owlfish: (Feast)
Location: Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, Mayfair. London. UK.

Why do so many London places go through the motions of serving afternoon tea, their heart so clearly not in it? Butler's, at the Chesterfield Hotel, proved yet another of these places, who have so lowered my expectations of adequacy in a full afternoon tea that I was rating this one as vaguely averagely mediocre while K was totally slating the food.

Front-of-hotel service was excellent, with staff volunteering to check away our coats and bags voluntarily, organizedly giving us a cute little envelope with our coat claim numbers. The atmosphere where we ate was pleasant, a greenhouse roof over white linened tables, and a mini-courtyard just outside the window, complete with running fountain. The chair covers were a bit awkward, but forgivable on the whole.

The service was very well-intentioned, although clearly operating without sufficient management guidance. The good was that we were regularly offered refills, of water and anything else we might want. The oversights were intrinsic to afternoon tea: no milk was provided along with our teapots although one of us was on black tea, and the teapots were placed on our table the wrong way around, such that when K tried pouring herself a refill from the nearest pot, it turned out to be my tea instead.

Another sign of the lack of thought given to this period of food service was my tea. The peppermint had lots of fine leaf particles floating in it, the sort which would ideally be strained out by the provided strainer; only all the particles were finer than the holes of the strainer.

The food... well, it went through all the right motions. There were finger sandwiches, scones with good clotted cream and jam, and little pastries. The scones had a good crumb, although they were rather bland; the chocolate eclair was decent, and the orange cupcake was practically a highlight because it had a decisive candy orange flavor, full-bodied in a way nothing else was. The fruit in the tart was good, but I've had better pastry cups from any number of supermarkets. The sandwiches were a wash. The only one which tried was bland chicken salad overpowered by incongruous toasted almonds which prettily edged it. Salmon, ham, and cucumber (there was a fourth, blanking on it) were bland and uninteresting. Most supermarkets do better sandwiches. It is entirely possible to do tasty little proper afternoon tea finger sandwiches; I have eaten them elsewhere.

I had a lovely afternoon with K, and staff were good about letting us loiter, but food-wise and tea-consciousness-wise, it wasn't worth the effort to have gone there.
owlfish: (Feast)
Location: 181 Piccadilly, south side, near Piccadilly Circus. London.

Last night, we went to see the musical Oliver. In the number "Who will buy", there was a green-curtained handcart, prominently advertising Fortnum and Mason, complete with color-coded messengers and boxes. It was the only product placement I noticed which didn't come built into the lyrics (i.e. Claridges).

We saw a lot more of that distinctive shade of turqoisey green today when we met [livejournal.com profile] taldragon, [livejournal.com profile] lazyknight, and [livejournal.com profile] daisho for afternoon tea at the St. James Restaurant on the fourth floor of Fortnum and Mason itself. (This wasn't us acting on the advertising; it was a coincidence.) Chair upholstery. China. Walls. More of those iconic boxes. The space was tasteful, large, and sensible: lavish displays of white orchids branching from large vases proved dusty imitations at closer look. The ceiling trim was lovely. Tables were well-spaced so that no other conversations intruded on our own.

Afternoon tea is effecient without being rushed. No grand production was made of service, but with only a little additional prompting, all teas went to the correct person, and refills on tea, scones, and sandwiches were offered when we neared the end of each. Equally, the staff let us loiter for hours into the early evening without dislodging or rushing us. I've read that refills of afternoon tea nibbles are regularly offered at venues around the capital, but this is the first time I've encountered it in such abundance.

The sandwiches were nicely done, fresh, a different, distinctly, lightly flavored bread for each of four finger sandwiches, with tasteful fillings: salmon, ham, egg salad, cucumber. The scones were small and tidy, the chocolate petit four nicely chocolately, and the pastry crisp on the raspberry cup. A minor square of salmon "terrine" and a little cup of warm creamed potatoes were almost an afterthought, tucked around the edges of the sandwiches. The food was superb, technically, and yet - and yet - much as I love afternoon tea, I wish more places did it with greater panache, less classical and more flavor and intelligent innovation. The St. James Restaurant was, however, an excellent example of food and service done Right, the classical way, and much more Right than most.
owlfish: (Feast)
Back in Toronto, I tried all the afternoon teas the city had to offer. There were only seven or eight to choose from, so it was possible to be comprehensive in a way that will never be achievable for London. Periodically, friends ask me for afternoon tea recommendations for London, and I have very little to tell them, having been to so few. This summer is shaping up to remedy my inexperience here.

The Goring
Location: Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, London, near Victoria Station

The highlighted location for afternoon tea is the terrace, but we've opted for indoors, out of the breeze and heat. We gain an extra table for the tea pots, conveniently out of the way, and begin with a light seafood amuse-bouche. Our three tiers of tea are substantial, but not particularly memorable. It was just what it ought to be, with delicate crustless sandwiches (four kinds apiece), cozy scones (with jam pre-potted), and a selection of pastries to negotiate over. There was a further pudding for a finale too. Classy and competent, it offered good service and pleasant enough ambiance, but unmemorable - if correctly done - nibbles.

Palm Court at the Langham
Location: 1c Portland Place, at the top of Regent Street, near Oxford Circus

Lovely space, all sweet foods... )
owlfish: (Default)
Did I mention I went to Cornwall a month ago? I did. I've been too busy ever since to look through the photos from the trip, or tell you about the meals we ate. Instead, let me tell you about a bout of road sign tourism we undertook.

Dusk was falling on an overcast, windy day when we trundled into the coastal town of St. Mawes, in search of the Tresanton Hotel, recommended by our B&B owner as offering cream teas "to die for". We were nearly there, when, at a cross-street, I spied this road sign:

Afternoon tea, and a walk up and down a hill.... )

P.S. [livejournal.com profile] printperson's drawing of the wreckage of tea at the Hotel Tresanton is here.
owlfish: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:46am on 25/05/2007 under , ,
I've always found Manhattan claustrophobic - it has too little sky. This time, however, it didn't intimidate as much as it does usually. I've begun to be innured by London's throng of buildings, living near skyscrapers and six-story blocks of flats. Sunlight softened the Manhattan. The crowds were no worse than London, although the police treatment of traffic seemed more cavalier, clearing blocks of city around Times Square for ambulances - not a lane of traffic, but streets' worth. White-uniformed sailors crowded the subway for Fleet Week. Dramatically geometric architecture was interspersed with uneventful blocks of apartments. The doughnuts cost more and the subway is still dingy.

I met Z. for dinner, [livejournal.com profile] cliosfolly for the Met, and [livejournal.com profile] chamaeleoncat for a day of leisurely wandering in Westchester county. Dinner at Thalia was good but too large; the Met was fabulous but too large; and the day of leisurely wandering was just right. We wandered the trails of the sometime Rockefeller estate, spied a deer picking its way along a meandering little river, watched revolutionary soldiers rehearsing, and ate ice cream in Sleepy Hollow at Main Street Sweets. (How can you not like an ice cream store that makes its own, and includes a flavor called "Holy Soot", chocolate ice cream with fudge and crunchies swirled in?)

In the Met, we strayed from vase to krater, mask to print, fabric scrap to turban finial. One monolith was labeled as either shrine or goal post, a sure sign that the curators don't actually know what it is. Tlaloc-the-rain-god and vultures recurred. From the roof terrace, we surveyed skyscrapers and obelisks; on the second floor, we wandered through Venice and Islam, the walls painted gem-like colors. A full, proper afternoon tea civilized the expedition, with finger sandwiches, petit-fours, and delightful scones flecked with candied currants. We still don't know what Yellow and Blue tea is, but we drank it nonetheless; after lemonade, it tasted of honey to me.

Sunlight and good company tamed Manhattan for a day, but New York City is still mostly a stranger to me.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 01:24am on 26/06/2005 under , ,
Location: 696 Queen West, between Niagara and Bathurst. Toronto. Note: Closed Tuesdays.

[livejournal.com profile] jennybeast requested good food during her whirlwind two-day visit, and so good food there was. We went to Arabesque and Clafouti and The Spice Trader, and we went to The Red Tea Box for afternoon tea, where I had previously had two of my best lunches ever in Toronto. The Oriental-influenced eclectically furnished air-conditioned space enveloped us in its relaxing atmosphere, complete with soothing wall paint and what I suspect was an air-cleaning device. As a light breeze toyed with bringing in the scent of greenery and blooms from the small courtyard which divides shopfront from eating area, we leaned back into plush chairs and off-beat elegance.

Tea bento boxes! )

All of the other Toronto cream teas provided fairly literal variations on the theme's requirements: scones, jam, clotted cream, sandwiches, pastries, and tea. The Red Tea Box took the basics of the theme and transformed them into beautifully-spiced confections of beauty and deliciousness. It's not for everyone, but if you love interesting spicings, subtle and complex flavors, and innovative cooking, I highly recommend afternoon tea at The Red Tea Box.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 09:07pm on 18/06/2005 under , ,
Location: 2305 Queen East, near Glen Manor Rd. Toronto.

A modest exterior reveals a comforting interior, blue and white tableclothes, white and blue china, a small but well-equipped tea shop located just east of the heart of the Beaches. As its name implies, La Tea Da specializes in tea. The shop sells tea in bulk... but what it really specialized in is variations on cream teas. Their menu includes three major options: a "cream tea" (scone, toppings, tea); an "afternoon tea" (the same, plus finger sandwiches); and a "high tea" (all of the above, plus pastries). Note: the cream tea comes with two scones; the other combinations come with one each.

More details... )

La Tea Da provides a good balance between quality and price. If you want full linens and silver serving ware, go to the city's top hotels and pay $5-10 more for the elegance and frills. If you want good food in pleasant and less formal circumstances, unrushed and nicely presented, La Tea Da would make an excellent choice.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 09:44pm on 17/04/2005 under , , ,
The best scones I have eaten this year have been homemade. Restaurants may achieve the heights of elegant linens, good service, multi-tier presentation, and petit-fours, but thus far, the quality of homemade scones has consistently won out over that found in any of the tea shops I've been to this year. The ones at the Merrill Collection cream tea were good. [livejournal.com profile] chamaeleoncat's were the best I've ever tasted: apricot and ginger scones, slathered with Devon cream, and a selection of jams and jellies (strawberry, blackcurrant, ice wine).

Our host organized an tea on the first truly lovely day of spring. The weather was so clemently warm that we lazed the afternoon light away sitting out in the garden, while [livejournal.com profile] ballincollig and [livejournal.com profile] double0hilly tossed a softball around. At one point, the ball escaped into the neighbor's yard, but was - after various failed attempts to retrieve it - tossed back by the neighbor. The garden was planted, but scarcely begun to grow. Fruit trees were greening sticks, garlic and onions the only greenery in sight. Despite sensibly wearing a hat, my wrists and neck were pinked by the time the sun began to set.

[livejournal.com profile] chamaeleoncat and [livejournal.com profile] irvinl made a collection of particularly tasty finger sandwiches, many of them cut into whimsical shapes with Christmas cookie cutters, stars and holly leaves. (I use what I have on hand for these things too. I once made cheese crisps shaped like Christmas trees.) They were filled with cheese and chutney; chicken salad; and goat's cheese and cucumber. In addition, between all of our efforts, there was also pound cake, grapes, chocolate petit-fours, and charmingly-decorated fish-shaped cookies.

Eventually we began to recover from our excess of eating, and [livejournal.com profile] irvinl and [livejournal.com profile] ballincollig vanished into the kitchen to make mango dacquiris. I would have preferred them slightly fruitier, but then I have an endless weakness for fruit. Tea, fruit, good company, and delicious scones: what all good cream teas should have.
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:36pm on 04/04/2005 under , ,
Location: Near Bloor and the Humber River Valley, around the corner from Old Mill subway station. Toronto.

The other cream teas I've been to thus far in Toronto were competing for the high-end market - tourists or Yorkville shoppers, for example. The Old Mill isn't. It's offering an afternoon's relaxation aimed at families and locals, easy access to light nibbles on a daily basis. They serve tea every afternoon of the week for at least an hour, and do so for at least $10 less than the nearest competition thus far sampled.

Read More... )
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posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 10:35am on 18/03/2005 under , ,
Location: West of Yonge, on King. Toronto.

Nearly two weeks ago now, [livejournal.com profile] irvinl, Jennie, [livejournal.com profile] lemur_catta, and I met for tea at the King Edward hotel. The Victoria Café was a pleasantly spacious room, ballroom-sized, but broken down into airy corners by a series of levels in the middle with glass-and-brass separators. There was plenty of space, coat service, and very tall windows letting in plenty of light, even on an overcast wintery day. The King Edward felt as if it had achieved what the Royal York aspired to: a grand dame of a hotel, beautifully renovated, spacious and elegant. Best of all, for the first time on this ongoing tour of the teas of Toronto, we had a tea experience pleasant enough to rival the current pack-leader, the Four Seasons.

Tea and scones... )


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