If the place itself, with its cozy clutter, won't transport you instantly to Britain--or Australia, for that matter--then the two nice ladies who run Paddington's Tea Room will.
"Wha-itall-be, lovey?" said the elder of the two.
Tea. What else?
Maybe high tea if you're anywhere near the place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. And if you're smart, you'll reserve a table just in case there is a run of people desiring tea on that particular day, which there might be. You can never tell. In fact, reservations for high tea are required.
Anyway, for high tea you'll get a pot of tea served in an individual brown Betty pot, a brown ceramic pot covered with a country-print cozy, which you rarely see anywhere but in Britain. There are the British Fortnum & Mason and Twinings teas, and French Le Jardin blends, herbal teas and decaffeinated teas of all types and grades. So you'll not go thirsty for your favorite blend.
Then you'll get a pate with water crackers from a tin, fresh vegetables with a dip, delicious raisin scones--which can be ordered to go, too--served with Devonshire cream and jams, and very fresh finger sandwiches made with cucumber and cream cheese and watercress and tomato, egg and salmon, exactly the way you'd find them at Fortnum & Mason or any other strictly British high or low tea. A selection of tiny cookies and other sweets are the finishing touch of the high tea.
All this for $11, which, as high teas go, is not bad. For $9.50, you can get a miniature version, which comes with scones, sandwiches and tea.
I like high tea because it makes a terrific pre-movie meal, especially if you catch an early show. All you need afterward, if anything, is soup or a small bowl of chili at a favorite spot elsewhere. (Paddington's closes at 7 p.m.)
Otherwise, you can try Paddington's for breakfast or lunch.
There isn't much for breakfast--scones, croissants and whatever else the delivery men have brought in that morning. But if you are a coffee aficionado, you will be delighted to hear that Paddington's is one of the few places in town serving the rare Jamaica Royal Blue Mountain coffee. At $2.50 a cup, Blue Mountain is a unique, powerful coffee that will make hair, if not your pocketbook, stand on end and is not generally imported to the United States. According to Herb Hyman of International Coffee and Tea Leaf in Bakersfield, the coffee goes to Japan, the largest buyer of the limited supply. You can also buy Blue Mountain coffee by the ounce at Paddington's, about $19 for 12 ounces.
Lunch is fun. But do try for lunchtime. Asking for lunch at tea time is, for the waitress taking the order, like asking for a nightcap at breakfast. You can just hear the muttering under her breath, "Oh deah, must you?"
You can order several savory English pies made by an Aussie baker daily--anything from steak-and-kidney pie, chicken curry pie, turkey pie, ham-and-cranberry-sauce pie, even a vegetarian pie. They're similar to the ones you'd find at Harrod's in London. I loved the chicken curry one. The pies are very pretty, about six inches in diameter and served with a huge glob of delicious mashed potato and vegetable. Because of limited kitchen space, most of the foods are brought in by selected purveyors.
I tried a shepherd's pie said to have been prepared on the premises, but it was no better or no worse than the poorest I've had anywhere else. But who's interested in gourmet dining? You can also try the soup of the day, an excellent cauliflower soup on one visit.
Then there is a pork-and-beef sausage roll, also brought in and reheated in a microwave oven (unfortunately, a deadly method of reheating puff pastries), which was OK, and a number of nice American-style sandwiches--salmon, chicken, white albacore tuna, ham and cheese, tomato, avocado and melted Swiss served open-face--and simple but crisp salads. All freshly made.
Things like fruit pies, all natural with fruit nestled in almond-and-crushed-cashew pie crust, are available anytime. The custard pie served with whipped cream is considered a favorite of customers, as is the Lamington, an Australian spongecake square dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut. You can also order German chocolate cake or apple strudel or a Belgian chocolate croissant.
There is an Aussie milkshake you might like to try that's lighter than the thick shakes Americans make. You might also catch a Pavlova, another Australian dessert named after the famous ballerina and said to be made on the premises by the husband of one of the women.
You can enjoy these items, and lunch, too, outside the railed area sans $3 minimum, and be surrounded by a motley inventory of the things you'd imagine would take years to collect, much less co-exist harmoniously. But they do: stuffed animals, bric-a-brac, stationery supplies, T-shirts, tins of all kinds and sizes, toys, stacks of papers and magazines, rounds and rounds of candies and confections and who knows what all.
There is a charm to the place, and a dedication to teas that you can't miss, whether or not sincere, and we think it is. You'll think it is, too, and that's what counts.
I'll go back anytime, if only to be transported to Britain for a few moments on a busy afternoon.
Paddington's Tea Room, 729 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 652-0624. Open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sundays from 1:30 to 7 p.m. Closed Mondays. American Express, Carte Blanche or Diner's Club accepted. Street parking. Reservations suggested for high tea. Catering and private parties; food to go available. Savory pies around $4.95; sandwiches $3.25 to $4.50; desserts $1.50 to $3.50; scones $3 for two with jam and cream (also available $1.10 each or six for $6 to go).