The Secret Garden

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.

If your Midwestern grandmother ran a teashop it would probably look like The Secret Garden Tea House in San Francisco.  Owned by two sisters, Annie and Janice Leung, their bright shop features lacy tablecloths, various sets of flowery china, and thick, white-wooden chairs scattered around the cozy tables.120821_thp_secret_garden1

Located right across the street from Golden Gate Park, Secret Garden is a haven for regulars and tourists alike. It’s homey and so busy on the weekends that visitors often have to wait a week or two for a reservation. Aside from weekend tea service, another big draw is the tea shop’s regular events.

“Over the years we have made a lot of friends and have a lot of returning customers,” said Annie Leung, who has run the shop with her sister for 10 years.

The sisters grew up in Hong Kong while it was under British rule and developed a taste for traditional tea and tea service at the Peninsula Hotel. When they moved to the United States, they constantly explored tea shops—something they still do today, when they have time. They opened Secret Garden as a way to do something together that combined both their interests and their shared love of tea. Janice, who loves cooking and studied it in Britain, handles the food and specialized tea end of the shop and Annie, who trained in flower arranging and party planning, takes responsibility for the decor and events.

“We do all sorts of parties like birthday tea, bridal showers, and baby showers,” said Annie, who added they also have a cottage in the back of the house where many of the festivities take place. “And for kids’ parties we have a dressing room with tutus and fairy dresses. We try to find different things for different ages to let them have as much fun as possible.”

With the children’s parties, Annie likes to go all out and even provides straw hats that the young tea drinkers can decorate to their liking. They offer a Prince and Princess tea for $15.95, that is the kid-friendly version of high tea with peanut butter and jelly tea sandwiches, cinnamon toast, a pig in a blanket, and various sweets.

Adult tea service remains affordable with afternoon tea running $13.95 for the basic Lord’s and Lady’s Cream Tea, which comes with a pot of tea, two warm scones made in house, strawberry jam, and cool Devon cream.

One nice thing about Secret Garden’s pricing is that it’s not by the person, just the service. If you want to add more goodies it costs an extra $4 to add another scone or $1 for a lemon Madeleine. On the more upscale end, the Bedford’s Delight, at $21.95, proves a good deal given the piles of tea sandwiches, mini pastries, and fruit that they pile one. The sandwiches are a big hit and the smoked turkey with lemon capers cream and the tomato and pesto paired nicely with a pot of fragrant Darjeeling. We also ordered the king rarebit, a sloppy, wonderful mess of melted aged cheddar and porter spiked gravy with a fried egg on top.Secret Garden Tea House

While the shop was quiet on Tuesday afternoon when we visited, Golden Gate Park proved a provocative draw, after all, who wouldn’t want to go for a cup of tea before a stroll in nature or a turn around at the nearby de Young Museum. The Leung sisters have managed to capitalize both on their location and on a unique service. Plus, the laid back vibe of the place and Annie’s bright smile when you walk in, makes going there both tasty and welcoming.

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