At 56 Irving Place in New York, there sits an unassuming white townhouse that looks like nothing out of the ordinary. A walk up the concrete steps and a glance at the brass engraved plate at the door, however, will tell you that you’ve arrived at The Inn at Irving Place, the home of Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon.
Stepping inside, you will be taken back in time as the ambiance resembles that of a luxurious 19th century speakeasy, although the nonalcoholic version. The lounge area/reception is quiet yet ornate, with tiny tea lights and candles sitting amongst bronze framed mirrors, vases of white flowers, and antique furniture. The gracious hosts take your name and immediately remove your coats while you relax on one of the plush couches and chairsdetailed with dainty floral vines.
The tea salon itself is immaculate, with dark mahogany tables, Tiffany lamps, and a preset table with flowers, champagne glasses, a 3-plate setting, tea cups with edible rose-adorned sugar cubes as the dimly lit room is brightened naturally through giant picture windows.
The experience consists of 5-courses and comes with your choice of tea from a very international and diverse menu. There are black teas, green teas, oolong teas, tisanes, and signature teas, and each variety differs drastically from the next. While black tea is more oxidized with the leaves being set to fire twice, allowing for a strong flavor, white tea is only slightly oxidized and is made by withering young leaves and flower buds in sunlight. Green tea is also only slightly oxidized and is thought to have a very natural, clean flavor while oolong tea is made by withering the tea leaves under strong sunlight and then bending and coiling with the oxidation period varying. With tisanes you can expect unique blends of fruits, roots, grains, leaves, florals, and herbs.
While the list is extensive, some of the more interesting choices include:
- Wood Dragon- Known as the “champagne” of teas, this oolong tea from the Nantou region of Central Taiwan is complex and has a roasted, woody taste.
- Darjeeling 2nd Flush- This black tea from the Darjeeling Hills of India is actually a copper color and is sweet with flavored of Muscat grape.
- Egyptian Chamomile- This tisane tea is slightly fruity with scents of apple and fig and is made by brewing a chamomile bud.
- Genmaicha- A Japanese green tea blended with brown rice to give it a buttery and nutty flavor. This tea also has a story behind it, as it is said that it is named after a clumsy servant of a Samurai warrior who would accidentally drop grains of rice into his master’s tea. After brutally punishing the servant, the Samurai came back and actually drank the rice-infused tea he had been so upset about. I’m guessing he enjoyed it.
I opted for the Lychee Red, a Chinese black tea that actually tasted like the sweet fruit, although not in an overbearing way. All tea is served from traditional and ornate tea pots, each varying in color and design.
From there, the courses seemed to get continually larger, as the table was then presented with a platter of finger sandwiches with choices that included things like egg salad, turkey, salmon, and the traditional cucumber. You can take as many as you want, and they come around for a second helping.
Next you’re given two scones, one cranberry and the other a traditional butter variety, along with a side of jam and clotted cream. While the clotted cream may look a little globby and oily, it’s actually got a sweet, milky taste. The scones were so sweet and crumbly and reminded me of a delicious pie crust.
For the fourth course, you’re served a 34-layer crepe cake with a thin tier of buttercream in between each philo. It’s very moist with a complex texture as you can literally feel yourself biting into each crepe layer.
In between each serving, you are given spicy dried ginger with sugar, which cleanses the palette and also aids in digestion. Your tea cup is also constantly refilled by gracious servers who will answer any questions you might have. The pre-fix menu is $35 plus tax and 20% gratuity. Must be reserved in advance. Call 212-533-4466 to book.