If your impression of afternoon tea at New York’s vaunted hotels ranges from staid service to high prices to sad tea bags, you’d mostly be correct. Langham Place (400 Fifth Avenue), the luxury hotel brand founded in London (and origin of the concept of hotel tea service), hopes to reverse that perception with its modern twist on the traditional affair at the New York Fifth Avenue location.
Service in Measure Lounge, which boasts high ceilings and low-slung furnishings in warm, brown tones, will begin on Saturday, March 28. I attended a preview of the pleasures to come this week. Perhaps the most important point to impress is that Langham Place does not skimp on tea quality.
Langham sources its loose leaf from upscale tea purveyor In Pursuit of Tea, and I had the opportunity to sit with the company’s owner, Sebastian Beckwith, at the tasting. Already familiar with his penchant for the unique and rare (sometimes to the detriment of a sound business plan), and his dedication to spending time at origin, he informed me firsthand of the selections he’d chosen for the menu. Beckwith opted for a classic, bergamot-scented Earl Grey; a roasted rice and green tea Genmaicha, obtained from a small family farm near Mount Fuji; and a refreshing, herbal mint tea.
To pair with the teas, chef David Vandenabeele — a veteran of the Langham, London — has created an innovative menu with an appropriately contemporary presentation. Eschewing the classic, silver-plated, multi-tier tower, Vandenabeele organizes courses in hand-crafted wood and slate bento boxes. Edibles are updates on traditional finger-food categories: savory sandwiches, desserts, and scones with cream.
Rather than boring watercress and cucumber triangles, for example, Vandenabeele prepares a mini king crab roll, a warm scotch egg with curry mayonnaise, and hummus gougers. To replace classic desserts, Vandenabeele composes a passion fruit and chocolate macaron, cookie and cream profiterole (adorned with chopped Oreos), and a chocolate-dipped, cheesecake-filled strawberry. Finally, nutmeg and cinnamon scones with clotted cream and house-made jam will likely force patrons to concede defeat and cancel their dinner plans.
Reservations for tea service will be available on Open Table or by calling the hotel at 212-695-4005. Afternoon tea is served as a prix-fixe option, at a very reasonable $35 for adults and $20 for kids. Champagne and mini-cocktails can be added at an additional cost.