It's time for tea
Teanamu _ Chaya tea house – Notting Hill
The Coach House, 14a St Lukes Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 1DP. The house is accessed via Lancaster Road, next to no. 1 Lancaster Road.
£20-25 per head
One phrase that came to mind when I visited this place was “hidden gem”, or possibly “well (if not best) kept secret” of Notting Hill. Located on a residential street, tucked away a couple of minutes away from Westbourne Park tube station, and for all the world, looking like an ordinary house, it’s easy to walk past Teanamu if you don’t know where you’re going.
Once inside, you still feel like you’re in the proprietors’ house. Someone comes to the door to greet you and take you to your seat. You do have to book in advance so it’s not the place to drop by for an impromptu catch up with friends.
They turn tea drinking very much into an event, an occasion. Tea drinking is taken very seriously. To begin with we were presented with little cards, each one giving a description of the available teas. I thought this was a really nice touch. The cards were really helpful, informing us of the blends and flavours of each tea as well as the recommended brewing time. They’re colour coded red, black and green, depending on the type of tea. I suppose the only difficulty is being overwhelmed by the number of options available!
Once we chose our teas, the chef joined us at our table to begin the tea ceremony. He warmed our individual pots with treated water, added the tea leaves and talked us through the brewing. The brewed tea is then poured into a little warmed tea jug and can be poured into our little tea cups. The great thing is that the tea is pretty bottomless. A warmer is placed on each table so there is boiled water available to top up and re-brew the leaves as many times as you would like, although you need to let it brew a little longer each time in order to extract flavour. The Rose Congou was a really nice tea, it had just the right strength for me and I loved the slight floweriness.
The food at Teanamu, is quite outstanding. A trained Cordon Bleu chef, Pei, fuses eastern flavours, in a way that can only be described as ‘delicate’. Drawing on his own spiritual background as well as his training, it’s clear to see how much he reveres good food. Seeing him prepare the food in the open plan kitchen dining area is heartening. The dim sum were light and delicious. Vegetarian dumplings in possibly the yummiest sze chuan chilli oil really hit the spot, as did the lotus leaf rice parcels. If I hadn’t had an eye on the pastries (commitment to a full review and all!) I may have had more. The menu is changed weekly, so even regulars will be able to sample different dishes as favourites operate on a rotation system.
The sweet offerings showcased the fusion aspects of Pei’s cooking. Mango seed cake with peanut seasame cookies and warm scones with clotted cream and rose petal jam were a perfect way to round off the meal. I’m told that the macaroons are the best in the country, but sadly they weren’t on the menu this week. I have to say that by this point, I was really full on numerous pots of tea, as well as the dim sums, and had to take the peanut cookies home with me for later.
There was something about the table and crockery which reminded me of Alice in Wonderland. The tables and chairs are quite high, and being someone who is quite short, I felt like shrunken Alice. The teapots and cups are so small that it’s impossible not to feel like giant Alice. I think that just adds to the charm of this place, a fairy tale place, slightly removed from the world outside. Different rules apply here. Things are not rushed, and each part of the meal is enjoyed, so make sure you leave yourself 2 or 3 hours.
All in all, I’d say that Teanamu is the kind of place a serious tea afficianado should try and visit at least once. There are free tastings and tea master classes as well as special events for Chinese New Year. It is on the pricier side and requires forward planning. The quiet hushed tones of the other diners and the low lighting add to the ‘specialness’ of visiting the place. The food is amazing and the teas are definately an experience, although the quiet,serious atmosphere can feel a bit overwhelming or intimidating. It may just have been that I went on a day when other people were exceptionally quiet (and Notting Hill good looking – beautiful). This is never going to be a place you go to catch up on some work, or stop by on a whim, but it’s a great place to go for a special treat for any tea lover.