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Tea Palace

Location: 175 Westbourne Grove, just east of Ledbury Rd. W11 2SB. London.

So that's where the Portobello Road market is. The crowds streaming out of the Notting Hill Gate tube stop were a surprise to us after the quiet of the previous stops. They were bound for rows of sugar tongs, with backdrops of faded Art Nouveau posters, and shelves of tankards winding up a partially-residential, partially-commercial street reminiscent of a really crowded Kensington Market. (Toronto reference.) We, in contrast, were bound for the tranquility of Tea Palace, a lunch venue I've been eyeing since I read its description in Time Out's food guide a year or so ago.

Nearly the whole wall to the right was lined with large purple cannisters, each containing a different kind of tea. A wide white counter was cash register and reception. The restaurant itself was largely obscured from the shop portion by tall white-curtained dividers. Large windows and white curtains meant the whole shop was suffused with soft north-facing light. Thematic wall paper layered images of lace doilies on top of each other. The whole place was pleasant, well-and-gently lit, comfortable.

The dedicated tea menu was stupendous, with hundreds of options and a waitress who really knew the whole thing and could comment knowledgeably on it. C. liked the Palace Breakfast tea; my spiced pear would have been improved by an absence of rosehips, but this is a common complaint of mine. The menu featured substantial oolong, green, white, herbal, and fruit options. My bright pink tea (those rosehips) didn't stain the white linen at all, thanks to well-designed tea pots. Each of our teas was accompanied by a little dish of a sample of the tea itself so we could examine it.

My jasmine-syrup fruit salad was fresh, well-prepared, and nicely balanced. C. and J.* found their in-house made crumpets oddly spongy, but ate them all up along with a cube of honeycomb, slowly melted on the warm bread. We are all products of Toronto's brunches, and flocked en masse to the eggs benedict. They, like all the other dishes, were elegantly plated, beautifully presented. Alas, the egg was slightly overcooked, and the overall dish rather bland. Strangely, for a place which in part specializes in afternoon tea, we weren't given a dessert menu.

Service was good, with incredible knowledge of tea and a very pleasant atmosphere. The food was all very competent. I'd be interested in going back for afternoon tea, and willing to go back for brunch or lunch - but for all its beauty, the food wasn't much more than correct.**

* This is not a J. I have previously mentioned. We were just put in touch via a friend-of-a-friend, since we all lived in Toronto and now live in London. We thought this would be our first meeting, but we recognized each other from our mutal friends' birthday party back in T.O.

** Bonus: it's right around the corner from Melt!