Saturday, 18 June 2011
Newens Maids of Honour Tea Rooms, Kew Gardens
When the teashop is associated with a well known delicacy, there is a third risk - that it will become a tourist trap, charging crazy prices for the special bun or pastry, and not bothering about the rest of the food.
Well, so far none of these criticisms applies to Newens Original Maids of Honour Tea Shop on the far Southwestern outskirts of London. This interesting and very traditional English tea-shop stands just outside one of the main gates of the magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens - Kew Gardens - and is a short walk from Kew railway station. It does lunches, teas and high teas, and it bakes bread and pastries on the premises.
You enter through the shop, which sells pies, filled rolls, etc. to take away, as well as excellent traditionally baked loaves (you may just be able to see them in the background on a shelf beneath those pink lights).
The restaurant is all little oak tables and windsor chairs, with cottage ornaments. It does proper sit-down cooked lunches with vegetables or salads and all the trimmings, and, not surprisingly, seems to have a number of "regulars" who eat there frequently. We arrived rather late but were still in time to get some home made soup and very fresh salad, which we ate while looking out at a little garden.
What makes Newens special is that It sells the original Maids of Honour pastries, as supplied to King Henry VIII. The maids of honour business has been going for at least a couple of hundred years, and Newens has been going since 1887. It has been about 80 years in the current premises.
Below is a picture of the facade you see when you are standing outside in Kew Road. Students of architecture may spot that this is an early 19th century building with the tiled bays added around the 1920s. The car dates from the 1930s and is still used for deliveries.
I don't often pass that way, so it was strange to go there again last week. I must have been in my teens the last time. I remembered how divine the pastries were. They are are still wonderful, although these days I do wonder if they are ... well ... entirely good for you. Something about the sinful feeling of that melt in the mouth middle bit ... hmmm......
I was curious about what exactly IS in those tarts. So when I got home, I went to my very ancient copy of "Mrs. Beeton" which is over 100 years old. Unlike the later, modernised editions, it can be relied upon to have recipes for most traditional English dishes, among other things.
I thought some of you might like to try the recipe Mrs. Beeton gave in my book. It's not that hard to follow, although since the recipes assume you are cooking on a coal range, you do need to know roughly what you set your oven at to be "moderate". As for "tartlet moulds" - who knows? Newens' tarts were about 4 inches across, but I'd think muffin moulds would do. I cheated and made one big tart which I cut into slices.
Although my tart was very good it wasn't as good the ones at Newens - perhaps it's lacking some secret ingredient which is what so entranced Henry VIII.
MRS. BEETON'S MAIDS OF HONOUR
4 ounces (oz) Castor sugar
2 oz Jordan Almonds
Half an ounce of fine plain flour.
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons of cream
1 tablespoon of orange-flower water.
Blanch and dry the almonds and pound them in a mortar with the sugar until they are fine. Add the egg yolks one at a time, and mix in the flour, cream and orange flower water. Line 8 or 9 small tartlet moulds with paste, fill them with the mixture, and bake in a moderate oven for about 15 minutes.