Louise with the three-tiered server of savories
May 2019 - Tea at the Hotel
Chances to go out to tea seem to be getting further and fewer between. In the United States, small country tea rooms have all but disappeared. In cities, though, you can generally rely on a fine hotel to provide you with a high-quality afternoon tea. Most properties of the Fairmont chain of hotels have afternoon tea service with the exception of my nearest Fairmont, in San Jose. They discontinued it several years ago, after Rose and I had a few disappointing teas there. I’m not sure why a large, cosmopolitan city such as San Jose can’t support a traditional British-style tea service at a Fairmont hotel but I suppose, if it can’t be done correctly, it’s best to not do it at all.
The Fairmont Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia
Tea at the Fairmont Empress
That being said, I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed perfectly executed afternoon teas at three other Fairmonts, the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, the San Francisco Fairmont, and most recently, Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec. The Fairmont Empress offers the quintessential traditional afternoon tea in North America: she’s been the gold standard for decades. However, Le Chateau Frontenac’s tea in the Place Dufferin restaurant, with views overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, quite possibly surpassed the Empress’ tea. Admittedly, it’s been several years since I’ve been to the Empress but I believe I can be more or less objective. The extremely high quality of the service coupled with the astoundingly good savories and desserts is what had brought me to this opinion. Hotel tea food is guaranteed to look beautiful but the actual taste of the jewel-like confections can be deceiving. Not so at Place Dufferin. The flavor profile on each tiny dessert was original, intense, unexpected and completely amazing. I was so enraptured by each dessert, I failed to get a copy of the menu. I do apologize for the oversight. I recommend getting yourself to Quebec for tea, as soon as possible. Chatting with the knowledgeable concierge, we learned a fun fact about Fairmont hotel china: each Fairmont that serves an afternoon tea has its own special china, different from the hotel’s main china. You can see the more modern harlequin patterned teal and pink china in Quebec and the more traditional gold-trimmed china featuring a royal crown motif for Victoria. It is available for purchase in Fairmont gift shops and online.
Le Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City
Place Dufferin afternoon tea, Le Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City, the amazing desserts,
Louise with the three-tiered server of savories
Of course, some non-Fairmont hotels offer lovely afternoon teas in their elegant lobbies, palm courts or restaurants. A Londoner advised Louise and I to skip the Ritz hotel tea in favor of tea at the smaller Dorchester hotel. That experience proved to be one of the most delightful and memorable of my life. We went on a snowy weekday in January, having the long central lobby of the Dorchester nearly to ourselves. The softly lit lobby was furnished in overstuffed couches and chairs. A group of beautifully dressed Italian twentysomethings were the only other tea party. We lounged and savored a well done afternoon tea, drinking tea and champagne and nibbling into the late afternoon. I believe they have redecorated since we were there but contemporary photographs show it is still lovely.
The lobby of the Dorchester Hotel, London
This past winter, Kristin and I enjoyed a special Victorian tea at a small, exquisite country hotel, in McCloud, near Mount Shasta. Decorated in arts and crafts style furnishings, the historic McCloud hosted tea during the town’s Victorian Days festivities. The tea was served in the Sage restaurant dining room, adjacent to the lobby. Guests and servers were dressed in period costume and they used three tiered servers at each table, featuring scones, tea sandwiches, and an array of miniature sweets. Costumed carolers sang at the piano, in the lobby. We were enchanted and vowed to return for any and all occasional afternoon teas they put on.
The McCloud Hotel, decorated for Christmas, Victorian tea details, McCloud, California
At the Victorian tea: Kristin, guests, a costumed server
5/3/2019 12:42:13 pm
Kathy--your blog this month rivaled Rose for "tea and travels", which you seem to be doing these days. Nosh for me, while coloring me green!
5/3/2019 02:58:37 pm
Reading about these lovely tea venues is more than enough to make one want to go for tea as soon as possible.
5/7/2019 06:11:23 am
Nice blog, Kathy! I'm so glad you got to take tea in Quebec.
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