Finger sandwiches, scones, and bite size desserts oh my! Afternoon tea is not just for the elite anymore. Everyone can enjoy the delectable finger foods and flavourful teas while gossiping with friends. There are a handful of places in Montreal that serve afternoon tea, as well as thousands of places in the U.K. I have had the opportunity to experience afternoon tea from both these areas.
My friend and I planned a trip to Scotland and were curious if Montreal's afternoon tea scene was as good as the U.K.'s. Here was our chance to compare the two. We started with a trip to Montreal's Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel and ended two weeks later in Scotland enjoying afternoon tea at the Howard Hotel in Edinburgh.
Here's a Brief History Lesson
Afternoon tea has been a tradition in the United Kingdom since the early nineteenth century. Anna Marie Stanhope, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is credited with the creation of afternoon tea (History of Afternoon Tea) Stanhope having a "sinking feeling" in her stomach, in the afternoon, would sneak tea and small snacks into her chamber. She then began to invite friends over to delight in her afternoon tea experience. Soon enough the meal moved to the drawing room and into high society.
First Stop, The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal
As we entered the Queen Elizabeth hotel we were a little nervous. The smart casual dress code and the 'reservations are recommended' certainly put pressure on us to act like one of the socially elite. Our expectations were certainly met. The maître d' led us to our seats near a window that looked out at the Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral. With our mouths open, as we enjoyed the view, we noticed a group of experienced tea drinkers a few tables down from our own. The ladies had on all their best jewels, extravagant hats, and fully colour coordinated outfits. Let's just say we felt a little underdressed. We quickly came to the conclusion that afternoon tea is where we could pretend we were a part of royalty.
The choice of tea at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel was superb. They had everything from black teas to fruity teas. The menu described, in detail, each type of tea. Our waiter also gave us a box of tea samples so that we could use our sense of smell to pick our teas. This was helpful, because as any tea drinker knows, the smell can tell you everything you need to know about the tea itself.
Each person at the table gets one large pot of tea. The pot contains about four to five cups. The two teas we chose were the Buckingham Palace blend and the Vanilla Chai.
The Buckingham Palace: This tea is a favourite at the restaurant. For all Earl Grey lovers this tea is a must. The mixture between hints of Jasmine and Earl Grey leave the mouth watering. I am not a fan of jasmine; however, the aroma of the tea led me to give jasmine another chance. I was not disappointed. The tea surpassed my expectations to the point where I was ready to come back the next day so I could enjoy it again.
The Vanilla Chai: Now this is a flavour I have hated ever since I can remember, but the friend who came with me loves it. The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel's Vanilla Chai is not heavily spiced, which is probably why I enjoyed it. It contains vanilla from Madagascar and candied cardamom. What is nice about this tea is that it does not overwhelm the palette. The vanilla laps in your mouth before leaving a gentle cardamom spiced finish after you swallow.
Overall, the two teas were pleasantly surprising and set the mood for the oncoming food.
The food came out on a three tier cake stand. Our waiter explained what each piece of food was.
The bottom tier had three different sandwiches. They were turkey and watercress, the classic cucumber and egg, and smoked salmon. The appearance of the sandwiches was engaging. Each sandwich's bread was a different colour and they all tasted fresh, as if they had been made right before we sat down. The egg and cucumber sandwich was my favourite because it was light and left the mouth ready for the next tier of food.
The second tier was my favourite. There were two lightly baked scones; one was filled with raisins and the other was plain. The scones came with strawberry, raspberry, cherry, and marmalade jams. There was also a jar of Devonshire cream. The jams were a bit disappointing because I expected them to be home made and not from a jar. The cream was heavy but the second it touched my tongue it melted delectably. They had a very fresh, sweet, and light taste. The Devonshire cream was so good we finished it on our first scone.
The final tier held three miniature desserts that could please all dessert lovers. There was a strawberry macaroon, a hazelnut and raspberry chocolate mousse, and a lemon and almond biscuit. The chocolate mousse was my favourite because it satisfied my chocolate and hazelnut fix. It was rich, but also light. The macaroon was disappointing because it did not have a very strong strawberry taste. I was disappointed with the lack of desserts. The three desserts offered did satisfy my sweet tooth; however, one more dessert would have been even more satisfying.
The overall ambiance at the restaurant was excellent. The street level view of the church created a picturesque scene that left us feeling like royalty. The waiters were courteous; however, when we were ready to leave it was hard finding a waiter to flag down to get the bill. This was not a big deal because we were feeling so relaxed and full from our meal that it did not even seem to matter.
Price per person is $26, Add champagne for a total of $35 per person.
To visit their website click here.
Next Stop, the Howard Hotel, Edinburgh
We had the opportunity to visit Scotland recently and we took this opportunity to go out for, what could only be, the most authentic of afternoon tea experiences. After much research online, we picked the Howard Hotel in Edinburgh. Our first experience at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel did not have us ready when we walked through the Howard Hotel's door. This time around we dressed up more than we had at the Montreal hotel. However, again we realized that we were underdressed and that the hotel we had picked for our afternoon tea was one that catered to the elite. As we giggled into the room where we were soon to be served our tea, we became mesmerized by the crystal chandelier that hung over our heads.
The authenticity of the experience was emphasized by the likeness of the room to a drawing room. There was a fireplace in one corner and a bar in another. The chairs were huge lounge chairs that are perfect for afternoon naps. To add to our nervousness of being in a place, that was certainly higher than our own hierarchical status, the room was empty. All the attention of the staff was on us. We could not help but speak in whispers.
The overall menu for the Howard Hotel was impressive. There were more desserts than the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth and the tea selection was magnificent. However, the scones were somewhat disappointing.
We were three people therefore we got to pick three teas. Like the Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel the teas came out in large pots that held about 4 to 5 cups each. The Howard did not give us sample teas to smell which was a little disappointing because I find it always helps in choosing the right tea. The assortment of teas was above and beyond the one at the Montreal hotel. Each description of the tea gave us a story of how it came to be. The three teas we tried were as follows:
Peach Tea with Flowers:This was a light Ceylon tea that contained dried peach flowers. It was a very refreshing tea that steeped slowly. The strength of the tea was weak; however, the weakness made it perfect because the sweetness of the peach flowers was not able to overwhelm the richness of the Ceylon black tea elements.
Red Berries: This tea had a strawberries and cream taste. It had large dried strawberry chunks, pineapple chunks, hibiscus blossoms, and elderberries. The tea created a stunning deep pink colour; however it was a problematic tea for me. There was little balance in the tea. It was sweet, and I mean extremely sweet. That was it. It steeped very quickly which lead to a strong tea that had a very strong strawberry taste. If you like sweet fruity teas, this is the tea the perfect tea. However, if you are like me and enjoy light sweet teas then this is not the right tea for you.
The Howard Royal Scottish: This tea is a blend of Indian Assam, Indian Darjeeling, and Sri Lankan uva black tea. This is a great tea for beginner tea drinkers. However, for the more experienced, this tea lacked oomph. It was not a very strong black tea and did not have any flavours that popped. Some black teas have a delicious earthy taste and this one was lacking in that department.
The food was served on a three tier plate. There was a larger selection of food than at the Queen Elizabeth and the quality of the food also outshined the Montreal hotel.
The sandwiches were not the expected finger sandwiches. Each one played with our tastes buds. I preferred the sandwiches at the Howard compared to the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth because they were creative and unusual. There was also a larger selection. The sandwiches were peppered pastrami and horse radish, smoked salmon and lemon mayonnaise, Isle of Mull cheddar with celery, and tuna and sweet chili. The tuna and sweet chili was my favourite because it had a delightfully tangy. Not to be beat, The Howard also gave us a wild mushroom tartlet that was to die for. It was sweet and cooked to a soft perfection.
The second tier had scones. There was a plain scone and a raspberry scone. Unfortunately, the scones were a little overcooked. They were too crispy on the outside and the inside was not as soft. However, the raspberry scone was fantastic and beat out the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth's raisin scone. The Devonshire cream was much better here. It was extremely creamy and spread easily.
The final tier held the desserts. These desserts hands down beat the ones at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Every single one was absolutely perfect. The desserts were as follows: dark chocolate brownie, sugar fudge tablet, almond and potato macaroon, lemongrass curd mousse, and a gingerbread biscuit. The brownie was perfectly moist and delectably rich. The fudge was soft and sweet. The almond and potato macaroon was the best dessert I have ever eaten. Sometimes this type of macaroon can be extremely sweet; however, this one was light and just sweet enough. The mousse was stunning in appearance and was the perfect dessert to end on. It satisfied the sweet tooth without being too rich. The large selection of desserts was impressive and the fact that none of them was disappointing made the experience even better.
The room was impressive with a fireplace, chandelier, and purple lounge chairs. To add to the experience as we waited for the tray of food a bride rushed in with her father. There was a wedding reception going on in the next room. Totally unexpected, it gave us a story to laugh about as the food arrived and we began to eat. Later, the wedding party entered the room for cocktails while the bride and groom took pictures. Even though the room was filled with people, it did not break our afternoon tea ambiance. We were asked if it would disturb us if a harpist played music. The fact that we got to listen to a harpist, while we enjoyed tea, boosted the experience above and beyond. It was absolutely lovely. We were certainly glad we had picked this hotel.
Cost per person is £16.95. Add champagne for a total of £24.95 per person.
To visit their website click here.
And the Winner is . . . .
All around the Howard Hotel beat the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in regards to food. This is because there was more of a selection and the food was extremely creative. However, the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel had the better tea because we were able to smell the teas before we got them. This diminished the chance of us getting a bad tee. The atmosphere was 100% better at the Howard because of the drawing room setting with the chandelier, lounge chairs, and harpist. I mean if there is a harpist they automatically win.
Afternoon tea at both these hotels was one of the best food experience I have had. There is a little bit of everything and it is impossible not to satisfy everyone's taste buds. I think I'm right to think your mouth is watering right now. I think it is time to make a reservation for afternoon tea!
Photo credits to Olivia Robinson and Francesca Johnston
"History of Afternoon Tea." AfternoonTea.co.uk. Web. 20 March 2015.