Day 3: The Orangery

At Kensington Palace stands a well-reputed tea house called the Orangery. My mother and I share afternoon tea once a week, so it seemed natural that we must visit such a place while we had the opportunity.

Confections at The Orangery

The fare

Although we six enjoyed taking tea together and though the atmosphere was good, the fare was really not up to our norm. Admittedly, our standards for afternoon tea are delightfully lofty:

Mum makes excellent scones[1]. And we’re so fond of our favourite tea[2] that we send away for it because we can’t find it here. And we typically have green salads to outshine the rank and file. And dishes run a broad gummut from sweet to savoury: pastries, seed cakes, salmon and cucumber sandwiches, croissants, Glamorgen sausages, cookies, quiche, and so forth.

Well, even laying aside high standards, the food wasn’t something you’d go out of your way for. Go for the beauty and the atmosphere and the excuse to impose refined behaviour on your friends and family for an hour.

Tea at the Orangery, Kensington Palace

The Orangery at Kensington Palace

statue at the Orangery, Kensington Gardens

The Orangery was a stately, white building, whose décor suggested a pointed but not predominating neo-classical influence. (I speak of the columns and Romanesque busts.) The interior felt very open to the air, with many windows served for the only source of lighting I discerned. Each table bore a tiny orange tree, in honour of the eponym.

The grounds hold a long, beautiful lawn with manicured trees along the lane. At the lawn’s opposite termination lies a busy garden.

(—Oh, yes—all of the service people at the Orangery were expatriots. Recall that we’re still in London at this point.)

The Garden at the Orangery
The Garden at the Orangery

What’s ‘high tea’?

During all my growing-up, I held a vague notion that ‘high tea’ might be a very fancy afternoon meal, a white-gloves affair, with the daintiest tea service and petits fours. When I became an adult, my mother educated me otherwise:

High tea originated in the days of the industrial revolution and is so named because the participants would not sit to take it, but eat standing at a high table. Why stand? High tea was rather a working-class meal, and the participants who came in from work were hardly clean enough to sit down and, what’s more, would likely have to resume labours after partaking, not retiring until supper (which would be a lighter meal). So rather than being a more dainty affair, high tea was coarser than afternoon teas.

As you might imagine, then, high tea offers more substantial fare than afternoon tea’s light refreshment. Think meat, fish, and baked goods instead of pastries.  Whereas afternoon tea is generally taken at 4 PM, high tea (also termed ‘evening tea’ or ‘meat tea’) falls later, generally around 5–7 PM.

My advice for a visit to the Orangery

Make a reservation, and you won’t have to wait in line. For our party, having just come from a long tour of the Tower of London, being spared the line was a blessing.

As I suggested before, the confections and scones were no great attraction, though they were pretty to behold and the menu made them seem appealing.

[1] You might call them crumpets—I don’t mean the fried bread which we sometimes call ‘scones’ here in the US.

[2] Saveur du Soir: Réglisse et Menthe. It’s actually an infusion, not containing tea leaves—in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we don’t drink tea or coffee.

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