My November afternoon tea with Nigella for 112 guests at Andrew’s Gray’s Inn greasy spoon grew out of a May breakfast for two at another caff of sorts, The Wolseley, Piccadilly. Nigella liked my suggestion to do a pop-up, perhaps a SpagWednesday inspired by her new book, Nigellissima, but made it clear she was not a chef and not in the habit of cooking for very large groups.
I offered to find a chef to prepare her recipes according to her guidance. But that, I discovered, is not how Nigella works. She proposed a tea as an alternative to a dinner. It would let her cook all the food in advance and free her up to serve tables, meet guests and sign books. On a personal level it would satisfy, if only for a single afternoon, one of her unfulfilled fantasies:
I have always had a slight fantasy/hankering for a cafe with cakes and bakes so this, you could say, is just my cup of tea.
I named the pop-up TeaSaturday, in line with the young&foodish days of the week (BurgerMonday, PizzaTuesday, SpagWednesday, etc.) and proposed Andrew’s as the venue for its dated style and vintage informality. Setting pots of the builder’s tea Nigella insisted upon over the Formica tables of a traditional 1950s cafe would make it clear this afternoon tea was, in the spirit of Nigellissima, as English as it was Italian.
TeaSaturday was divided into 2pm and 4pm sessions, each opened with glasses of Prosecco. Nigella arranged a selection of savoury and sweet bites, all Italian-inspired, on the three-tiered stands served to each table, along with a choice of English tea or Italian coffee – more coffee than you’d guess for a “tea” in London. Illy‘s Marco Arrigo was busy throughout preparing lattes, cappuccinos, espressos and americanos.
The vibe was warm and cozy yet animated. Though most guests came in pairs and shared tables with perfect strangers the free-flowing conversations made it difficult to tell who had come with whom.
Nigella’s mini cakes – cappuccino pavlova, chocolate pavlova, Italian Christmas pudding – drew oohs and ahs throughout Andrew’s. Personally I thought the cakes were almost too perfect. Scrumptious as they were they didn’t quite look homemade. They looked more like something only Nigella could do.
Obviously that was no criticism: That was the very point of the pop-up.
All photos by Ian Sargent