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Since opening on rue de Rivoli in 1903, WH Smith has showcased the “art of reading” and “art of living” the English way. Smith’s is a part of ex-pat life in Paris: reading, touching base with home… The aroma’s different; here’s a little piece of England on the bustling rue de Rivoli.
Celebrities and intellectuals (like Marlène Dietrich, Jane Birkin, Isabelle Adjani, Woody Allen, Claude Sarraute, Louis Ferdinand Céline, and Margaret Kemp) all enjoy – or have enjoyed – a pot of tea and buttered scones seated in the tranquil tearoom which sadly closed two decades ago. But here’s good news.
“After a 26-year absence, WH Smith’s Tearoom, once an iconic brand for tea-lovers and foodies proposing a wide array of delicious tasting and reading experiences, now reopens the tea room in partnership with Twinings of London,” explained Marie Charlotte Pointin, the charming Tearoom director, over a cup of Tie Guan Yin Oolong.
The neo-traditional décor is by Holmes Architecture. “The assignment? Obvious yet challenging”, says Ms Pointin. “Remind us of the former tea room, which was designed as a replica of George Washington’s house, Sulgrave Manor, in England, while updating for the 21st century!”
For Andrew Holmes, the Paris-based English architect: “The marriage of two companies – WH Smith and Twinings – each with a rich heritage, led us to create a modern approach to the tearoom design, combining contemporary forms and techniques with a salute to the past.”
So, coats of arms, plaster mouldings displaying British, French, symbols and original carved woodworks have been renovated in the three tasting rooms. To contrast with the historic symbols, colorful furniture with modern shapes is intentionally quirky, inspired by the wondrous worlds of books and tea. A touch of Lewis Carroll here – The Art of the Hobbit over there – as well as the eclectic range of English and American daily papers, newspapers, fashion, design, entertainment and lifestyle magazines, stationery, greetings cards, notebooks, school books, toys and gifts by the likes of Crabtree & Evelyn and Milly Green. In the children’s department, everything from Peter Rabbit to Paddington Bear, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and, of course, the legendary Harry Potter.
The teas – choose from about 60 – achieve perfect infusion with hourglasses placed on each table. Herbal-7 minutes. Black- 5 minutes. Green- 3 minutes. (Pots of tea cost 9€).
And, the tea tasting selection has inspired a menu pairing food and tea to reveal the taste of “Discovey” such as Exotic Mango and Ginger Green and “Origin”, such as Huo Shan Yellow. WH Smith’s extends an open invitation to linger and discover a new book on the welcoming sofas. Find some typically British grocery products and choose teas to take away.
All day breakfast includes Scottish Porridge (5€). Lunch on delicious sandwiches (15€), Scotch Eggs (15.50€), Salad du Jour (15.50€), Quiche du Jour (14.50€). There’s Afternoon Tea (20€), High Tea (27€) or scones, cream and jam (8€) as well as traditional puddings (9€), pies, tarts, crumbles and warm brownies (9€).
For the future, look out for commented tea tastings by Twinings ambassadors. The Tearoom will welcome authors for events and book signings, Kid’s Club workshops and “L’Atelier Anglais”, organising private events, as well as inviting chefs to introduce live presentations of their newly published cookbooks.
Need to Know:
In 1717, at 216 Strand, London – ahead of his time – Thomas Twining opened the first address in the western world dedicated to tea tasting and where women were allowed! It’s still there today!
Across the centuries, generations of the Twining family developed, and cherished, the family business, making the brand a world famous specialist English tea company. Their unique know-how was appreciated by Queen Victoria back in 1837 when HM granted Twinings its first Royal Warrant, appointing the company supplier of teas to the royal household. From that day on Twinings have supplied each successive British Monarch. Today, UK based Stephen Twining, a tenth-generation member of the famous family, is as passionate as his ancestors about preserving the Twinings zeitgeist.
See you there!
WH Smith, The English Bookshop, 248 rue de Rivoli, 1st arrondissement. Metro: Concorde. Tel: 01 44 77 88 99. Open: Bookshop: 9.30am-7.30pm Monday to Saturday and 12.30pm-7pm Sunday. Tea Room: 9.30am-7pm Monday to Saturday and 12.30pm-6.30 pm Sunday
Lead photo credit : Twinings Tearoom at WH Smith in Paris