There is something alluring about traditions.
Not one for following the traditional path, I steer more towards breaking the conventions (but keeping the commandments). But if there is one thing that has been a staple in my household since my theatrical entrance into this world, its been the tradition of tea. For everything can be relished with a sip of boiling water infused with an element that exudes calm and warmth in its mere aroma. Perhaps its my British lineage or just my verbalized dismissal of everyone’s favorite coffee.
Which is precisely what brought me to the gold and red gilded interiors of an iconic staple right off of 5th Ave in New York. The Russian Tea Room is a home to cultural moments and the city’s elegant history, for over 80 years of fine existence. Apparently founded by the members of the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1927, it has been a watering hole to artists, writers, executives and politicians, all of whom arrive in impeccable attire, dropping their black credit cards with a thud of Tiffany diamonds when paying the cheque. Which speaks to the opulence of the coveted menu. Located close to Carnegie Hall, it is also a meeting spot for pre-theatre crowds.
With a modernist Russian decor, I was immediately thrilled by the gold architecture on the plaster of Paris seeming ceiling and hanging overtures, flocked with birds and cranes studded into the red and green themed wall decor. The seating was equally luxurious, all inward facing to ensure that nobody passed without being gaped or judged by pick eaters and onlookers. New York‘s elite truly enjoyed their people watching alongside fine dining, and I saw many couples and business folks holding vials of fine vodka or ceramic cups of bottomless high tea.
Which is precisely what I had come for, merging my penchant for high tea with my spoiled tastes for gold and lusciousness. I perched myself on one of the wall-side tables, right beneath a chandelier made of Christmas ornament stile globes that reflected the entire venue in their orbs. With an almost Christmas theme that was apparent all year round, I couldn’t help but notice the forest green walls, red ceilings and intricate gold that accented walls, tupperware and bordering artwork that glazed the shimmering surroundings. Trophies, fixtures and lanterns blended together in the reddest of lights, which was not as jarring as one would expect from my favorite hue.
At peace with myself, I instinctively ordered a black tea with my tiers of scones and cupcakes, arriving in a style that whisked me to Dubai’s seven star experience. I picked the South African red bush tea with Indian spices, synchronizing a drop of all my histories of Indian heritage and Tanzanian upbringing in one sip. The tea was a mix of Rooibos and English Breakfast in terms of strength, with a note of cinnamon turmeric seeming spices, which however rendered it fairly ordinary brown in brewed color. Nonetheless, the tiny glass cup was gratifying, and left me thirsty quite often as I gobbled what arrived on the tiers of desserts.
The tiers were filled with a few scones on the bottom plate, which were a tad cold but visibly freshly baked, with cranberries and chocolate chips aplenty within each bite. I preferred the cupcakes, which while over their peak of hype, were an elegant middle child on this tier, in the simplest of old fashioned flavors to blend in with the vintage charm. The vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream frosting was soft, sweet and decadent. Possibly sweeter than the one I preferred, which was the red velvet with cream cheese frosting. While not whimsical or over the top, they were fresh and complemented my tea well.
The top layer was decked with two truffles of dark and white chocolate, which melted in my mouth before they could in the red heat. I did wish there was a bit more pizzazz in the chocolate bites, but their rich density was probably better suited for a shot of vodka which I subsequently ordered. Just enough to feel like a regal artist of the bygone era.
The air spoke of tales of celebrities and gossip, of how Dustin Hoffman sat while filming Tootsie, or where Madonna worked before she rose to fame, of how Woody Allen was inspired by this very place to move to New York, and so much more. While the sceney snobbery may have languished over time, it was replaced with an understated elegance. There were stories in every laugh, adventures in every well poised bodice, and an intention in every gesture of eye contact. I relished every second of it, more so in ambiance than in inhalation, which was exactly what I needed.
For expressions and the craft of conversations
Truly transcend generations and traditions.