Friendly alert – do not even think of taking your boyfriend, husband, male friend to the place I researched to satisfy our collective curiosity unless you are planning to break up. Motivated by professional interest and a vague nostalgia for afternoon tea English style, I decided to take a trip to Pasadena, to the Rose Tree Cottage, a venerable institution that has been serving tea with all the trimmings for the last 30 years.
My afternoon tea stints in LA had so far been limited to the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel (where they serve my favourite Russian Caravan Tea) and a friend’s house – the Beverly Hills Hotel was renowned for their tea but they are in the middle of a two-year refurbishment and the other Pasadena spot, the Huntington Museum, is a buffet affair I never found particularly appealing.
The Rose Tree Cottage has been in a new location for just over a year, on S. Pasadena Avenue, across from a modern and nondescript medical building that most definitely does not conjure English countryside when staring at it through the curtains of the cottage. Making a reservation was a bit of a procedure – whenever I called I got an answering machine but after a few tries and two messages later I finally managed to speak to Edmund Fry who, with his wife Mary, owns the place. Tea is served at 1:00, 2:30 and 4:00 and, after my reservation was changed twice over the course of the week (and not by me), my friend and I finally walked through the door of the Rose Tree, a Victorian looking Pasadena house, into what the owners clearly think Americans want an English experience to be. The store sells anything from Barbour jackets (the same Helen Mirren wore in “The Queen”, Edmund, looking smug in a black suit with all sorts of medals pinned to his chest, will promptly tell you) to frozen scones, clotted cream, PG Tips tea, lavender lotion and even spotted dick pudding. We are asked to sit by the fireplace that is lit on this cold April Sunday while the tea room, separated from the entrance by a velvet rope (they take their tea very seriously here) is being appointed following a private party. At 4 on the dot, we are whisked into the chintzy room, host to about eight tables – flowery curtains and armchairs, British flags everywhere your gaze lands, tea cozies on the milk jugs: we are sitting in a reproduction of a British dying breed, tea as was served in the ‘50s throughout England. I am sure anyone would be hard pressed to find such kitschy retro anywhere in London.
The tea being poured into bone china cups by two very young girls dressed like early 20th century English maids, is their own blend, a strong, black tea, best enjoyed with milk. On the table we find a very refreshing flute of elderberry flower cordial – who knew such drinks were actually made? Finger sandwiches appear first: cucumber, roasted chicken and Stilton cheese, accompanied by mini Yorkshire puddings filled with beef, mushrooms and cheese (evidently previously frozen as the bottom of the popover feels stone cold in my mouth). The scone, one each, is of the English variety, studded with black currants and pleasurably flaky. Mary tells me it’s made by a local bakery according to the Rose Tree’s recipe. It’s served with their own lovely mixed berry jam and a stiff whipped cream – clotted cream is sold in the store but I guess, expensive as it is when imported from Devon, it would make poor business sense to place it on every table. Desserts are a plain shortbread with a slice of strawberry and a marzipan square covered in fondant – both fairly ordinary.
There are no men to be found at the tiny tables, just women in jeans, our attire slightly jarring against all that chintz. But the service is attentive and the tea the best part of the meal. At $32.50 a person it’s an honest deal – you really must be in for the experience because the food is most certainly not a draw but an experience better shared with mothers, elderly aunts or adventurous girlfriends not scared of an overdose of butter and sugar.
Rose Tree Cottage
801 S. Pasadena Avenue
Pasadena CA 91105
626 793 3337 – http://www.rosetreecottage.com