, and I have to admit that I missed my beloved lemon curd being served on the side. However, the herb butter turned out to be quite a good topper for these little guys too.

When it comes to the sweets, this is where the Mad Hatter’s tea experience truly shines. There was an incredible amount of creativity and cleverness on display, and I absolutely adored most of the dessert selections.

The most over-the-top and strange dessert sat perched atop the tray: a carrot meringue served on a bed of pea shoots with strawberries and cream homemade marshmallow mushrooms. Taste-wise, this was probably my least favorite dessert, but it was such fun to see regardless:

The other desserts were just as beautiful, yet even more delicious. First, the “Tick Tock” Traditional Victorian Sponge:

Then, the Melting Mango Cheesecake, which was served inside a beautiful rainbow shell. When you got to the center of the cheesecake, the bright mango filling spilled out, sort of like a soft boiled egg. This was absolutely delicious; I loved the mango/cheesecake combination.

Next, the Matcha Green Tea and White Chocolate Mousse. The green tea mousse was tasty, as was the edible chocolate cup it was served inside.

And finally, the “Drink Me” Potion. After the tea, I jotted down a few quick notes in my iPhone, and I described this as “layers of liquid-y goodness.” While I cannot recall what each layer consisted of (note-taking fail!), I do remember that this tasted completely incredible. Such a memorable dessert!

In case you aren’t stuffed enough by the goodies on the tea tray (unlikely!), the Sanderson also features a “Jelly Wonderland” with lots of jiggly jellos to choose from. Jellos aren’t really my thing – I cannot quite get on board with the texture – but I thought this was a neat addition to the tea.

The Mad Hatter’s tea at the Sanderson will go down as one of my most memorable meal experiences in a long while. Though I didn’t love all the items the Sanderson served, some of the dishes were amazingly yummy, and all of them impressed me with their creativity. I will always have a soft spot for the traditional London tea experiences, but I’m glad I went “down the rabbit hole” at the Sanderson, too.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 111

The weekly roundup of internet awesomeness:

  1. So fun: A Tour of the British Isles in Accents.
  2. I think a lot about the concept of “unplugging.” Sometimes I’m for it, and sometimes I’m against – which is why I thought these two completely different viewpoints were both worthwhile to consider: Experiencing Experience and The Pointlessness of Unplugging.
  3. This letter from Helen Keller is just beautiful: My Heart Almost Stood Still.
  4. A lot of gems here: Haikus to NY.
  5. That hair! That fabulosity! That hair! Watch 25-Year-Old Jon Hamm Lose on a 1990s Dating Show. Dying, just dying.
  6. The website Television Without Pity is shutting down, which is a shame because some of their recaps were downright brilliant. Case in point: this recap of Center Stage. It’s insanely long, but from recent experience I can report that if you’ve got a lot of time to kill in an airport, it’s the perfect read.
  7. Such a cool project: Eight Hours of Airliners Departing from Los Angeles in One Single Photo.
  8. I know they are celebrities and who knows what they’re really like, but, come on – aren’t we ALL rooting for these guys to wind up together? 35 Times Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak’s Best Friendship Killed You in the Heart.
  9. I freaking love her: Emma Stone Meets Mel C. from The Spice Girls.
  10. The French know what’s up: Two French Unions Ban Checking Work Emails after 6pm.

(Image via People)

London: Eating All the Things at Borough Market

Here’s something that rarely, if ever, happens in life: you read a bunch of raves about a spot, get excited because it sounds awesome, and then finally visit for yourself, only to find out that it really is just as fantastic as everyone says it is.

No, far more likely is this scenario: you visit and find yourself disappointed. It’s nice, but it was over-hyped and could never live up to expectations. It’s fine, but it wasn’t quite as magical as you were expecting. It’s fun, but you figured your mind would be blown and, sadly, it was not.

Luckily for me, visiting Borough Market was one of those elusive occasions where a place turned out to be just as amazing as I had hoped it would be. I had read a million blog posts about the market and was dying to go, so it was the very first stop of my weekend in London. I arrived bright and early and set out to exploring. Pro tip: you should arrive early too, as the market started to get really busy around lunchtime but was relatively peaceful in the morning.

Right away, it became apparent that Borough Market overwhelmed me, but in the best way possible. That is, there was so much foodie goodness around every corner that I couldn’t decide where to begin. Immediately, I understood I would never be able to try everything I wanted to try in just one visit. Which, of course, will necessitate future return trips to London. Naturally.

I did a few laps around the market, scoping out the situation. There were vendors selling cuisine from all over Europe, from France to Croatia to Turkey to Portugal. There were tables upon tables heaped with fresh produce, stands piled high with breads and cheeses, bowls filled with olives and nuts. There were serious shoppers having conversations with sellers about the merits of truffles and not-so-serious shoppers simply happy to snap colorful photos on their cameras. There were vendors who hung back, waiting for customers to come to them, and there were vendors who tried aggressive sales pitches (my favorite was the man who kept shouting, “3 pounds a pound them cherries!” in his delightful British accent).

Ultimately, I spent several hours at the market. I ate some food for breakfast, then wandered over to the Shard to visit the observation deck, and then came back for a second round of food for lunch. I had intended to visit a different market at lunchtime, but the pull of Borough Market was too great, so I happily stayed put. I think it was the correct choice, as I found plenty of delicious food to sample, including:

Mulled wine, which conveniently comes in a coffee cup so you can pretend you are not day drinking:

A spinach and feta croissant, which makes an excellent breakfast:

Paella, which I purchased primarily because there is a stand with absolutely gigantic paella pans and it totally sucked me in. The paella was good but not great:

Turkish delight, which I only bought because it features prominently in one of my favorite childhood books (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, of course) (stupid Edmund!), and I’ve always been curious what it tasted like. It turns out that what it tastes like is not great, in my opinion. I bought three pieces, had a tiny bite of one, and threw the rest away; they were WAY too sweet and I found the sticky, squishy texture off-putting. Just not my jam:

(As it turns out, I’m not the only one with a similar reaction to this stuff)

The chorizo sandwich from Brindisa, which I had read about in one of the aforementioned million blog posts and knew I had to try. Honestly, it was so tasty I could have wept. Not really, but you know what I mean:

Gluten-free miniature cupcakes – one red velvet, one tiramisu. The tiramisu one was so delicious I almost wished I had gone for the full-sized version – but I knew I had to conserve stomach space:

And finally, sea salt caramel fudge. This was incredibly, incredibly rich yet phenomenal in small doses:

If it is not yet clear, I completely enjoyed my time at Borough Market and would recommend everyone stop there on a trip to London. I know that the next time I’m lucky enough to return to the city, I will be paying the market another visit – and eating another chorizo sandwich, of course.

Broc: Sampling Sweet Treats at the Cailler Factory

The fact that the towns of Gruyeres and Broc – home to fine Swiss cheese and chocolate, respectively – are so close to one another is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in the sense that you can easily visit both in the course of a single day trip. And it’s a curse in the sense that, if you do, and if you go full-out at each, you will be consuming an epic amount of cheese and chocolate. Inevitably, you end your day with a bit of that Thanksgiving afternoon food coma feeling: happily stuffed, but almost uncomfortably so.

I visited Gruyeres first (climbing up to the Chateau in an attempt to atone for all the cheese and chocolate consumption) and then headed on to Broc. Upon arrival, I made my way to the Cailler Factory, home to some seriously delicious Swiss chocolate. The best part of the Cailler experience is the unlimited chocolate tasting, but to get there, you have to pass through the exhibits and factory first. Unfortunately, you aren’t allowed to wander through on your own; rather, you are placed with a group and ushered through a series of rooms with doors that open and close automatically to coincide with the narration coming through the speakers. So, there’s no skipping the displays on chocolate’s history, which is slightly unfortunate, as this part of the tour is pretty cheesy. For example: you’ll see cheap recreations of Aztec jungles with silly narration and overly dramatic music playing in the background.

Once you get through the rooms chronicling the history of chocolate, you arrive at the factory portion of the tour, where you can see how the chocolate is made. At this point, you’re released from your tour group and are free to explore on your own. I found this portion of the tour much more interesting!

But the real reason for visiting Cailler is, of course, the chocolate itself, and when you come to the end of the tour, you’ll find an all-you-can-eat selection of Cailler’s chocolates. You can’t take any of it with you (though there’s plenty more to purchase in the gift shop), but you are free to sample to your heart’s content while you remain in the room.

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There were obviously many varieties to choose from but my favorite remained plain old lait – that is, milk chocolate. In my opinion, Swiss chocolate is so delicious on its own that you don’t need to add anything to it – better to enjoy it in its purest form.

After finishing the tour, you can head to the gift shop to buy even more chocolate (not that you will need it at this point). I did notice that many of the prices here were slightly cheaper than you would find in stores, so even if the thought of consuming more chocolate makes you slightly nauseous at the moment, it’s not a bad place to stock up for the future.

Ultimately, I felt about the Cailler Factory like I did La Maison du Gruyere: the museums is not anything to write home about (and, indeed, it’s downright silly), but getting a chance to sample those gourmet treats is worth the trip. Just make sure you go on a very empty stomach.

Gruyeres: The Climb to the Chateau

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Fun fact about me: whenever I climb up something – a steep staircase, a tall hill, whatever the case may be – I always think about that stupid Miley Cyrus song.1 It doesn’t matter where I’m at, or who I’m with, or what I’m doing at the moment; inevitably, I find myself with those lyrics – inane though they may be – floating around my head on repeat.

And so it was in Gruyeres, where, after visiting the cheese factory, I embarked upon a little climb, humming Miley along the way. Gruyeres proper is located on a hill above where the cheesy magic happens, and I wanted to visit its chateau. Though you can get to town via bus, I looked at the schedule and realized one was not coming for a while. Being completely impatient, I figured I might as well hike. It was just 15 minutes, I had heard – how bad could it be?

Despite what that question may lead you to believe, I’m being overly dramatic, as the climb was not that bad at all. Sure, sure, there was a point near the top where it got a little steep and I was over it, but that feeling faded once I walked into town and saw how quaint and lovely it was. It disappeared entirely once I made my way to the Chateau and took in the beautiful views from its terraces.

Not only is the Chateau an excellent vantage point for countryside views, the Chateau itself is well worth a visit. I had been to the famed Chateau de Chillon the prior weekend, but I found myself much more enamored with the Chateau de Gruyeres; its interiors were more well-appointed interior than the bare-bones Chillon.

And so, Gruyeres serves as yet another example of one thing I remember every time I travel around Europe: whenever you have the opportunity, you should pull a Miley and make the climb. It’s always worth it.

1 By stupid, I clearly mean, that song I have in my iTunes library and not-so-secretly (anymore, at least) love.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 110


The weekly roundup of internet time-wasters:

  1. Somebody had a lot of time on their hands: The Office Time Machine.
  2. Legal humor for the win.
  3. A handy reference guide: Who Has Murdered Whom on Scandal.
  4. Not that we didn’t already know she was awesome: 13 Incredibly Awesome Amy Poehler Quotes.
  5. Beautiful pictures: A Girl and Her Bulldog.
  6. Epic: Twitter Reacts to HIMYM Finale. (“Finally, a love story more disappointing than Twilight.”)
  7. This Game of Thrones Honest Trailer is spot on. Lord Friend Zone!
  8. Disney Movies Written for Twentysomethings. Yep.
  9. This compilation of the 10 Best Sentences is interesting, but I like the comments on this article - with people suggesting their own personal favorites – even better.
  10. Dying: 44 Ordinary Signs That Became Suspicious When People Failed at Using Quotation Marks. This, of course, reminds me of Joey’s struggles with air quotes.

(Image via Buzzfeed)

Gruyeres: Let Them Eat Cheese

One very popular day trip option from Geneva (seriously, I think every intern in town makes the pilgrimage at some point) is to visit Gruyeres and Broc. A few hours by train from Geneva, you begin in Gruyeres with its namesake cheese and then head on to Broc to tour the Cailler chocolate factory before returning “home” to Geneva. Over the course of the day, you’re almost guaranteed to feel both overwhelmed by Swiss clichés and overloaded with far too much rich chocolate and cheese.

I’ll be getting to the chocolate part in a later post, but for now, I begin with the cheese in Gruyeres. Upon arriving on the train, you literally exit the station and walk right across the street to La Maison du Gruyere, home to cheese-making, a little cheese museum, and a restaurant serving lots of – you guessed it – cheese. After you pay the price of admission, you receive not a paper ticket but – again, you guessed it – cheese samples. But of course.

The museum is nothing to write home about, containing little displays on cheese’s ingredients and the history of cheese-making in Switzerland that are not terribly illuminating. What’s cooler is the opportunity to peek in on the cheese-makers at work; you’ll see them in a fishbowl-like room that you can peer down into.

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After visiting the museum, make sure to stop by the adjoining restaurant for lunch. I visited Gruyeres about one and a half months into my time in Switzerland, and would you believe that this marked the first time I had eaten Swiss fondue? Indeed, it did – and while fondue isn’t generally my favorite food, this one was pretty damn good. My friend also claimed she ate the best risotto of her life at this restaurant, so there are lots of good options if you are looking for a cheese feast.

While I cannot in good conscience label La Maison du Gruyeres a “must do,” it is definitely a worthwhile way to spend some time. The museum itself, with its cheesy silly displays, isn’t a real winner, but any place where you can acquire a wide range of cheese and cheese souvenirs and partake in some solid cheese-centric meals is not half bad.