It’s a cold wet afternoon and we shake off our umbrellas as we step into the lobby at the Ivy, the perfect place to retreat and relax. It is dimly lit and welcoming, and we’re warmly greeted with a smile and shown to our table. It’s been a while since I’ve had afternoon tea and never tried it here before.

Originally a small Italian London café that opened its doors in 1917, it soon became a famous haunt for theatre actors, musicians, models, celebrities and the arts and media crowd given its proximity to the West End. The Ivy is to this day still synonymous with the rich and famous.

Every branch prides itself on retaining its iconic features and St Albans is no exception.

There’s a certain Parisian feel, glamour and sleekness of the roaring twenties and I can imagine the enigmatic Gatsby lounging on the sofa, holding court, smiling and chatting with his guests while sipping champagne cocktails amid the mirrors and arches.

The Art Deco themes come across in the mullioned window pattern and various other features like the tiled floor, flower lamps and panelled columns. There are botanical artworks of peonies and roses juxtaposed with Victorian architectural drawings and tall slim Oriental paintings of birds in flight. I like the fact that it is an expressive and rich interior rather than minimalist, and yet maintains its elegance.

We settle into our chairs and are handed the menu. I look around taking my time to appreciate the art decorating the walls. I notice that the St Albans branch seems to attract quite a few young couples. Our round table is dressed with a crisp white tablecloth; the serviettes and side plates have a small green Ivy motif. There’s a wonderful choice of tea blends from sencha jasmine pearls to Earl Grey Darjeeling.

I pour 1917 Ivy tea from an old-fashioned metal teapot and sip it slowly, pleased that I’ve made the right decision. The waitress, smartly dressed in a crisp white shirt, fitted black waistcoat and trousers soon presents us with a three-tiered cake stand filled with brioches, sandwiches, scones, cakes and mousses.

The chicken brioche roll melts in my mouth, the fresh slender cucumber and dill finger sandwiches are cool and soft, and the smoked salmon and cream cheese on dark rye bread is salty and smooth.

I linger over the perfect consistency of the scones, clotted cream and jam, while my friend is charmed by the mini crème brulee doughnuts. On the top plate are two miniature flowerpots with pansy petals scattered on grainy chocolate powder, cleverly presented to look like soil! I love it when food becomes an art form and makes afternoon tea at the Ivy is a little bit different and quirky. My friend dips into it first and discovers that it’s a salted caramel mousse.

The Ivy celebrated its centenary in 2017 and continues to thrive and expand with over thirty locations in the UK. I have enjoyed an Ivy brunch and afternoon tea here this year both of which have been unique culinary experiences. I’m looking forward to next time; perhaps we’ll come for dinner and try a curry or a risotto on the vegan menu followed by a signature cocktail or two while taking in some live jazz tunes late into the night.

  • Marisa Laycock moved from south west London to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city.