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Tea and Sympathy

Tea and Sympathy

Tea and Sympathy

In 1990 Nicola Perry, former tea lady at the London Stock Exchange, started living her dream. She found a storefront and opened Tea & Sympathy, an authentic amalgamation of English tea shop, mum’s kitchen, and working man’s café right in the heart of New York. Anita Naughton was one of her first waitresses, and from day one she kept an anecdotal record of the place, encapsulating the charm, flavor, and enigmatic patrons that are the atmosphere of the restaurant.

Together they have created a colorful biography spanning the first decade of this landmark eatery: from the early days, when they kept their meager profits in a teapot, to nowadays, when they keep celebrities (British, American, or otherwise) waiting for a table along with everyone else. Complete with sixty recipes and photographs of food and popular visitors, this is a quintessential taste of England ready to take home.In its original incarnation, Manhattan’s Tea & Sympathy was a hole-in-the-wall outpost for British food and drink, authentic down to its steak and Guinness pie and bracing quantities of “cuppa.” The place took off, attracting local and visiting celebrities as well as neighborhood regulars. Tea & Sympathy presents more than 60 recipes from the teashop, provided by its owner Nicola Perry, as well as a house chronicle, the work of ex-T&S waitress Anita Naughton. Though the recipes offer exemplary, easily done versions of such fare as bubble and squeak, kedgeree, and sticky toffee pudding, it’s Naughton’s saucy day-in-the-life narrative that makes the book a should-read. Whether relaying customer eccentricity (“Please help me get fat, only I don’t have any money,” wails a soon-to-be regular), general staff randiness (seeing a repairman lying captivatingly beneath a cappuccino machine, waitress Carol offers, “It might be easier if you take your trousers off”), celebrity sightings (“I carried the Dalai Lama’s afternoon tea,” says the author breathlessly), or the seat-of-the-pants business of the daily round (“Hangovers are now banned,” posts owner Nicky in a staff memo to which one waitress replies, “Are you going to put it in the menu?”), Naughton’s narrative is both hilarious and poignant, in ways that often catch the reader by surprise. Ultimately, she writes of being young and alone and trying to find a foothold in the big city, but she also offers “a happy ending”–her marriage to the restaurant’s chef, “the sixth [one of us] so far” to have found and wedded a mate on the premises. With a detailed tea discussion and “family photo album” of almost the entire cast of characters, the book is a special culinary-literary spread, one that’s in some ways even choicer than a Tea & Sympathy visit itself. –Arthur Boehm

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