There’s an old TV ad for bubble bath where a woman is complaining about all the stuff in her life that’s driving her nuts: “The traffic! The boss! The baby! The dog!” Exasperated, she shouts, “Calgon, take me away!” The ad is laughable now, but the brand still uses the “take me away” slogan. It’s one that couldn’t be more apt during the holidays, when blood pressures are typically amped up.
Those who turn to food and related rituals to relieve stress may want to whisk themselves off to Neverland Tea Salon. This pleasant little spot on the West Side offers classic English high tea with a West Coast vibe. In other words, you’ll get lovely cups and saucers, but you won’t find any pretence.
The waiters, knowledgeable and professional, wear jeans. Even though the room is beyond pretty—with sparkling chandeliers of many sizes, white walls, a gold-framed mirror, a lovely antique clock, and mobiles of elegant teacups dangling from large branches—it’s got that peaceful, easy feeling that’s a tonic to holiday busyness. Mismatched antique tables, chairs, cabinets, and dishes further distinguish the salon from stuffier places known for tea service.
If the room is creatively decorated and the experience inspired, it’s no wonder: it’s run by two local and accomplished artists. Terri Tatchell, who cowrote the screenplay for District 9, is an Oscar and Golden Globe nominee who writes for film and TV. Actor and theatre director Renee Iaci is a co–artistic director of Shameless Hussy Productions.
“The idea for Neverland came from two very specific areas in my life that I felt were lacking: my sense of community and my ability to feed my daughter,” Tatchell tells the Straight by phone after an anonymous visit. “As a screenwriter, I was really feeling the need for a sense of community and face-to-face connections, not just for myself but for the growing number of people I found that were seemingly satisfied with maintaining relationships via social media. This concerned and depressed me. It still does.”
Meanwhile, Tatchell was also struggling with her daughter’s acute intolerance of dairy and gluten. A trip to London, England, opened her eyes to a whole new world of afternoon tea (“high tea” on this side of the pond), as the two were able to enjoy “gluten- and dairy-free towers of goodness”. She joked on the flight home that she’d have to open up her own tearoom. Soon after, she managed to convince Iaci, a long-time friend and lifelong tea-lover who had just as much restaurant experience as Tatchell—nil—to make the seemingly crazy idea a reality.
Rather than just a restaurant, Tatchell explains, Neverland strives to be a relaxing spot that allows people to slow the pace down a little. “Neverland is a happy place where people celebrate, connect, and leave their worries and chaos outside,” she says.
There are more than 60 loose-leaf teas to choose from: white, green, black, scented black, oolong (one flavoured with peach), rooibos (including caramel rose and raspberry cupcake), herbal (such as zesty blood orange), and yerba maté (one sun-dried). High-tea service comes with endless cuppas. Take Me to Neverland, the house blend, is a scented black tea with a perfect mix of peppermint and chocolate. The delicate White Cherry, which our server recommended, is a blend of five types of green and white teas combined with coconut and dried cherries.
The high-tea menu changes monthly but always includes five finger sandwiches, four pastries, and a scone with Devonshire cream and strawberry jam. Count on a variety of bases for the sandwiches (bread, buns, bagels, croissants, and even stuffing, which is on the current holiday menu). Gluten-free options are always available. Right now, baby arugula and crisp cucumber sit atop crustless whole-wheat bread with lemon-and-herb cream cheese, while green pea shoots provide textural contrast to the house-made gravlax served on an herbed bun. A flaky, buttery croissant holds a slice each of pear and Brie and a spread of walnut butter. There’s also a devilled-egg salad with chervil and chives on white bread, enlivened by Dijon mustard and smoked Spanish paprika. Among the pastries, a mini cupcake has apple butter at its centre and sweet maple buttercream on top, while glazed lebkuchen cookies are dipped in chocolate.
Restaurant manager Victoria Reichert and head chef Chris Smail are the wife-and-husband team behind the scenes, with Reichert also creating “mar-tea-nis”. Served warm or cold, they include the Aynsley, a wild-strawberry green tea with blueberry vodka and Chambord.
If high tea isn’t your thing, Neverland has lunch and dinner menus with frittatas, sandwiches, soups, salads, and flatbreads. Or, you could just come in for scones. The restaurant also serves beer (including one that’s gluten-free) and Forty Ninth Parallel coffee.
Going for high tea anywhere is never a bargain; even though it’s not the Empress, here too the price is steep, so to speak, at $30 per person. But you’re not simply paying for the nosh and the brews. You’re getting a full experience, and at Neverland, it’s a pleasing one.