Day 7 / Monday, 17 September 2012
Gerry laughed at me when I’d asked him if a restaurant that served breakfast would be easy to find. The thing is, in my three visits to Ireland I haven’t seen a breakfast-diner culture here the way we have in the States. We have Cracker Barrel, Shoney’s, Denny’s, and Bob Evans’ restaurants, the I-Hop and the Waffle House, not to mention Nashville’s famous Pancake Pantry. We have a breakfast culture here, and it’s on display, tackily so.
Ireland has a breakfast culture, too—we’ve discussed the Full Irish—but it’s in the B&Bs and the hotels, as far as I know. That’s the only place I’d ever had breakfast, other than in Gerry’s fine kitchen. I’d been quite relieved when Margaret noticed the Red Rose Café in Bettystown a couple days ago—she’s good at noticing small details, the things I miss—and we went back there this morning.
We were going to spend the day in Dublin today, which would culminate in a special treat: traditional afternoon tea at a downtown hotel. We drove into Dublin and parked at Gerry’s place; there is no way I’d want to drive—much less find a place to park—in Dublin. So we took a cab into the city center.
First stop was Johnson’s Court, an alley that connects Clarendon and Grafton Streets. I’d been corresponding with a jeweler located there, trying to obtain a coin bezel for an antique Irish coin I’ve had for years. As it turns out, the man I’d corresponded with got a little carried away, I guess; I’d sent him precise measurements taken by a jeweler here, and he’d assured me he had a bezel to fit, but … that was not the case.
Gerry had mentioned that since we’d be in the area, we should duck into St. Teresa’s Church—“it’s very pretty,” he said. It’s also Dublin’s oldest Roman Catholic church, built in 1793 for the Order of the Discalced (Barefoot) Carmelites. And we did try to see it; mass was being held when we stopped by, though, so we didn’t go in. If you’re in the area, note the city has grown up around it, so it might be easy to miss.
We walked back down Johnson’s Court to Grafton Street and began shopping our way down toward St. Stephen’s Green. Probably the most upmarket shopping district in Dublin, Grafton Street is closed to traffic (mostly), which makes it fun to shop—and it has everything from souvenir shops to Prada. I was hoping to splurge on some Moulton Brown hair car products. (A hotel we stayed in on the Inishowen Peninsula nine years ago had Moulton Brown in the bathroom, and I fell in love with it. Prices on this side of the Pond are ridiculous, though. Google it; you’ll see. I did not pay anything close to that in Dublin, and the bottles were twice the size.) I found my Moulton Brown at Brown Thomas (a natural fit, don’t you think?), a high-end department store. They had a lot of other lovely things, though most were out of my price range. 🙂 Then we went across the street to Marks & Sparks (actually, Marks & Spencer)—another department store but more like Target in price range and clientele. We also wandered around a nice bookstore, but I used great restraint and didn’t buy a single book. (Actually, I’d forgotten the list of Irish books I wanted to pick up back in Laytown. Darn!)
Even in the light rain, Grafton Street was busy in the early afternoon. There were shoppers of every stripe, plus street buskers and more, like these guys:
I stood right in front of them, and I could have sworn I took a picture from very close, but that is not the case, apparently. They were very, very good (at standing and sitting very still in heavy makeup).
At last we arrived at the Shelbourne!
The Shelbourne is a Dublin landmark, founded in 1824 (the current building dates from 1867) and overlooks St. Stephen’s Green. In 1922, the Irish Free State’s constitution was drafted (by Michael Collins and others) in one of the rooms there. (It’s now called, appropriately enough, the Constitution Room—I wish I’d known we could visit it!) Be sure to look at the Wikipedia entry on the Shelbourne, for a couple of good photographs and more information. Who knew those statues were “Nubian princesses and their shackled slave girls”?
The foyer is just gorgeous.
Tea at the Shelbourne was Margaret’s gift to the ladies of the Clarke and Hampson families—and it was everything any of us hoped it would be. (When I last visited my sister, she’d taken me to a lovely tearoom in San Jose, where the tea was professionally prepared and served in delightful surroundings. It was lovely. But the Shelbourne takes that to a whole new level.) The Dubliners among us—Bridie, Gwen, Clare, and Orla (you’ll remember them all from the wedding, of course)—had never been to tea here, so they were as delighted as we Yanks were.
There are twenty-one possible choices of tea, my friends. 🙂 (I wish I’d noted what I had—but someone else at that table chose it, too, so perhaps she’ll chime in.) We were served, first, palate cleansers—a choice of cold or frozen things that none of us could identify. (If anything, I wish I’d asked more questions.)
Next we were brought finger sandwiches (and yes, the crusts were properly cut off!)—egg salad, ham with mustard, smoked salmon, and cucumber and cream cheese—and shortly thereafter, the tea pots arrived.
It was all so leisurely, so relaxed. The room was beautiful, with windows looking out on the busy street and Stephen’s Green beyond. And it was full of all sorts of interesting folks: there was a man near the door, alone, who looked like something straight out of Joyce—sixties, tousled grey hair, dark-lensed glasses on the end of his nose, corduroy suit, deep in a newspaper. Remember: if you don’t have a reservation, you will likely not be served.
As sandwiches were finished and more tea consumed, here came the sweets. All I can tell you is this: you only wish you were me that afternoon! Everything was scrumptious.
On the bottom rack, scones (pronounce this SCAHNs), both plain and with raisins. On the second rack, butter, strawberry jam, and clotted cream. (You’ve heard me say this before: I want to be buried in clotted cream.) The top rack held the most delightful treats of all, although I don’t know what to call them. (This is a sample menu, but it’s not accurate, because, for one thing, we only had four different goodies.) In my notes, I called them “macaroons (French style), chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup, raspberry mousse, and a four-layered thing.”
I am tired of calling it the four-layered thing but have no other words for it. So I’ll just describe it: the top layer was a passionfruit-flavored aspic layer; the thick yellow layer was lemon-flavored sponge cake so moist it was practically dripping; the next layer was raspberry; and the bottom was an almond cookie-ish layer. It was astonishing.
We were at the Shelbourne for two hours, and it was heaven. At one point, Gerry dropped by on his way home from work and took a photo.
Then Jill and Alli walked back to their downtown hotel; Clare, Orla, and their mother cabbed home; and Bridie came with Margaret and I. What a wonderful day!
You get so used to handling money at home, it’s a shock when you have a wallet-full of paper and coins that, at a glance, are meaningless. It’s so frustrating to have to turn each coin over to see the amount. (Sure, sure, I can tell one- and two-euro coins quickly, and the fifty-cent piece has a ruffled edge that makes it stand out. But the rest? Fuggedaboutit.) An inventory of countries represented on coins in my pocket currently: Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain.