One of the fashionable places to visit in Regency England was Gunter’s Tea Shop in Berkley Square. Gunter’s was originally a sweet shop called The Pot and Pineapple, so named because the Pineapple was a symbol of confectioners, something only the rich could afford.
The proprietor, an Italian pastry cook named Domenico Negri had a successful business making wet and dry sweetmeats. His shop also offered candied fruits, cakes, syrups, biscuits, delicate sugar spun creations, and most notably, ices. The Pot and Pineapple flourished, and Negri eventually took on a partner, James Gunter. Eventually, Gunter became the sole owner and changed the name to Gunter’s Tea Shop in 1799.
Ices were frozen in pewter or led molds in whimsical shapes such as fruit, vegetables, animals, a wedge of cheese, and even cuts of meat! These treats came in flavors the modern palate would find odd—parmesan and Gruyere cheeses, artichoke ice cream, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. Flower flavors also graced these fine dishes in violet, orange flower, jasmine rose, and elder flowers.
By the Regency Era, Gunter’s had become so fashionable that those lucky few in the Beau Monde, many of whom resided at Mayfair, frequented the establishment. After going for a carriage ride at the park during the fashionable hour, many gentlemen took the ladies they were courting to Berkley Square to visit Gunter’s. They eventually formed the tradition of enjoying their sweets outside the confectionary in the Square. It seems that Gunter’s Tea Shop was the only establishment where a lady mindful of her reputation could be seen eating alone with a gentleman not related to her without calling into question her reputation. Waiters took orders from customers in their carriages, ran across the street to fetch the sweets, then raced back, dodging traffic, while carrying cold dishes filled with molded ices already beginning to melt.
Gunter’s was also known for its catering business and was a coveted wedding cake maker. In 1811, the Duchess of Bedford’s and Mrs. Calvert’s ball suppers featured the shop’s confectionary, and in 1889, Gunter’s made the bride cake for Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Louise of Wales.
Sadly, Gunter’s closed their doors in 1956, but continued to have a catering business in a new location for another twenty years.
Here is a photo I took of Berkley Square. The store, Sexy Fish, now sits in the location where it is believed Gunter’s once delighted those with a sweet tooth.
My heroes and heroines often frequent Gunter’s and I sometimes wish I could taste the ice right along with them!