Kate Cranston was smart enough to entrust her Willow Tea Rooms to one of the greatest architects in Scotland’s history, and while many tea rooms designed in 1903 have come, gone, and been forgotten long ago, her cream tea is still drawing visitors from around the world.

Located on the unpronounceable Sauchiehall Street (the name of which comes from the Scots Gaelic for “alley of the willows”), in an area known as Glasgow’s “Style Mile”, The Willow Tea Rooms is a haven of art nouveau brilliance in a city already bursting with culture. A peek through its doors affords us a look at what Glasgow might have looked like in its heyday at teh turn of the century.  

On a first approach you might be confused to see a prominent sign for “Henderson Jewellers” on the front of what purports to be a tea room, but fear not—the steeped bit is found on the top floors. Weaving your way past the glittering baubles below, you’ll mount a stair and then bypassing that floor (that’s not where the good part is) you’ll continue upward until you reach the fabulous Room de Luxe where you’ll find the same prices, with a  priceless atmosphere.

The architecture and décor of the Willow is the product of Glaswegian architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A pioneer of the “Glasgow Style” of the early 20th centurycharacterized by a sensual realism, the orient, and Celtic imageryhe was one of the most celebrated designers of his era and continues to be a Glasgow icon. He was the one whom restaurateur Kate Cranston turned to when she needed to design classy new tea rooms that would give her customers a feeling of brilliance and beauty, and she gave him carte blanche with the Willow. Rennie got to design every last detail, from the marvelous leaded glass and striking throne-like chairs to the forks, spoons, and maids’ outfits. He created something that is now a “must-see” Glasgow attraction.


Willow Tea Rooms by Dan Costin
Willow Tea Rooms, a photo by Dan Costin on Flickr.
Many things have changed since 1904. The chairs you sit in today are not the ones old Rennie rested his creative rump upon, just lovely reproductions, but the entire interior décor of the tea rooms has been “sympathetically recreated” to give visitors the ultimate Mackintosh experience. The Room de Luxe is probably the most popular room in the place; with its silver furniture and bright colors this distinctly feminine room has been described as “the jewel in the crown of (Mackintosh’s) twenty year partnership with Cranston.” The Gallery is an entirely different affair, much darker and more masculine. The unique flavors of these rooms are part of what makes this tea room such a destination spot. Its sister-tea-room, the Willow on Buchanan Street, features similarly distinctive recreated rooms, the White Dining Room and the Chinese Room.

Brownie with Whipped Cream  by The Integer Club
Brownie with Whipped Cream , a photo by The Integer Club on Flickr.
Speaking of flavors, the Willow serves up more than steaming pots of tea! They are well known for their extensive menu, which includes some mouthwatering classics as well as a selection of gluten-free and kid-oriented dishes. A collection of recipes from the Willow can be found at Willowtearooms.co.uk, and here is one of them:











Willow Meringues
Serve with Whipped Double Cream and Fruit
Makes 14 meringue halves

INGREDIENTS:
  • 4 medium egg whites
  • WILLOW MERINGUES  
  • Serve with Whipped Double Cream and Fruit 
  • Makes 14 meringue halves
  • 4 medium egg whites
  • 225g 8oz castor sugar
  • A pinch of salt
  • Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/130C Fan/Gas 2.
  • Lightly oil two baking sheets and line with baking parchment.
  • Place the egg whites and pinch of salt in a large dry, clean grease free bowl and 
  • whisk into soft peaks. (Do not get any yolk in to bowl or meringues will not work)
  • To test for right consistency, tip the bowl at an angle – if the mixture doesn’t slide 
  • out, it’s ready.
  • It should also look slightly dry.
  • Take care not to over beat or the whites will collapse.
  • Whisk in the sugar, about one tablespoon at a time, making sure that you whisk 
  • thoroughly after each addition.
  • When all the sugar is whisked in, the mixture should be smooth, thick and glossy 
  • and form stiff sharp peaks when the beaters are lifted out.
  • Place dessertspoonfuls of the mixture slightly apart on the baking sheets.
  • Place in the oven, reduce the oven to 140C 275F Gas 1 and bake for 1 hour.
  • Turn off the heat and leave in the oven for 1 hour.
  • 225g 8oz castor sugar
  • A pinch of salt


METHOD:
  1. Preheat the oven to 300F/150C/130C Fan/Gas 2. Lightly oil two baking sheets and line with baking parchment.
  2. Place the egg whites and pinch of salt in a large dry, clean grease free bowl and whisk into soft peaks (Do not get any yolk in to bowl or meringues will not work).
  3. To test for right consistency, tip the bowl at an angleif the mixture doesn’t slide out, it’s ready. It should also look slightly dry. Take care not to over beat or the whites will collapse.
  4. Whisk in the sugar, about one tablespoon at a time, making sure that you whisk thoroughly after each addition. When all the sugar is whisked in, the mixture should be smooth, thick and glossy and form stiff sharp peaks when the beaters are lifted out.
  5. Place dessertspoonfuls of the mixture slightly apart on the baking sheets.
  6. Place in the oven, reduce the oven to 140C 275F Gas 1 and bake for 1 hour.
  7. Turn off the heat and leave in the oven for 1 hour.
Thank you, Susanne, for suggesting this post topic! If anyone else has a suggestion of a Glasgow experience, I’d love to hear it.

First Photo: Willow Tea Room, a photo by hartjeff12 on Flickr.
Sources:

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Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 4 comments

  1. die, die nicht näht Reply

    Thank you very much for taking up my suggestion. The Willow Tea-Room is wonderful! Delicous food and you can buy nice little cards and table-mats with the Mackintosh Design. A Must-Go in Glasgow!!!

    Susanne

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