London, day 2, part 2: Afternoon tea and a West End musical

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Lobby Lounge and the Baccarat crystal chandelier at the Corinthia Hotel

After a quick rest and wardrobe change, we headed back out and hopped back on the tube. We got off at Embankment and made our way to the Corinthia Hotel for afternoon tea at the Lobby Lounge. 

Afternoon tea is becoming a theme for our London visits; last visit we had tea at the Palm Court at the Langham Hotel, which set the bar very high. This time, we wanted to have a similar, decadent experience but at a different location. We researched tea options and considered some of the high-hitters including The Goring (closed for renovations during our visit), The Dorchester, Claridge’s, and even our own hotel, St. Ermin’s. A good resource for tea options (and current deals) is www.afternoontea.co.uk. One can find an afternoon tea starting at £15-50 per person. Since we really enjoy the experience, we were not especially budget-conscious when selecting our afternoon tea. We ultimately settled on the Corinthia Hotel, a relatively new London institution, based on reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp as well as its location. We had purchased tickets to Once the Musical, playing at the Phoenix Theatre, and these evening plans somewhat dictated our tea location as we didn’t want to rush tea to make it to the show on time.

Table set for afternoon tea at the Corinthian

Table set for afternoon tea at the Corinthian

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Clotted cream and jams

We actually arrived about 20 minutes prior to our tea reservation and were seated immediately. We were each presented a menu with a selection of teas and descriptions of the finger sandwiches and ‘fancies’ (small cakes and other confections). I informed the server of my dietary preferences and she asked the kitchen to tailor my sandwiches to fit those requirements while serving my husband the normal variety. As is custom at these types of teas, if you enjoy a particular sandwich or sweet, you can put in an order for “complimentary” extras (keep in mind the actual experience itself costs £50 per person so complimentary seems a relative term).  I tend to skew towards black teas with vanilla, chocolate, and/or caramel notes, so I chose the Prince Alexander blend, which fit the bill perfectly. My husband had the Winston Churchill blend, which had a rich, smoky, tobacco flavor and scent to it. Our sandwiches came out (they were okay, fairly run-of-the-mill as I suppose is expected, but I must say that those at the Langham were fantastic so I was a little let down).  The service, however, more than made up for the average tea sandwiches. Our server was kind and attentive, explaining the menu and each sandwich and fancy that came out. She was quick to refill our tea and made sure we were comfortable.

Scones and fancies!

Scones and fancies!

The confections were delicious: scones were tasty (I can’t get enough clotted cream, seriously!) and the tarts and cakes were sumptuous and rich. We happen to be fans of the Great British Baking Show (on PBS–it seems like we watch a lot of PBS! Downton Abbey, I mean…) and now feel like we’re pastry experts (we’re not. I can’t really even bake.) and Mary Berry would probably praise all of these fancies.

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Note Christoph Waltz on the phone (over Dave’s right shoulder…)

Apparently the Corinthia Hotel is the celebrity-spotting destination in London as we saw both Christoph Waltz and Kelly Clarkson in the Lobby Lounge (both actually were sitting in the same chair, maybe 30 minutes apart), both on cell phones and chatting rather loudly. After we had eaten and drank our fill of tea and delicious carbohydrates, we set off for a walk to the theatre.

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Trafalgar Square

We walked up to Trafalgar Square and then along Charing Cross road to reach the Phoenix Theatre. Having already researched some post-theatre dining options, we took advantage of the time before the show to walk around Soho and check out some of the places we were considering, such as 10 Greek Street, The Three Greyhounds, and Busaba Eathai. After locating these restaurants and deciding on Busaba Eathai, we walked through Chinatown. I had not expected to have enough time to see Chinatown, so was pleasantly surprised to be able to fit this in, especially during Chinese New Year.  Stumbling across Chinatown in various cities (New York, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco) seems to be something that I enjoy and I was glad to add London’s Chinatown to the list. Ultimately, we made our way back to the theatre to be seated for the show.

Lanterns in Chinatown

Lanterns in Chinatown

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The stage/bar at the Phoenix Theatre

Once is a musical that takes place in Ireland and is about a busker/vacuum repairman who meets a Czech girl and they fall into a relationship of sorts and make a demo album (the Cliffs Notes version). I saw the movie a few years ago and have the Broadway recording so I know the music quite well.  I often see Broadway musicals (growing up just outside of NYC) but just never made it to the Broadway version and as of January 2015, it closed in New York. The production also came through Philadelphia and I missed that as well, so I was excited to find out that Once was playing in the West End. We purchased tickets online a few weeks prior to our London visit and picked up the tickets at the will-call booth at the Phoenix Theatre.

Because a lot of the musical takes place in a pub, the stage turns into a fully functioning bar before the show and at intermission, which is a nice, interactive touch. Ronan Keating, an Irish musician and member of a boy-band (Boyzone, which I had never heard of), was headlining and apparently was a big audience draw. I think he did a good job but was a little bit let down by the female lead who I think over-acted the role a bit. I have heard people saying that they thought the stage musical was a bit of a caricature of the film, and I tend to agree. However, the music overall is great–the songs Falling Slowly and Gold remain some of my favorite songs.

After the show let out, we strolled over to Wardour Street to Busaba Eathai, a chain Thai restaurant in London. It was getting a little bit chilly and we were still kind of full from tea, but we can always fit in some Thai food!  Being half-Thai, I am of course somewhat of a harsh Thai food critic but Busaba was pretty good, particularly for a chain. My husband had a bowl of tom kha gai, a coconut milk-based soup, that had a different spin on it by the addition of woon-sen (glass noodles).  My pad thai was fairly bland but was made better when I added in some of my som tum (papaya salad), which was slightly spicy, even for me. The service was quick and we ate at bar-type seating along the front window. Satiated and warm, we walked through Leicester Square and grabbed the tube back to our hotel.

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