The waiters are all male. And nearly all of the diners are females—how great is that? Welcome to tea at Lady Mendl's, a Victorian tearoom tucked inside the Inn at Irving Place, just steps away from Casa Mono. Tea is offered twice a day on weekdays, and three times on weekends. Whereas reservations are recommended for most other places, reservations are required at Lady Mendl's.
Afternoon tea is served as five separate courses by the white-gloved waiters. At $35, the sheer amount of food makes for a true bargain. Start with an amuse bouche—here, a warm sweet potato quiche and dollop of sour cream—while selecting your tea. Loose leaf tea is brewed to order, and never once will you receive an over-brewed cup. House-blended black teas are fruity and sweet, but I prefer the classics; give me Earl Grey any day! Four types of sandwiches offered, classics like smoked salmon, cucumber and butter, turkey, and egg salad. The waiter comes by with a silver platter piled high with all four varieties. The mountain of sandwiches give a sloppy appearance, but they are delicious; most are cozy and comforting, rather than sophisticated like The Mark. The best part? You can pick which sandwiches you want (this is never allowed at any other afternoon tea place!) Four of the smoked salmon? Sure! Only cucumber and butter? As you wish. They come around for sandwich refills too, and you're allowed up to eight sandwiches a person.
Sweets begin with a pair of warm, sugar-topped scones in plain and cranberry. Break off a buttery edge and make good used of clotted cream and raspberry jam, served in deep white bowls. Scones are followed by a wedge of Lady M's famous Mille Crepe Cake, twenty layers of paper thin crepes, each separated with a brush of sillky vanilla custard. The cake alone is $8 in the Upper East Side shop, making this tea an even better deal. As soon as that last bite of crepe cake reaches your mouth, a petite dish graces the table—chocolate-covered strawberries, Russian tea cookies, and tiny financiers in chocolate, apricot, and almond. Is it too much? Perhaps! They'll wrap it to go if you wish (which seems to be a popular request).
The sole complaint is that tea here is rushed, timed to the clock for one and half hour seatings. There is precisely enough time to enjoy, but none to linger at Lady Mendl's. If you're seated at 12:00, they'll make sure you're out by 1:30pm. And if you eat slowly, they'll set down the tableware of the next course on your table as you finish the current course. The practice is a little rude and brash, but done with a smile. It's one complaint, the only fault I find with an otherwise wonderful afternoon tea service.