Afternoon Tea with Mr Selfridge

When my American friend came to visit, I wanted to treat him to something wonderfully English –  Afternoon Tea.

I have to admit my immediate thought was one of the classic hotels, but with short notice, booked out tables … and some pretty bad reviews I was at a loss. Then I remembered seeing the tiered plates of cakes on occasions when wandering through Selfridges and thought, ‘that will do’.

So we headed to Dolly’s situated on the ground floor of this famed department store, it didn’t sound as glamorous as I had wanted, sitting in the middle of a department store, but it turned out to be a great spot, you could watch the shoppers busily pass by or gaze up to the highest point of the building to see the impressive swirly ceiling surrounded by the grand columns. I’m often in Selfridges, and love its grandure and history , so it was nice to actually sit down and savour it, rather than rushing through like I normally do.

Being a Friday afternoon there was a short queue which disappeared quickly. We were seated and served.

afternoon tea

 

They have a range of afternoon tea selections, you can regular afternoon tea, with or without champagne , cream tea, or just coffee and cake.  We went for the Mr Selfridge Afternoon Tea (in the hope that Mr Selfridge himself would be served up on a plate – swoon). The tea and food arrived promptly and we were left to enjoy our feast. And a feast it was. Finger sandwiches, small bread slices with (the most delicious humous I’ve tasted) rolls with crab and lobster. And of course there were the scones and clotted cream (these certainly made up for the lack of Jeremy Piven). And finally two delicious luxiourious pastries, we had a lemon meringue tart, and an apple sponge thing from heaven. I did notice that other tables had different pastries, which I thought was a nice touch (I was eyeing up another girls strawberry eclairs). The portions didn’t seem huge, but we were left with very satisfied tummies.

I have to say the whole experience was utterly delightful, and the customer service we received  more than you could expect in a prestigious hotel (despite the busyness and consistent queue I never once felt hurried to finish our food). And it probably worked out cheaper than many other afternoon tea options.

 

My American friend was highly impressed with his English experience.

mrselfridge

 

If you’re looking for an afternoon tea venue, this one is definite must, although I can’t guarantee an appearance by the man himself.

More info Selfridges 

If you liked this you will love  The Other  Mr Selfridge  and Oxford Street’s Secret Garden

Liberty’s Secret Pub

The Liberty’s of London store is an icon of London, possibly the most beautiful shop in town.

Libertys

Sandwiched between Oxford Circus, Regent’s Street and Carnaby Street, this stunning building fools passers-by,  by its Tudor frontage.  It’s not quite that old, rather it was built  in the 20’s, but the building is still impressive when you realise that the timber came from two ships HMS Impregnable and HMS Hindustan, look out for the golden ship perched on the top of the building, indicating its nautical connections.

Also note its beautiful mock Tudor chimneys the kind you find on the stunning Hampton Court Palace.  It’s equally impressive inside with its expensive wares, as well as its central Tudor hall, it’s hard to believe the building was designed to be a shop.

If you want to bask in liberty’s splendor some more I highly recommend The Clachan pub, just around the side of Liberty’s on Kingly Street.

clachan

 

This beautiful Victorian pub dates from mid 1890’s (although there has been a pub here since the late 1700’s) and was actually was originally owned by Liberty’s.   Its interior is impressive with its rich wooden decor, carvings, grand mirrors and Victorian tiled floor. It also has an impressive circular bar. It’s an absolute hidden gem, and provides an excellent respite from West End shopping.

… and just so you know..Clachan is Gaelic for ‘meeting place’.

Dates from 1898

Address:

34 Kingly Street
London
W1B 5QH
www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theclachankinglystreetlondon

Read about some more of London’s fantastic historic pubs at  www.discoveringsecretlondon.co.uk/home/historic-london-pubs

The Other Mr Selfridge

The other Mr Selfridge

 

I am sooo loving the new TV series Mr Selfridge.

I absolutely love Selfridges, and spend far too much time there. It’s a beautiful building, and the shop has it’s very own vibe and allure, I just love it.

But I’m particularly excited by the series as I’ve been secretly researching the history of Oxford Street and its shops, and in Oxford Street history, Selfridges was a big deal. And, as the show highlights, Mr Selfridge was a dreamer with big vision; he would be proud that his vision is so alive and kicking today.

However, I was a little disappointed by their portrayal of Mr Selfridge’s grumpy vision partner Mr Waring.

Actually Waring back then was what Selfridges is to us today. The luxury retailer, the flagship store of Oxford Street.

He hailed from Liverpool and had taken over his family furniture business. In a style that would make Sir Alan Sugar proud he turned the business around from a small furniture maker to a flourishing European money making enterprise. As well as owning a leading store on Oxford Street (the Selfridges of the early 1900s) his firm was also furnishing the rich, famous and royal (including Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace).

He opened his Oxford street furniture store in 1906. The store, was a grand building and it was just as grand inside; 40,000 square feet dedicated to quality furniture from around the world, crowed with two giant rotundas and filled with exotic flowers and palm trees.   It was quite impressive, so impressive that it was described by one newspaper as the ‘Ninth wonder of the world’. It’s not surprising Mr Selfridge was keen to do business with him.

But not only that, Mr Waring, who’s luxury furniture now kitted out royal homes and yachts (The Queen Mary and The Queen Elizabeth, to name a few) and hotels far and wide, also owned a little building company on the side, Waring & White building (and refurbishing) among others The Ritz Hotel. It was here the two met for the first time. Mr Selfridge (as we know) was keen to build his store from scratch, and so rich Mr Waring was the perfect business partner.

Selfridges is a beautiful building, if you visit be sure to gaze at it’s design both on the inside and outside. It’s interesting to note that that Selfridges is located on towards the western end of Oxford Street whereas Mr Waring’s store Waring & Gillow was located at the eastern end, in a similar way that Primark now dominates both the East and West ends of the Street. Waring was about to become the king of Oxford Street.

waring
So why did the relationship breakdown?  Waring was a shrewd business man, he’d taken chances and risks before, most notably his first big Hotel job; kitting out the Cecil Hotel (one of London’s most luxurious hotels, sadly demolished in the 30s). He well overspent and almost caused his business to go bust, but his risk paid off and led him to new clients, big business, and contracts with the Ritz and Carlton Hotel.The Gillow & Waring store building is still there, it stands at 176 Oxford Street (the Tottenham Court Road End). I discovered it one day when I looked up from my feet (a rarity when struggling through the crowds on Oxford Street). I looked up and noticed this stunning red and white building, you can tell it used to be something important, and glamorous in its day. Today it’s been gutted inside and turned into offices, with retail space on the street level. No palm trees or rotundas. But from the outside you can still see it’s beauty.

But Selfridge’s eagerness to get his store off the ground and his grandiose visions, not only defied London planning regulations but also cost far more than the budget allowed.  The money disappeared rapidly, before a brick was even laid. It was two big and risky for Mr Waring, and after less than a year he pulled out of the partnership. It says a lot for Mr Selfridge that he pushed through, and built his dream store without Mr Waring’s help.  Mr Waring’s store continued until 1932 when it went into receivership.

It’s perhaps a little sad to compare those those two buildings and businesses today. One standing at the East End, just a beautiful building with no mention of its historic royal customers, and entrepreneurial owner; the other a ground breaking, billion dollar business, famous the world over, the must see of many a London Tourist, and shopper.

I wonder if Mr Samuel Waring was alive today he might be kicking himself just a little, and wishing he’d taken that gamble.

A Very Christmassy London

I’ve said it before, but I love the film Love Actually! What I love about it (actually) is because it celebrates, and magnifies London at it’s finest; a very Christmassy London. There aren’t many times in Winter when you can fall in love with this cold, grey and misty city, but at Christmas it comes alive, with sparkle, and colour and excitement. I think Queen Victoria was thinking ahead to her beloved London in future years when she brought home the German traditions of Christmas. And now, I for one, am like a kid at Christmas (excuse the pun) when I hear that first Christmas carol, see that first crane putting up the tinsel on the high street, there is nothing like it. And if you’re not a Londoner, or have never been I would recommend the Christmas season, is a good time, to fall in love with this enchanting city.

So out of all the festivities; the Southbank German Markets, the Carols in Trafalgar square alongside the traditional Norwegian giant Christmas tree, to the crazy surreal winter wonderland in Hyde park, I have scanned the many events and complied a list of the top 5, some classic, some topsecret London hidden gems and even some fictional ones for the wish list (?!)

But before I bring you the top 5, I just have to bring you my most miserable (sadly) Christmassy bit of London (interestingly Love Actually also omitted this one actually). Disappointingly my Christmassy London low is Regent Street. Every year, someone (usually Disney) decide to trash this beautiful royal promenade by sticking up the latest Hollywood animation tacky light show. I’m sure it’s lovely for the kids, but a little disappointing if you ask me. Let us move on quickly.

So top 5 Christmassy London!!!

NUMBER 5…

 Covent Garden…Actually this almost made a low, I remember in previous years it’s been impressively decorated, larger than life; remember the gigantic Christmas tree that contained a Santa’s grotto, the edible ‘Ferrero Tree’ or last year’s Kissmas Tree . So this year, it felt a little lost and a empty I was just about to walk away when I noticed something out the corner of my eye… the LARGEST baubles in the universe. Yes, it clawed its way back into the top 5 with these novelty gigantic Xmas tree decos hanging in the market place. So big they wouldn’t have even made it on to Trafalgar’s Norwegian tree. I love it, worth a visit for those alone.

NUMBER 4…

Number 4 is a classic! Oxford Street! If you accept there will be crowds and chaos, Oxford street after dark (i.e. after 4pm) is simply magical (and much more classic than it’s Regents Street neighbour). Head down to the Bond Street end, and you have the major department stores battling out for X factor of Sparkle (this year a close battle between Selfridge’s (no surprises) and M&S (who also battled it out on the opening night with fireworks and sparkles from both). Then just around the corner, you have arty, classy St Christopher’s place (you know it’s my favourite). All of these were worthy enough for their place in Love Actually!

…And a big shout out for Westminster Council for the quick tidy up of Crossrail clutter (fellow Londoners, you know what I’m talking about!)

NUMBER 3… is the fictional entry (I know you were wondering weren’t you?) Fictional because every time I see it I think “You would make such a lovely Christmas Tree”. As I gaze out my window after dark I see it’s twinkling red and green lights, all it needs is some giant tinsel and and massive star on top (maybe Covent Garden could help). So I’ve already written to Santa asking for it to come true, I’m hoping to wake up Christmas morning….

Yes Number 3 is THE SHARD, and as one tweeter put it perfectly ‘The Shard is like a giant Christmas Tree for all of London’ ..Beat that for size Trafalgar Square.

NUMBER 2…

Top end of my list at No 2 is a secret gem, tucked away a short walk from the Christmas chaos of Oxford street is Store Street, and the delightful South Crescent. There is something about this building that is completely enchanting and mysterious, it looks modern yet old. And at this time of year it comes alive as they dress it up like a Christmas gift, like the secret it is. Known as ‘The Imagination Galley’ this is a gorgeous building inside and out, fashioned into an exclusive gallery/conference venue. But if you’re not privileged enough to get inside, but still hungry for for a bit of culture/architecture check out The Building Centre next door. No this is not the place to buy Uncle Ted his DIY pressies, but rather, it’s a great venue/gallery celebrating architecture (and not so exclusive as it’s imaginative neighbour) they host regular events and seminars for those interested in all things building. And if you peer through the window, by the entrance they have a Fab scale model of London City – and just for the Christmas season they’ve sprinkled it with icing sugar (ok so I made that up, but it’s a another great idea?!)

If all that sounds a bit too cultural and you just want to escape the Christmas crowds, then do stop off anyway. Because right opposite South Crescent is the yummy Busaba Thai (best Thai chain in London Guaranteed!!); you can sit and gaze at the pretty lights from the comfort of your dinner plate!

NUMBER 1….

Top of my list, straight from Love Actually, I am totally in love with …. drum roll…. Somerset House Tiffany Ice Skating. …Well all Christmassy ice skating in London, actually. Somehow they just know how to pick the most beautiful locations, Somerset house being one of them. In the beautiful square court yard with the Tiffany (..hear all the girls sigh) Christmas Tree, I’m sure this historic building on the Thames was made for this moment. It’s like walking, gliding into a romantic Jane Austen picture book… But if Tiffany’s doesn’t do it for you, how about historical Tower of London rink? Or the beautiful Victorian Natural History Museum, or for something more modern there’s the Canary Wharf rink – keep an eye on your shares, on the ice . Or if you want to escape the London madness altogether head over to the stunning Hampton Court.

Just be warned though, ice-skating is the top of most people’s lists, and you will most likely need to book ahead. But the good news is most rinks run through beyond the Christmas period until January.

So there you have it my Christmassy London top 5. It only happens once a year, enjoy every moment, every sparkle. But if that’s really not enough Christmassy London for you, I recommend you buy a copy of Love Actually, it will last a lot longer (that’s what I do, actually, and I love it … actually!)