There's time for tea between watching Olympic events in London. Megan Singleton visits a royal favourite.
I met a man on a train between London's Euston Station and Chester who invited me to take high tea with him at the Goring Hotel. It's the usual thing to chat with strangers when you're travelling alone but this was a bit odd. Then I thought, what the heck? It may make a good story.
Sitting by the window watching London turn into countryside just two hours after landing at Heathrow from Singapore, my plan was to dash up to Chester to see my brother, his wife and the new baby, before returning to London that evening to embark on a trip through Europe with a bunch of travel writers I hadn't met before.
So there I was, immersed in a three-way conversation among strangers on the train. We idly mused the ups and downs of international travel and laughed over mutual tales of woe, before moving onto travel and social media, as the paddocks whizzed past accompanied by the percussion of the tracks.
It turned out the man worked in aviation and was interested in my perspective on travel blogging. He suggested that when I returned from Europe we meet again to see whether we might have some mutual projects to work on. He made a booking for high tea at the Goring Hotel just around the corner from Victoria Station.
I lived in London for five years on my OE, but hadn't heard of the Goring, and I dare say if the Middletons hadn't booked it out for three days before last year's royal wedding, neither would most of us. It's tucked in a side street around the corner from Buckingham Palace, near Victoria Station.
I cleared my throat and straightened my shoulders beside the gloved doorman and proceeded up the steps into the black and white marble lobby with chandeliers and high white ceilings.
The man from the train was waiting and we exchanged European air kisses. A waiter led us to a pair of couches with a low coffee table, which was our designated tete a tete spot for the afternoon. The terrace overlooking the expansive grounds was full already, but I preferred to be inside ogling the decor and listening to people with plums in their mouths that did not come from the three-tiered cake stand.
The list of teas is extensive. I chose herbal to accompany the absolutely stunning teeny sweets and savouries that arrived. The crayfish mousse in a shot glass was my first pick. Light, creamy and tasty and I wanted the man on the train's one, too, but refrained from lunging with both hands.
Next I dived at the tiny salmon sandwich, all the while talking pleasantries about my whirlwind eight-city tour of Europe in 12 days, as the warm scones slowly cooled.
For more than a century four generations of the Goring family have run this fine hotel. It is the Queen's second "guest house" when the palace is full and she has more dignitaries than she can handle. Mr Goring senior-senior persuaded the Duke of Westminster to sell him the plot of land in 1910. He pulled down the existing cottages and pub on the site and built one of the last grand hotels of the Edwardian era.
Stay in one of the 69 rooms if you have the budget but, for a more affordable touch of class, the high tea is NZ$75 (£37.50, or £47.50 with a glass of Bollinger).
The man on the train and I have yet to find a project to work on; we stay in email touch every few months. But the moral of the story is, don't be afraid to meet strangers when you travel alone. You never know, they may buy you afternoon tea under the nose of royalty.
The Goring is on Beeston Place in Belgravia. High tea is from 3.30-4.30pm each afternoon. Book in advance as it fills up quickly. The dress code is smart casual. That means no jeans or shorts, but you can leave your tiara behind. The hotel was awarded The Tea Guild Special Award of Excellence this year.