18 September 2018

No Cream Tea and Sympathy

I am never happy to criticize my favorite restaurant, and when I have mild complaints I keep it to myself.  There is something that I want to address, though, and that's a tiny change to the menu of Tea and Sympathy that I just don't understand.

My first ever visit to Tea and Sympathy came shortly after coming home from my first trip to the UK in 1994.  It would be another four years before I would be able to return.  Now, New York is and has always been a pretty diverse city, and it's easy enough to find a restaurant representing nearly every culture on earth.  The old-school cozy British tea culture, though?  Not so much.  Scones were extremely rare in the 1990s here, as was being served tea loose from a teapot.  Soon enough I would be able to source loose tea in the Village, and make it myself.  Fine.  Eventually I'd find British teas and paraphernalia online, but not in the mid-nineties, and ambiance was another thing altogether.

When some friends of mine found out about the still new British restaurant called Tea and Sympathy, it took barely a minute for me to hightail it over there.  Now I always whine about being broke, but in my late teens I was truly, truly empty of pocket, and if it weren't for the fact that I lived at home, I'd be in direr straights.  So visiting any restaurants that didn't have golden arches was a luxury.  Somehow I pulled together enough cash to have my first cream tea at Tea and Sympathy, and I count this as a major contributor to my Tea Love.

The decor has barely changed: cozy and slightly shabby-pub/tea shop interior, with crooked framed pictures of royalty and Cockney rhyming slang on the wall.  It's a home away from home for British ex-pats and Anglophiles alike.  Since the first visit I've dragged nearly everyone I was close to there, including my Dad (despite his dislike for dining out he loved the apple crumble), but I probably wouldn't have returned so quickly if it hadn't been for the relative affordability of the cream tea.

Such a simple pleasure:  two scones with clotted cream and jam, and a nice pot of whatever tea floats your current boat.

Over the decades, I've been back many, many times, and tried nearly everything on the menu.  I rarely come in just for cream tea, but I liked knowing I could.

Until I couldn't.

Recently I had my not-favorite kind of doctor's appointment, the offices of which are located close to Tea and Sympathy, so as is my custom, I thought some comfort food would set me up nicely. The restaurant was nearly empty, and I got the coveted table in the window.  I looked at the menu...and something was missing.  I asked the waitress where's the cream tea, and she explained that it's gone, if someone wants to order scones they can after ordering something else, or they could still have scones with their afternoon tea.  I ordered the beef cottage pie, and sat and quietly stewed over this change (after texting my sisters about said change).

Why though?  Is it because people order such a "small" menu item, and then linger too long in the not-very-spacious restaurant? Was it an accounting decision?  Though I respect that a business needs to keep flowing, it makes me sad that a person like 1990s me, or even modern me on a budget will now have to think twice before stopping by.  Perhaps none of my me's are the preferred clientele.  

Even so... it's weird to have a name like Tea and Sympathy, and not have available the most tea-ish bit - the cream tea!  Unless of course, you get something else, first.  So now it's Bangers + Mash + Tea + Scones and...

For argument's sake,  I know that in parts of Britain, "Tea" refers to dinner, or supper: the evening meal, as it were.  So I suppose the name still fits.  But now we get back to the point that it is a British restaurant.  As someone  who has managed to visit London and various other parts of the UK over the years, and has a homing signal for the word "tea", it occurs to me that even in the cities, you rarely have to walk long before you find a shop that offers cream tea on their menu. It's ubiquitous. It's like finding breakfast tacos in San Antonio.  So if you have one of the few British restaurants in New York City, wouldn't it stand to reason that cream tea would be a mainstay?

I doubt I will cease visiting which is still one of my favorite places, but I may lessen my visits, and begin a new search for cozy spots that have good tea and scones, or cake or pastries.  I enjoy this kind of search, and it's a labor of love with the cooler weather approaching.  So maybe they did me a favor by changing their menu.  Always look on the bright side!