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Figure Eight brunch
Photograph: Courtesy of Heather Willensky

One of NYC’s best new restaurants now serves unlimited afternoon tea at brunch

Get unending sandwiches and tea, plus pastry sets, at Figure Eight in the West Village.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
Written by
Amber Sutherland-Namako

Figure Eight was late to arrive to last year’s dining scene, but the irrepressible November opening quickly earned five Time Out New York stars and made it to our list of 2023’s best new restaurants by December. It’s cozy, it’s cute and, at dinner, it serves an essential seafood tower that makes any occasion feel like a celebration. This past weekend, the new American Chinese destination with notes from the lower Atlantic coast introduced another festive affair by way of afternoon tea, at brunch. 

Emmeline Zhao, the buzzy restaurant’s founder, tapped her own past in deciding what type of brunch to bring to the restaurant. 

Dim sum was a huge part of my upbringing, and we'd always go for "Morning Tea," 早茶 as it's called in Shanghai, on weekends. In the States, folks tend to think only about the food that comes with dim sum, but the experience is classically about the tea (hence, why we call it "Tea”). Tea is the primary reason you gather, the little snacks and dumplings came later, and all exist to complement the tea,” Zhao says via email. 

“When I went to school in England, afternoon tea was effectively a part of the curriculum, and I fell in love with the practice, in part because it was delicious and delightful, but also in part because it felt somewhat familiar. When my parents moved to Hong Kong later in my life, we'd spend weekends between tea with dim sum at cha chaan tengs or banquet halls and afternoon tea at western hotels, which is rather commonplace after 150 years of British rule in Hong Kong,” she says. 

“I'd always wondered what it would be like if we married the two concepts that are seemingly disparate in practice, yet are so similar in philosophy. And given what we're doing at Figure Eight, it felt like the best place and time to experiment with it. Plus — and this is no small factor — Janice [Sung, Figure Eight’s pastry chef’s] work is so brilliantly creative and truly craveworthy, that it really deserved a service of its own.”

Figure Eight brunch
Photograph: Courtesy of Heather Willesnky

Sung had a similar approach to crafting the menu in a way that communicated Figure Eight’s concept as fully as its dinner menu. 

When we first started thinking of items for the dinner menu, I drew a lot of inspiration from memories I had living in Texas and Hong Kong, and so that was where I started when it came to developing pastries for the afternoon tea brunch menu,” Sung says via email.

“While not completely synonymous with Emmeline's background in North Carolina and Shanghai, the neighboring cultures have many foundational similarities and in order to go beyond that, we tried to bring all of our experiences and understandings together,” she says. “The goal for both menus were the same: for our guests to find something familiar seen through a different lens, or for something classic to be paired with something nontraditional so that the overall experience is exciting and fun.” 

Zhao also says that the local notion of the weekend’s most famous meal had become fatiguing. 

“As I've gotten older, the concept of "brunch" as we know it in New York just exhausts me. After a long week of work, the last thing I want is to have to get hyped up over a plate of eggs and over-amplified music just to have a meal with friends,” she says, “To me, afternoon tea is far more leisurely, relaxing, and regenerative — sip on some tea, have a glass of Champagne, have all the finger sandwiches your heart desires, and snack away at beautifully, thoughtfully constructed pastries. It's adult, but still casual and — I feel like we need more of it these days — calm.”

Figure Eight’s newly-launched service is available Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30am to 3:30pm. It’s arranged as prix fixe for $88 per person with unlimited sandwich varieties like ginger-scallion soy-poached chicken, corned beef egg and cheese and Shanghainese smoked fish, six pastries like preserved lemon tarts and mochi madeleines and that titular bottomless beverage. Rare and seasonal teas are listed for $8 more, and a vegetarian menu is also available. 

Figure Eight is located at 18 Cornelia Street, and reservations are available here.

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