If you discuss afternoon tea in San Francisco, Lovejoy’s Tea Room is probably the first venue that will be mentioned. They’re a San Francisco tradition dating back over 25 years, and they’re popular enough that it can be tricky to nab a weekend reservation. Their secret to success is a mixture of good food, good tea and a memorably eclectic aesthetic.
At Lovejoy’s, more is more. Walls and ledges are cluttered with ephemera: paintings, banners, signs, mirrors and stray china. Hats bedeck the walls, shelves and racks — and may be borrowed by patrons foolish enough not to wear their own hats to tea. (Not that many customers are such fools: the crowd at Lovejoy’s is more dressed-up and be-fascinatored than anywhere else we’ve been.) Everything on the table is mismatched, so that teacups, saucers, plates and pots present a jumble of clashing patterns. A shop across the street, Lovejoy’s Attic, sells china, gloves, handbags, hats, and tea-themed paraphernalia, for those who want to take the Lovejoy’s look home.
Lovejoy’s offers tea services for a variety of hunger levels and budgets, ranging from $18 for cream tea to $30 for the “Queen’s Tea” of sandwiches, scones, crumpets, fruit and petits fours. An intermediate option labeled “high tea” naturally earned our disdain.
The eight sandwich types provided with our four Queen’s Teas were all delicious. The creamy duck pâté (a daily special), spicy roast beef with horseradish, and salty smoked salmon were particular favorites. There were no surprises in terms of presentation (all were closed-face sandwiches on soft, crustless bread) or flavor (all were precisely what was listed on the menu without extra herbs or spices), but the quality was universally high. We were also lucky enough to get four extra cucumber sandwiches — we were brought cucumber instead of smoked salmon, then brought cucumber again to remedy the error, before finally being presented with the requested smoked salmon sandwiches. Since we managed to polish off all of the cucumber sandwiches in addition to the smoked salmon, the mistake was decidedly in our favor!
Fluffy scones with a generous helping of real clotted cream (and an even more generous refill, upon request) earned our praises. The crumpets were presented warm partway through our tea service, but unfortunately proved mushy in texture. The accompanying lemon curd lacked tartness. We appreciated the étagère’s top tier of fresh berries, pineapple and cantaloupe, and a single petit four per person completed the meal. Afternoon tea can sometimes feel like a sugar overload; this balance of food didn’t. We chose our petits fours from a tray of options with mixed success: the lemon bite proved overly sweet and went uneaten, while the salted caramel truffle struck just the right flavor balance and was quickly devoured.
Uninspired by the green and herbal tea options on the menu, we focused on black teas, which appear to be Lovejoy’s specialty. We sampled the Tea Room Blend, the Royal Blend (black tea with vanilla and grenadine), Black Vanilla with Lavender, and White Peach. All were high quality and straightforward, with the flavored black teas smelling and tasting strongly of the advertised notes. The intensely peachy white tea was easily quaffable and paired well with the food. It was brewed with an in-pot strainer, which allowed it to stay at the perfect strength throughout the meal. However, the black teas were brewed with loose leaves in the pots and strained upon pouring, so all became oversteeped and bitter before we had finished each pot. Refills arrived quickly and unprompted.
Date attended: May 26, 2018
Attendees: Hannah, Ilana, Marissa & Tom
Price/seat: $30 (Queen’s Tea)
Location: 1351 Church Street, San Francisco