Lounge over high tea with a liberal serving of history at Lady Connemara in Chennai
High tea followed by cocktails. This might not be what Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, had in mind when she summoned the help to whip up some bread and butter and a cup of her favourite brew, one afternoon back in 1865. She enjoyed it so much that it became a regular feature with her friends and that’s how ‘afternoon tea’ originated. Fast forward to the present at Lady Connemara (formerly Hip Asia), the revamped lounge and bar at the Taj Connemara, Chennai — and you’re in for a delicious upgrade of the English tradition.
We sample a mash-up of not one but three menus available for the evening: a Classic, Celebration and Best of Madras Afternoon Tea. And as you can imagine — this means scones and clotted cream aplenty, bite-size sandwiches ranging from cucumber with minted cream cheese (a British favourite) to even a delicious millet kuzhi paniyaram paired with a smoked tomato pachadi!
As we wash it down with a warm and comforting single estate Connemara Velonie Gold tea (look out for biscuity notes and a hint of golden saffron liqueur), Ahmar Siddiqui, General Manager, of the hotel fills us in on the plans for space. “Being the oldest hotel in South India, we are tapping into a lot of history through our menus, as well as through heritage walks both in and outside the hotel,” he tells us. Look out for an exclusive musical trail leading all the way up to Kalakshetra (expect mridangam beats en route with musicians riding in the car with you!) in the pipeline, as well as a heritage walk within the hotel at 5 pm every day.
■ Nannari and cardamom cake
■ An 11-spice Chettinad chocolate with hints of pepper, clove, black cumin and nutmeg
■ Filter coffee mascarpone tart
Raise a toast to Lady Connemara
There is an intriguing group portrait of Susan Georgiana Broun-Ramsay, better known as Lady Connemara, seated with nobles, appearing to scowl at her husband Robert Bourke — while he appears to be glancing in another woman’s direction. Do go up close and take a look as you sip on Since 1891, a cocktail created in tribute to her, as she stayed a long 11 months at the hotel, when she separated from her husband and waited for the next ship home. Our sommelier tells us, “There are sharp hints of vermouth and orange bitters to signify her bold decision, while ginger laces spice and anger. The sweetness of cherry liqueur and honey are meant to symbolise a new beginning.”
Ice ice baby
Wandering around the Connemara with our guide — our favourite historical sighting is a yesteryear poster which boasts in bold font “ICE AND HOT BATHS FREE”. Back in the day, “This wasn’t just the first hotel with a licensed bar in the city, it was also the first bar to serve alcohol with ice!” says Rahul Khandelwal, Director of Sales. With no fridges in existence to make it — the ice, he explains, “was imported from the West” and considered quite a luxury. So it seems only fitting that we wrap up our tour with a gin and Pimm’s cocktail called Madras No 1 — that arrives neat, with a giant globe of ice (3.5 inches in diameter to be precise), which serves as a sizeable reminder to the tale.
High tea priced between Rs 2,000 to Rs 5,000.
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