Henry VIII dissolved all of England’s monastic properties in 1540, because he couldn’t get his way with the Catholic church and the ‘Bishop of Rome’ with regard to his divorce. Much of Westminster Abbey’s ‘Convent Garden’ was granted to John Russell who was the 1st Earl of Bedford. The area has changed name to the tune of one letter, and the Russell family are remembered in the address of Tuttons: Russell Street.
In 1630 the fourth Earl of Bedford commissioned the celebrated architect Inigo Jones to build houses in Covent Garden that would be ‘fit for the habitations of gentlemen’. Jones was inspired by the grand buildings and spaces of Italy. He designed Covent Garden’s Piazza – the first open square in England.
Covent Garden became London’s largest market once the Great Fire of London saw off much of the opposition in other neighbourhoods. Many overseas visitors will still expect to see flower-sellers, and to hear them humming snatches from My Fair Lady. Those days are gone but Covent Garden Market has re-opened as Europe’s first speciality shopping centre. Not too many blooming bunches but there are some very attractive spots to take tea, and Tuttons is one of my favourites.
Newly re-opened after a major refurbishment, Tuttons Brasserie and Bar is found close to the Royal Opera House on the east side of the Piazza. Tuttons has been here for over 30 years (although eating houses have been around since the 1700s in Covent Garden).
This restaurant has the air of the Parisian haunt of those looking for good food, but this is England and we do love afternoon tea. For a quintessentially British experience, and to celebrate the 350th year of our love for that civilised habit, Tuttons is offering a delicious Cream Tea.
Afternoon Tea reached the height of its popularity in the Victorian era. Well-stayed and wasp-waisted ladies could not enjoy huge meals but preferred to have a lighter lunch and then have a delicate nibble in the afternoon. They could choose the elaborate stand of cakes and sandwiches or the very traditional but simpler Cream Tea. This consisted of scones (like American biscuits but sweet), some thick and rich clotted cream, and jam.
My companion and I had enjoyed a substantial lunch and had spent a pleasant hour or two wandering the shops and stalls of Covent Garden. Lots of tourist souvenirs but I did spy a rather nice Mandarin-style jacket. We were truly ready for a sit-down, a nice cuppa and just a little taste of something sweet. Tuttons provided the appropriate venue for our pause.
It was a cold and windy day so we were glad of the cosy shelter. Warmer weather will find the French doors open onto an outside seating area – much prized in this magnet for visitors. We settled ourselves and ordered pots of tea. Tuttons offers a wide selection of exotic and perfumed teas but I am a conservative in such things so settled on Traditional English. Real leaf tea in the Twining’s teapots, as well.
We had a brace of scones apiece and they were much lighter than most I have eaten in restaurants, or have cooked at home. Almost a cross between a scone and a sponge. I had a generous pot of clotted cream and my guest chose a pot of equal size of butter. Afternoon Tea isn’t just a hot beverage and a snack, it’s a well-loved institution. It’s a time to sit and reflect, to chat in unhurried fashion and to rummage through the shopping bags. One might doubt the wisdom of some of the day’s purchases but the Tuttons Cream Tea will be your bargain buy: it’s a very reasonable £8.50. It will help to restore the equilibrium of your outing in the most delicious style.
Cream Tea served daily from 3pm till 5pm in the main restaurant.
Saturdays – only available at the bar area.
Mon-Sun 8.00am-11.30pm (12 midnight on Fri & Sat)
Tuttons Brasserie and Bar
11/12 Russell Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5HZ
Phone: 0844 371 2550
Visit Tuttons here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018