Fit for a Princess: The Orangery, Kensington Palace
The Orangery, Kensington Palace
Kensington and Chelsea, England
Inside Hyde Park, next door to Kensington Palace and down a long pathway of giant gumdrop shaped trees is The Orangery. Converted from an old green house, The Orangery was built in 1704-05 for Queen Anne. Since the tea house is next door to Kensington Palace, I’m just going to go ahead and assume that it was a regular hangout for Princess Diana. The Royal watcher that I am, I was also half expecting to see Prince William sitting at the table next to me. Kensington Palace was one of the former homes of Princess Diana. She spent the most time at this home, and was the last princess to live there before the building was converted into a museum.
Called The Orangery because it was winter shelter for oranges and other fruits and flowers from hot climates, the inside of the converted greenhouse is breathtaking: high ceilings, regal white Corinthian columns, tall picture windows overlooking the gardens and Kensington Palace. The interior decorating was done by Nicholas Hawksmoor and modified by Sir John Vanbrugh. Each little table is adorned with a little potted orange tree. The space is elegant, charming and extremely fairy-tale like. I grew up reading British fairy tales, watching a whole lot of Disney, and I was Snow White in my 2nd grade play. I have a small obsession with castles, White Knights and Princesses. So luckily, while we were in London, an exhibit was showing at Kensington Palace called the Enchanted Princesses. We decided to have breakfast at The Orangery before seeing the exhibit.
As soon as we walked in, a display table laden with mouthwatering pastries was in front of us. The meringues filled with jelly were the best-looking but we opted to order some traditional British treats such as the scones with currents. For some reason, the waitress discouraged us from ordering The Orangery cake, telling us that it’s just a regular orange flavoured cake. So we opted for a ham and cheese stuffed croissant.
The scone arrived with ramekins spilling full of churned butter and jam. Scone shapes are very important to me. I prefer the round shapes at The Orangery because the entire scone is the same thickness throughout; even though I have fallen in love with the triangular scones back home at Creme de la Crumb in downtown Vancouver, Canada. Our scone at The Orangery was definitely comparable. It was light and fluffy, the currents added a subtle sweetness, but what I really remember is that creamy, smooth and silky butter. I really could just eat it with a spoon. There was some sweetness in the butter and despite its creamy texture, it was as light as the scone, and spread on like a layer of tasty velvet. The jam was so mediocre in comparison, it just tasted like Smucker’s.
The ham and cheese croissant was decadent, with the slice of bubbly, melted cheese oozing out of the flaky, oven toasted croissant. I’m not sure what kind of cheese was used but it was melted to the exact degree of stretchiness and was served to us at its gooiest. The ham was salty and filling. The croissant was another story: light, delicate layers of buttered pastry that melted in my mouth along with the cheese, I am glad we shared this dish, otherwise I would have been way too full to eat anything else.
I was very fascinated by the metal tea leaf strainer and more fascinated by the rustic shaped sugar cubes, more like sugar chunks, really. In general, I’ve always been interested in the entire concept of High Tea in England, the ceremony, the table settings, different tea leaves, and of course those cute little cakes and sandwiches! More on High Tea later in a future post. The Orangery also serves High Tea or Afternoon Tea as it is also known as in England, but that service started in the afternoon and we were there for breakfast.
I ordered English Breakfast tea, which was a perfect compliment to our breakfast pastries. The tea leaf strainer at The Orangery is meant to be balanced on top of the tea cup and looks like a big round teaspoon with holes letting the tea through. Its weathered finishing only made it look more classical, as if it was lifted straight from the tea cup of Queen Anne.
I was even more fascinated with the oddly shaped sugar cubes that came with our tea. A container of both white and brown sugar “cubes” was served and the “cubes” just looked like randomly broken off chunks of a larger sugar block. I’m not sure if this is the English standard because we saw this in all the other tea houses we visited. I am much too used to the Canadian brand, Rogers with their uniform, perfectly shaped sugar cubes.
Attempting to try another traditional English dish, I also ordered hot porridge. It was served with a small ramekin of sweet currents, and thank goodness because the actual porridge was so bland. A little on the runny side, the porridge did have some real clumps of oats, I would have preferred some cinnamon or maybe a dash of brown sugar (I should have dunked in some brown sugar chunks). And no, I couldn’t finish the porridge at the end. It reminded me too much of Chinese congee in texture. I think I much prefer the jazzed up Americanized version of porridge or oatmeal as we call it, chock full of maple syrup, apples, cinnamon and any other sweet ingredients to dress up an otherwise boring, glob of cooked oats.