Entering Tea and Tattle on Great Russell Street you may wonder if you’ve come to the right place. There will be tote bags hanging on the walls with London designs, mugs standing on tables with London skylines and other memorabilia that you’re unlikely to find on Amazon. Then, a room lined with books.
And it all makes sense once you consider that this is after all a more than 100-year old independent book store (established in 1903 by Arthur Probsthain who gave it its name, and is still run by the same family) focusing on the Oriental and African world, with further books available at their SOAS University store branch less than a 10-min walk away.
After a quick chat with co-owner Lesley, a very friendly lady, it turned out that the tearoom is something her son decided to open in the basement only five years ago. It certainly makes sense to come here for the experience, since entire rooms dedicated to tea only have become a bit of a rarity in London (as you’ll learn more about in this post here). With hotels the go-to destinations for most afternoon teas in the capital, it comes as a nice refreshment to enjoy, well, you might’ve guessed it, tea and tattle in a cosy, calm room with flowering branches and white cranes covering walls – indeed a nice touch to add cranes (signifying a long life in East Asian cultures) in a room offering an alluring liquid boasting many health properties.
Come here for the experience and the memorabilia. You will find cards, calendars and posters of Bloomsbury and London, tea towels, mugs and milk jars designed by different artists featuring the London skyline and the hop-on-hop-off bus intermingled with other favourite London symbols such as the old phone booths and black cabs which now too have begun evoking a sense of nostalgia.
Both book store and tearoom are reminiscent of a bygone era, but at the same time feel fresh and in keeping with the times after sons Christopher and Tim breathed fresh life into them. They have managed to strike a fine balance between a traditional retreat from the hustle and bustle of the nearby streets (in particular from the neighbouring British Museum attracting almost 7 million visitors a year), and a book store and tearoom that has been adapted to be inviting to both tourists and locals alike.
From the menu you will be able to pick either one or two of the many sandwiches on offer, depending on whether you go for the Tea for One or Traditional option. The cream cheese, chives and cucumber sandwich is certainly recommendable.
While the cakes may not be to everyone’s taste (think Victoria sponge or lemon drizzle which you may love or find puzzling), the loose leaf tea menu offers a good selection of black, red, green, oolong and herbal teas from The Drury Tea & Coffee Company, which can also be bought to take home in the store upstairs – likewise with the handmade English Lake District jam by the Hawkshead Relish Company.
If you’re trying to cut back on your creams and jams, the pre-spreaded scones might seem less appealing. But the affordable price will certainly make such generous rationing seem acceptable. And the friendliness of the owners and managers combined with the feel and calmness of the place will unavoidably lead you to combine your next British Museum visit with a put-your-feet-up relaxed afternoon tea experience in which you can sip your tea and tattle on about your latest Etruscan or Ancient Egyptian discoveries until eternity (or until you’ve run out of tea…). Happy drinking!
Area: Fitzrovia (opposite the British Museum), Central London
Closest tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central and Northern line); Holborn (Central and Piccadilly line)
Address: Tea and Tattle
41 Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3PE