28 W. 4th St.
UPDATE 2009: This restaurant has closed.
There are days in the office when the vent above my head expels frigid air from around 10 a.m. onwards, and the spare sweater I keep for such occasions just isn't enough. Such days call for a nice cup of hot tea, which is why my girlfriend Laura and I decided to meet up at Churchill's Tea Room in the Tower Place Mall for lunch and a pot of their white chocolate mousse tea.
When our pot of tea arrived I immediately thought of the song "T USA" by Ginger Baker's short-lived stint in the band Masters of Reality, which questions the ability of Americans to make a good cup of tea.
"Now this is serious! If there’s one thing in this country that really bothers me
Is the inability of Yanks to make a good cup of tea
Instructions are printed on the teabag
But either they can't read
Or they think it's a gag
Pour boiling water over the tea
How simple and clear can the instructions be?
They bring you a cup with a lemon slice
And an unopened tea bag beside it (how nice)
And a pot of water and it may be hot
But boiling it isn't so tea you have not
Why can't we
Get our tea
We need tea
To set us free
It's boiling water that brings out tea's flavor
With a dash of milk you've a real brew to savor..."
Churchill's Tea Room should know how to make a proper cuppa - the proprietor is British - yet on the day we visited our pot of tea was definitely not hot enough for boiling water to have been poured over it. I have brewed enough pots over the years to know how hot a cup of black tea should be after steeping for five minutes, and this wasn’t it. On the upside, the lukewarm temperature of the tea made a splash of cream unnecessary, which is just as well, since we were never given a cream option. Patrons at surrounding tables had both cream and sugar for their tea, but we only had sugar. Maybe we had to specifically request the cream, but that seems a rather silly thing to have to do in a tea room.
Although I stop in every so often to peruse their selection of British goods, which are for sale in the front section of the cheery tea room, it had been well over a year since I had last eaten lunch there. I readily admit that it wasn't just the lure of a good pot of tea that drew me in - one day as I passed by I noticed that they listed a Ploughman's sandwich on their menu, and I couldn't get the idea out of my head.
So I knew what I wanted before we were seated – but unfortunately I couldn’t have it, because they were out of some of the ingredients used to make the sandwich. I opted instead for the other vegetarian sandwich on the menu, The Veggie, which consisted of herbed cream cheese, feta, lettuce, tomato and cucumber. It sounded like a winner to me, but the bread really let the sandwich down. Although I’m pretty sure the menu stated that it was made with whole wheat bread, my sandwich came with standard white supermarket bread, and it tasted more than a bit stale.
Laura ordered the chicken salad sandwich, only to be told that it too was out of stock. Her backup was the ham & cheese.
Most sandwiches run just under $8 and come with a side of their signature broccoli salad or fruit cup and a tea biscuit (cookie). The broccoli salad tasted home made and was very nice – bright bursts of orange complimented the onion and broccoli. It was delightfully creamy with hints of sweetness; not what we were expecting. The tea biscuit on the other hand was a pretty average boxed variety.
On the topic of sweets, Churchill's has a nice selection of cakes and scones. Because I was still peckish at the end of our meal, I decided to try their Strawberry Buttercream cake and am glad I did. It was deliciously moist and well worth the $3.95 price. Laura ordered the Chocolate Guinness cake but they had already sold out of the popular item, so she opted for a chocolate cookie instead.
I haven't attended any of Churchill's popular weekend high teas, so I do not know if they are a better value than their weekday lunch menu, but I felt our sandwiches were poor value for money and rather disappointing, with the one bright spot being the fabulous broccoli salad. I can understand a vendor issue preventing stock from arriving safely and on time, but for a restaurant to serve sandwiches on bread that was clearly past its sell-by date is unacceptable. I’ll give Churchill’s a chance to redeem their tea-making, but in the future I think I will skip lunch and go right for dessert, because that is where the tea room really shines.