Residing in the former foyer of the Grand Hotel across from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, The English Rose Tearoom—sharing the historic building with several apartments—has boasted an authentic British experience since 1997. Last Saturday, I roamed through the Mainx24 celebration of Chattanooga's Southside and headed a couple of blocks from Main Street, wondering if I would feel like I had actually wandered across the pond.
1401 Market St.
Chattanooga, TN 37402
11 a.m.-5 p.m. (lunch is from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you'll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it's the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it's worth it.
Atmosphere and service
The outside of the tearoom had several shrubberies and large, inviting windows, displaying various gift shop items inside. As soon as I walked in, the charming atmosphere whisked my mind back to the three weeks I spent in Scotland and England a few years ago.
The front of the house had British gifts, tea sets and food products—had to skip the canned haggis—with Father Christmas himself hanging out for the Mainx24 event. Santa was jolly—of course—and had a thick British accent, as did most of the staff. With Brit-isms abounding throughout the place—including keys to "the loo" out in the shared hallway of the building—it truly felt like I had gone through a time portal beaming me back to Britain.
We had arrived at the end of a big rush and were seated immediately. My server was cheerful and checked on us often to make sure all was in order.
She quickly brought out a pot of their house tea ($1.95 per person, with specialty teas available for $2.95) in a rose-patterned teapot and tea cosy while we decided on selections from their menu of British comfort foods. She seemed excited and complimentary about every item we ordered, so I was geared for a real treat.
The food took a wee bit to come out, but a meal like this is not meant to be rushed. I kicked back and relaxed, merrily sipping on my "cuppa tea" while taking in the ambiance with classical music playing softly in the background.
The interior of the place was an enchanting throwback to Victorian-esque British tearooms with white lace tablecloths, floral-patterned china and roses in vases at each table. The large windows let in plenty of natural light. Outside my window, rosemary and other herbs and flowers were planted below the sill, adding to the charm.
Probably preserved from the building's old hotel days, the back of the tearoom had a highly decorated faux staircase that dead-ended up against the ceiling—or possibly led to some sort of British wizarding world inaccessible to Muggles.
When it finally arrived, I sampled the Victorian tea—in Britain, "tea" can also refer to an entire meal, rather than just the beverage. This tea included a pot of their aforementioned house English black tea, four finger sandwiches, a scone, cheeses, crackers and biscuits on a three-tiered stand, along with choice of dessert, for $19.95.
The tea sandwiches included cucumber and cream cheese, tomato and cheese, egg salad, and salmon mousse. These were wee, two-bite quarters on crustless, soft sandwich bread. The cream cheese variation of the traditional English cucumber sandwich was light and refreshing, as was the tomato and cheese. The salmon mousse and egg salad were light and airy and not too heavy on the mayo. These sandwiches were simple, traditional and perfect.
From the scone choices, we went with the apricot and almond. This flaky shortbread had a delightful texture, with its sweet, nutty flavors perfectly complemented by the clotted cream, strawberry jam and lemon curd served to the side.
Although the Scottish scone is a distant cousin to the American biscuit, British biscuits are what we call "crackers" or "cookies"—and I didn't have the slightest urge to put country gravy on them. A rich, silky chocolate truffle was also included with the firm, sugary biscuits.
The cheeses included sharp white and yellow cheddar and, my personal favorite, heavenly creamy Brie, with a couple of water biscuits (crackers) for transport. When I ran out of crackers, I used some of my crusty roll (75 cents), which had a warm and fluffy interior and nicely hard exterior (the condiments for the scone also went well with this French-style bread).
I led off with the traditional bangers and mash ($7.95 or $9.95 for two bangers). A "banger" is a British sausage, possibly named for the pops, hisses, cracks and potential explosions the lower-grade variety can incur during cooking. The term—said to have gained popularity during the World War I and II eras—stuck in the modern British lexicon, even with higher-quality sausages.
This was a high-quality banger. Its meaty interior exploded with flavors of sage and other spices, giving it a flavor "bang" with the physical casing perfectly intact, albeit with a good outer char. The "mash" of the traditional dish is simple mashed potatoes, and these were a nicely thick consistency to support the banger on top and soak in its savory sausage juices. The caramelized onions added further bite to this sausage and potato mishmash.
The same mashed potatoes were also included with the Cornish pastie ($9.95). This savory, flaky, buttery pastry with roots in Cornwall was loaded with ground beef, onions and rutabagas. Dark gravy was served to the side to add more creamy moisture, and although it enhanced the flavors of the dish while bringing its own rich element, it wasn't a necessary addition—the pastie and potatoes stood well on their own.
Both dishes were served with a salad on the side, which consisted of various greens, red lettuce, cucumbers, onions and tomatoes. The server brought British salad cream and Italian dressing to the table, so I tried both. The Italian was OK but nothing special, and the salad cream was an interesting flavor and consistency uncommon to these parts. This vinegar, mustard and egg emulsion is extremely popular in the U.K. and added a creamy tang to this bed of fresh, raw veggies.
The dessert selection was included in the price of the Victorian tea. I had a hard time deciding on which dessert to choose but finally decided on the sherry trifle. However, they were out of it, so I went with the sticky toffee pudding instead (all desserts are $4.95 à la carte). The menu description of this dessert said it was "warmed spice cake topped with toffee and custard." What it should have read was "scorching spice cake topped with molten toffee and steamy custard." Blimey!
After the initial shock of juggling this unexpected fireball morsel in my mouth, my few unburned taste bud survivors said one thing to my brain: "Glorious." This was a bubbling masterpiece erupting with flavors of moist cake spices caught in a magma flow of sticky toffee and creamy custard. It was an exciting—albeit too exciting at first—finish to this fantastical meal.
I am giving The English Rose 3 stars. Although they are a wee bit on the pricey side, it is much cheaper than a plane ticket to Britain—and our currency conversion to British pounds is still pretty terrible. This authentic British teahouse lightly quenched my thirst for all things British, and I'm sure to become a regular at this place. So, until next time, cheerio!
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga's food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.