Nothing gets an Anglophile’s heart a-racing like the arrival of an authentic British tea shop in the Baltimore area.
If, like me, you’re addicted to the venerable British soap opera “EastEnders” — Hey, WETA-UK: Couldn’t you air the show more than twice a week? We’re 11 years behind the series in England — you positively yearn for a “sarnie” (slang for sandwich).
And if, like me, you’ve practically memorized every episode of the Britcom “Keeping Up Appearances,” you really could “murder a bacon butty” (a bacon sandwich with buttered bread or roll).
But you needn’t be a “nutter” like me to welcome Emma’s Tea Spot in Hamilton, which opened in late November. There should be a wide interest in a place offering tea, scones, sandwiches and more in such a pleasant ambience. Judging by a recent visit, there’s room for fine-tuning things, but it’s still fun. You’ll be rooting for Emma’s long-term success.
SCENE & DECOR: The space gives off a cozy vibe with its old-fashioned tables, tiled floor, photos of British celebrities on the walls, shelves of British goods, and a mix of twinkling lights and little flags on the ceiling. It’s a room tailor-made for lingering.
APPETIZERS: We could not resist the Waldorf salad ($10.25) — no fan of the peerless Britcom “Fawlty Towers” could — and it proved a rewarding melange of apples, walnuts, celery, raisins, tomato and cucumber with mixed organic greens in a house-made vegan cream dressing.
Other starters include vegetarian or vegan soups ($3.95/cup), a quiche of the day ($10.95) and a “Ploughman’s Platter” ($11.50) that includes imported cheeses, mango chutney, cornichons, organic apple and organic side salad.
ENTREES: For hearty fare here, you can choose between a sarnie and a butty. You can order these separately or as a combo with tea.
Our egg and cress sarnie ($9.95) boasted local, free-range boiled eggs in a cream dressing, along with the distinctive taste-kick of mustard cress. The local white bread for the sandwich didn’t have much flavor, and the slightly rough surface suggested it had been sitting out too long.
A ham and mustard sarnie ($9.50) also came in nondescript bread, but the filling was, well, filling — excellent smoked ham, organic lettuce and tomato, a tangy dressing made with Coleman’s mustard.
The bacon butty ($10.50) would have been a winner had the roll not been so dry and bland. The bacon, though, had a robust flavor and texture. A sweet and spicy dipping sauce gave the butty a nice lift. There’s a banger (sausage) butty for the same price.
Choices for accompaniments to sarnies and butties include house-made coleslaw, fruit salad, or crisps (known on our shores as potato chips).
There is a tea and sarnie option (starting at $11.25), but you might as well splurge for the high tea ($27.50; $32.50 with soup). This way, you get the whole British ritual of tea, scone, sandwich, fruit, little sweets — all tastefully arrayed on a three-tier serving dish.
DESSERT: There are assorted biscuits — that means cookies, don’t you know — which are typically ordered with a pot of tea ($6). The packaged biscuits we sampled did the job. More interesting are the scones, available in sweet or savory varieties and also accompanied by a pot of tea. Our herbal sample had sturdy flavor and was nicely partnered with lovely Irish butter, mango chutney and sharp cheddar ($10.25).
DRINKS: Since tea is the raison d’etre for Emma’s, it should be stellar. In the two pots we ordered, even though each was charmingly wrapped in a knitted “tea cosy,” the water wasn’t piping hot. And the English breakfast tea tasted curiously weak despite more than enough steeping time. Maybe it was just an off day for the tea-whisperer. High marks, though, for the English bone china.
We also tried a not-too-sweet, if watery, Cadbury’s hot chocolate ($3.95). Other options include organic milk and assorted soft drinks.
SERVICE: This is yet another place where you order and pay at the counter first. We encountered varying degrees of amiability at the counter, but uniformly friendly staffers brought the food and drink.