24 October 2009

Sticky Toffee Pudding with a Dose of Curiosity

Tea and Sympathy in the West Village (108 Greenwich Ave between W12th & W13th Streets) has been a favourite restaurant of mine since they opened nearly 20 years ago. Owned and run by ex-pat Nicky Perry, its tiny size and eccentric decor make it a the perfect complement to the type of neighborhood restaurant the West Village was always known for. (I say this in the past tense as the West Village is sadly and quickly losing all the local "colour" no thanks to people like Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren to name a few. Grr.)

If you're one of the majority of people who've never had real British food and is under the misconception that it's terrible, you've never had the real thing. When cooked properly, the food is akin to comfort food and quite delicious -- and Tea and Sympathy do British food properly! If you have doubts, I suggest you go for tea and dessert. Any of their fruit crumbles or goodies like sticky toffee pudding -- all served swimming in warm custard -- are truly yummy! One of my all-time fave main courses is their bangers and mash; sausages with mashed potatoes and onion gravy. I usually dislike sausage -- the texture makes me cringe -- however the exception are the sausages found in the UK (on occasion I get a craving for homemade Italian sausage and peppers, but its rare.) The texture is completely different to those found here, and the various types (Cumberland, Lincolnshire, etc.) each have their own distinct flavour. (Btw, my fave restaurant in London is S & M Cafe. Get yer mind out of the gutter, it stands for "Sausage & Mash! I'm drooling thinking about it... thank goodness I was there in August to sate my sausage lust for a bit!) I've honestly never had a bad choice at Tea and Sympathy, everything from meat to vegetarian dishes; soups, appetizers, and desserts are all scrumptious! If you don't live in the NYC area but I've whetted your appetite, they have a book out that is half cookbook and half anecdotes about the employees and patrons. Definitely a fun read that makes you feel as if you are part of the Tea and Sympathy family! It's unfortunately out of print (hopefully a paperback edition will be available) but can still be found via Amazon and ABE.

Suiting its eccentric style, Tea and Sympathy is on the ground floor of a peculiar old building that has always intrigued me. Atop it sits what looks like some kind of greenhouse or conservatory. I've often fantasized about this particular feature to the building, envisioning it as the perfect artist's or writer's secret lofty lair. Since I'm not very artistically talented but I am a writer, my fantasy leaned towards the type of ambiance one would expect of the latter variety. My version of an ideal hideaway has books lining the walls (oh big surprise, like I can live anywhere that doesn't include books everywhere?) sparsely furnished (more room for books!) with a cozy rug and a comfy couch to sprawl out on. I do love gardening, so it would also include exotic tropical plants (perhaps I'd try my hand at orchids?) and loads of hanging feathery ferns, maybe a few potted palms. In July the NY Times quenched my curiosity by featuring it in their Home and Garden "Who Lives There" section last month in a story called "The Bohemian Dream, in 350 Square Feet" by Steven Kurutz.

Photo by Piotr Redlinski

The article explains the floor plan, and talks to the current occupant, as well as former occupants, as well as giving a bit of history of the building. For quite some time Tea and Sympathy had occupancy, and it housed many of its employees over the years. It was interesting to read of its history and see the current resident's twist on decor.

Check it out, and don't forget to get some sticky toffee pudding downstairs at Tea and Sympathy!


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