Drink Here: Mariage Frères, Covent GardenBy Francesca Brooking
Earlier this year, France’s most iconic and oldest luxury tea purveyor, Mariage Frères opened a flagship branch in Covent Garden. This five-storey tea emporium situated in a listed Georgian townhouse boasts a tea room, restaurant, retail space, museum and the largest tea collection in the world with 1,000 varieties from 36 countries available to purchase by weight. It’s a real slice of French opulence and sophistication in London. Here’s why:
Mariage Frères Review: The Lowdown
A perfect pitstop for tired shoppers, birthday celebrations and theatre-goers, Mariage Frères is a cheerful establishment full of colour and character. The tea emporium, or Le Comptoir de Thé, located on the ground floor made me feel like I had stepped off the street into a tea-infused Wonderland. Coloured lamps hung down from the ceiling like boiled sweets; a black, white and yellow tiled floor led you past a counter full of glistening patisseries and shelves lined with black tea canisters, through a purple passage with delicate-looking teapots into a space reminiscent of a 19th-century apothecary.
Here rare teas from all over the world could be found in antique black canisters on floor-to-ceiling shelves. Other beautifully packaged tea-inspired products include scented candles, signature fragrances, gift sets, confectionary, tea paraphernalia, tea sets, teapots and books. So transfixed was I by the sensory overload of the ground floor that I almost didn’t notice the stairs that led up to the tea room.
On the first floor the, tea room, or Salon de Thé in this case, showcased the epitome of French high society. A beautiful ornate gallery filled with natural light from the atrium above, the 100-cover dining space was a dazzling white and filled with mirrors and Parisienne posters. I couldn’t help but think that it wouldn’t be out of place to see a huddle of 19th-century French society ladies sipping on tea and nibbling on a morsel or two in the corner.
Mariage Frères Review: The Tea
Mariage Frères is a tea lover’s paradise. If you fancy yourself a bit of a tea connoisseur then trust me you will get blown away by the sheer number of choices on offer from every corner of the world. In fact, picking your tea would be downright daunting if it weren’t for the waiters on hand to match a tea to your palate should you need it.
The tea menu was accompanied by a book titled ‘The French Art of Tea’ to help you explore the world’s finest teas and its many colours and strengths. It’s perhaps a nod to Mariage Frères’ tea trading roots when it was set up in 1894 as a tea and vanilla import firm, supplying luxury hotels, stores and salons with the finest teas from Ceylon, China and India. Importing tea is in the foundations of Mariage Frères and this vision isn’t lost in this London tea room.
I eventually settled on ‘Madame Butterfly’, a Japanese white tea with aromatic and floral notes. It was a light, summery tea that carried a delicate flavour of Japanese cherry blossom and persimmon. Silky and not too sweet, I happily gulped it down.
My partner’s tea was the exact opposite. Excited by the possibility of blue tea (a combination of green and black), he opted for an Indonesian ‘Java Blue’, a slightly more bitter and nutty tea with aromas of pistachio, woody muscat and almond. Both teas were superb, proving that whatever you choose you’re bound to be content. My only regret was that I didn’t try more of them.
Mariage Frères Review: The Food
Guests can enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner at Mariage Frères and as promised, tea is infused in every dish in a creative and delicious way. The main menu comprises of Mariage Frères staples from its Paris flagship store including ‘Snob Salad’ with duck foie gras, artisan marinated smoked salmon, shrimps, artichoke and haricots verts, bulgur wheat with cranberries, mesclun with Marco Polo tea vinaigrette, Matcha tea & turmeric marble toasts.
If you want to really spoil yourself then look no further than the ‘Carré D’or’ dessert, complete with 24 karat gold leaves, dark chocolate flavoured with Black Magic Tea, a ‘fleur de sel’ caramel core with a sweet redcurrant coulis. It’s the epitome of what Mariage Frères is all about: opulence, flavour and exotic tea.
We decided to splash out on an afternoon tea for two. It arrived in a succession of savoury and sweet courses on a traditional three-tier curate stand and each nibble and amuse-bouche was a melting pot of vibrant colour, flavour and texture. Head Chef Felix Richard had created a bold mix of flavours that I had never deemed possible such as raspberry, shrimp and avocado, charcoal mousse on pastry and a chicken poké tart with pineapple. As adventurous as these flavours seemed, I was pleasantly surprised by how well they paired together. Each amuse-bouche was rich, decadent and a meal in itself.
The dessert course encompassed French patisserie culture and much like the savoury course, it was cream galore. Elegant gold-leaf adorned glazed dark chocolate cubes and raspberry soaked sponges. Wafer-thin layers of sponge and cream were sandwiched between green white chocolate triangles and a lavender meringue filled with raspberry cream reminded me of a party ring biscuit.
The desserts were a real celebration on the plate with their beautiful eye-catching colours and immaculate designs. It almost felt like a crime to plunge your fork into the creamy centres. As delicious as they were we were unable to finish them and we were glad of a box to take them home in.
Mariage Frères Review: The Verdict
Mariage Frères has all the elegance and splendour of a celebration á Paris without the need to travel. It’s a pocket of French class here in London and it makes for a worthy visit on a special occasion. For the tea lovers in your life, the emporium is the perfect place to find tea inspired gifts as well of, course, an enormous selection of fine-quality teas that have graced some of the fanciest establishments in the world. The teas are exquisite and the food is superb but be warned, it comes with a price tag.
On your way out, don’t forget to visit Mariage Frères’ Musée du Thé on the second floor which showcases antiques from all over the world including the Marriage Frères family collection. Hidden away on a street just off Camden Market, this gastronomic tea emporium is here to uncover the secrets of our favourite brew.
King Steet Afternoon Tea is £39. Add £10 extra for a glass of champagne. For more information about Mariage Frères, visit the website here.