Teatime West of the Thames

Life in the '90s can be stressful and hectic, but here is one way to get relief: a spot of tea in the afternoon.

The British have their afternoon tea to relax and chat, and you can, too, at the elegant Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills.

High tea served in the hotel lobby lounge is serious business. Lounge maitre d'hotel Mohammed Wali and the meticulous staff pride themselves on serving one of the most authentic tea services this side of the River Thames.

Sip a cup of tea or nibble on a finger sandwich and you'll see why it has become a Westside tradition.

More than a dozen varieties of tea are offered. In addition to traditional favorites such as Earl Grey and Darjeeling, you'll also find exhilarating Passion Fruit, China Rose and Jasmine Blossom teas. Each tea is brewed in a tiny, white teapot and poured through a strainer into a simple, china teacup.

Finger sandwiches with no crust are served from a silver platter. Patrons can choose from smoked salmon, cucumber and tomato, egg salad or cheese sandwiches. Scones, which are thicker and denser than biscuits, are also served with whipped cream, marmalade, or strawberry or raspberry jam.

After tea and sandwiches, try the pastries--cake, fruit tarts, cream puffs or chocolate eclairs.

"You don't find many places that serve tea this way," said Beverly Hills resident and regular customer Bryan Peele. "It's a great place (to go) when you don't want to put up with the hustle and bustle (of life)."

The tearoom is open and airy. A large bouquet of fresh flowers is the centerpiece of this richly decorated room, which is surrounded by deep, comfortable chairs and tables draped with crisp, white linen tablecloths. Each afternoon, a pianist plays classical works.

"I love to come here and listen to the piano," said Martin Van Schaak, who stops by regularly when he's in town on business. "It has a European atmosphere. I feel like I am sitting in London or Paris."

The tradition of having tea was instituted in the 18th Century by Anna, seventh duchess of Bedford. It was intended to be a social gathering for aristocrats and the affluent, but its popularity made its way to the masses. By the time Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in the 19th Century, afternoon tea was a national pastime in Britain and remains so today. It has also made life a little more tolerable for some Americans.

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