Last Saturday, we found ourselves in Kew and I dragged us over to Newens on Kew Road (just a short walk from the main entrance of Kew Gardens), keen to revisit this quaint little cafe after a long while. It really is quite an adorable little place; the building is only about 120 years old but the business was around for a little longer and then there are the Tudor origins of their most famous treats: maids of honour. The cafe is always packed at lunchtimes on the weekends (I’ve never visited on a weekday) with locals and tourists out west to visit the Gardens but it’s easy to nab a table after 2 or 3pm, just after the rush.

Newens - The Original Maids of Honour

Inside

It’s impossible to visit a place like this and not have tea; we chose a pot of assam and then got to work choosing from the lovely treats on display.

Pot of Tea

After admiring the range of meat and vegetable pies in the display case, we opted for a slice of their chicken and ham pie. Our very patient waitress realised we were sharing and kindly gave us two smaller slices instead of the usual thick one. Big chunks of chicken and ham sit in a mosaic held together by a savoury jelly in a thick shortcrust pastry – a good start to this tea.

Slices of Chicken and Ham Pie

I was awed by the look of the sugar bun, a big choux puff filled with very lightly sweetened coffee cream and topped with coffee icing. I think I ate my cream quota for the year in my half of this bun and it was actually very very good that the cream was hardly sweetened at all. It had the right balance of sweet and creamy and puffiness – a good choice.

A Maid of Honour and a Sugar Bun

Inside the Sugar Bun

Finally, a maid of honour. Actually, make that two. These little sweet tarts are the bakery’s most famous product with even a plaque outside commemorating them. I may be incredibly wrong about this but they appear to have puff pastry bases, a layer of curd and then a final topping of cheese (that’s what the textures feel like). It’s easy to see the Tudor history (or at least influence) of these little treats in the combination of sweet and almost savoury (the cheese is reminiscent of cheddar); they are incredibly moreish and worth the trip there. Their fame is deserved!

Maid of Honour

I couldn’t help myself and also had two hot cross buns and a loaf of fruit cake packed up to take away. The hot cross buns were packed full of fruit (always a win in my book!) and excellent, though a little denser than what I’m used to. The fruit cake was much lighter than we expected and again packed full of fruit and topped with sliced almonds. And it was absolutely beautiful – one of the best fruity cakes (hard to compare it to a traditional fruitcake) I’ve had.

Hot Cross Bun

Fruit Cake

Everything (takeaway things included) came to a total of about £20. Service was fabulous – we were even thrilled to catch a glimpse of the current owner, John Newens, the 5th generation of Newens to run the place. Why didn’t I come back sooner?! I love this place! All their menus are available on their website but you’ll have to visit to see all their cakes.

Newens – The Original Maids of Honour
288 Kew Road
Kew Gardens
Surrey TW9 3DU

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I’ve been a big fan of Jing Tea since I first encountered them at the first Real Food Festival in Earl’s Court back in 2008. With a very striking (and apparently heavy) wooden table/water tray, they had a most impressive stand where I parked myself for about half an hour, sampling various high quality teas. I walked away with a few teas to drink later. I’ve always liked teas (my mother used to pack green tea for me to bring back to London) but I reckon it was that visit that really piqued my interest in high quality teas. In a way, perhaps this interest is similar to that of a budding oenophile. As I’m not fond of alcoholic beverages (partially due to the fact that my body cannot process alcohol very well), my drink interests turn to teas, coffees and various fruity concoctions. In general, when it comes to teas, I don’t like flavoured teas (with the exception of Earl Grey and jasmine and perhaps a slice of lemon in black tea) and never add sugar or milk.

Quick background: Jing Tea was founded by Edward Eisler in 2005 and the team sources some of the finest teas in the world. Their teas are all available online through their website or also at various hotels and restaurants. I love the way they give lots of information on their site, from explaining how the teas are processed to showing the best way to enjoy your tea.

Thanks to David at Jing Tea (we made contact on Twitter), I met him in The Botanist in Sloane Square (they stock their teas) for a tea tasting at their invitation. It was clear from the outset that David is very passionate about tea and I was quite excited to learn all I could from him. The restaurant knew we were coming and so reserved a large table for us in their quietest corner and very kindly emptied teapots and brought freshly boiled hot water over from time to time throughout the afternoon.

Making Tea

David had brought a few teas to sample as well as one of their Gong Fu teasets with a bamboo water tray (envy! want!). As he unpacked everything, we realised how odd we must have appeared with all sorts of paraphernalia strewn on the table! All the bits and bobs did have a function. Tea was brewed in the teapot and after David deemed the tea done, it would be strained into the pitcher from which the tea was poured into the tiny tasting cups. This prevents the tea from oversteeping as you enjoy it. When the tea is of this quality and price and the teapot so small, it may seem like this is a particularly expensive habit but the tea can be resteeped up to 4-5 times and so it’s not as bad as it seems.

Straining Tea

Now, I’m not an expert in teas; I’ll leave the descriptions and full reviews to the proper tea blogs. But I’m going to take a stab at it here anyway!

The first tea David brought out was a Lishan Oolong Tea (Taiwan Lishan Wu Long). As someone used to fresher green teas, this oolong was quite a revelation. It was…creamy. Not creamy like milk obviously but it did coat the throat in a rather soothing way. After brewing, the leaves unwrap and look to me like spring greens…so much so that I wanted to shove a few into my mouth. I held back; it wouldn’t have made a good impression.

Oolong

We moved on to a Jun Shan Silver Needle (Jun Shan Yin Zhen) Yellow Tea. This was my favourite that day. The tea is made up of just the buds, making it quite expensive (I feel guilty for drinking it!). The full process of its preparation is documented in that link above but very briefly, this is a wok-fired and baked tea – quite a lot of work goes into it. The flavour was quite exquisite – very smooth and fresh and not at all bitter.

His final tea sample was of Organic White Peony (Fuding Bai Mu Dan). If I had to judge tea on its beauty, this one would be quite high in the competition. The bud, still covered in fuzzy white down, and its closest two leaves are picked together, giving it a very close-to-nature appearance. The words melon and cucumber are bandied about when describing its flavour and I can see where that comes from – there’s a refreshing and crisp aspect to the tea. In terms of favourites, this was tied with the oolong in my opinion. They’re two entirely different teas but I enjoyed them equally.

Organic White Peony Tea

The final tea was ordered off the Botanist’s menu. The Organic Bohea Lapsang Black Tea (Wuyi Bohea Hong Cha) was chosen mainly because I’d had a lapsang souchong in the past (I think I was about 19) and took an instant dislike to the strong smokiness of that tea. This lapsang was an entirely different beast. There was a light smokiness, reminiscent of roasting chestnuts, but it was entirely drinkable. But while I didn’t dislike it, it was still my least favourite of the four we drank that day. That said, it definitely changed my opinion of lapsang teas.

We did have a bite to eat at the Botanist too. I had the double eggs benedict, which weren’t bad at all – the eggs were a bit small but the ham was generous and I liked their not-overly-tangy hollandaise. David had the salmon fish cake which he pronounced just the thing he wanted – and it did look good. The restaurant itself was very busy and so booking is probably essential. I just might return to try more of their menu.

Eggs Benedict

Thanks again to David and Jing Tea for the invitation. It really was an eye-opening tasting for me – in particular with the lapsang. David’s still looking for a new venue to hold their tea tastings (previously at their office near Oval) so watch their blog and website for updates.

Jing Tea

The Botanist
7 Sloane Square
London SW1W 8EE

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