The Bridge, which is run by Roy and Alison Hayward, is a Victorian-themed tea-room, although Tea Guilds chief Irene Gorman, has said that it can only be a combination of tea service and general ambience which wins the trade’s top annual award.
“The Bridge Tea Room offers an authentic tea experience in that, if a customer orders a Japanese sencha or a China white, they are served with the correct traditional instruments or bowls.
“You will also find a lot of tea-rooms now being equally imaginative with their afternoon menus. You will now find more menus built around savoury scones, or children’s menus, and the Bridge has devised different versions of afternoon tea based around varieties of sandwich, scone and tea.”
The Tea Guild’s Top Tea Place award is judged on criteria of ambience and welcome as well as the tea.
“Although the tea is the hero, it is the whole experience which is fundamentally important,” says Irene Gorman. “There are still establishments where you are not acknowledged when you walk in, whereas if you arrive at a busy time and are greeted properly, you won’t mind waiting. There are also considerations such as cleanliness, thoughtfulness such as a fresh serving of hot water beside your second tea, and well-chosen cutlery – I sometimes wonder why I am expected to cut a delicate little scone with a great big knife!
“We also like to see staff who are patient in answering questions about tea. All the best tea places know tea and are willing to talk about it and explain different teas… which is why the customer expectation of a tea-room which is a member of the Tea Guild is fifty times higher than their expectation of any other café!”
The Bridge’s tea menu came in for particular praise by the Tea Guild judges. In particular, said Irene Gorman, the menu showed how good descriptions of teas can now encourage a customer to develop their tastes.
“The Bridge menu is special because it explains about the difference between teas and shows what kind of flavour to expect. In green teas, the menu explains the difference between Japanese Sencha and other green teas, and with the new popularity of white teas, the menu explains the details of picking and processing, and the colour and flavour notes to expect.
“The very best tea rooms now describe teas in the same way as a wine menu works. And so, where people used to order the teas they knew, now they will order what they like the sound of – a Formosan Oolong might not mean a thing to them, but the description of a taste like peach blossom may appeal.
“You will also find that a lot of the best tea rooms will, if the customer orders something from the menu and finds they don’t like it, will readily change it for something else.”
The Bridge Tea Rooms also works on the correct principle of ‘if they like it in the cup, sell them a packet’ – all their teas are available for takeaway sales in packs of 125gm.
Brown’s hotel in Mayfair was commended for a tea menu ‘prepared with the reverence attached to a fine wine list’. Stuart Johnson, general manager at Brown’s hotel, said: “The award means so much to all the staff, who have put their hearts and souls into creating the best possible experience for our customers.”
The Tea Council has also awarded 12 special Awards of Excellence to other London venues in recognition of their consistently high standards in tea service. The winners are:
By Ian Boughton