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As you can see from the banner on my blog, I love the meal known as afternoon tea, though I don’t often indulge in the fancy hotel variety. My most recent outing was in Victoria B.C., at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, a grand structure dating to 1908 which boasts a palatial lobby, perfect for sipping tea and nibbling on dainties while listening to live piano (jazz standards salted with a bit of Elton John–or should I say Sir Elton?).


The Chateau-style hotel, built ca. 1905, overlooks Victoria’s inner harbor.


The lobby is, well, fit for an Empress.

The Empress featured a “Royal Tea” in November, with treats by a former executive chef to the British royal family, Darren McGrady. But the tea is always served in special china designed for George V in 1914. The Empress started using it in 1939 on the occasion of a visit by George VI and the Princess Elizabeth. You can buy it in the gift shop, but be prepared to pay. A lot.


Each guest has her own teapot, which is set over a bowl of hot water. The loose-leaf tea is brewed in large bags, which you lift out at the end of your chosen interval. (I love the nifty low-tech sand timer, with indicators for 3, 4, or 5 minutes.)

The Empress has an extensive tea menu, with black, oolong, green and herbal leaves. I chose the Empress oolong, which is $8 extra, but worth it for the floral aroma and smooth, non-acidic finish.


Next, the treats arrive! I was anxiously awaiting my must-have scone with clotted cream and jam.


As savories, the regular menu has sandwiches of smoked salmon, cheddar and tomato, chicken mayonnaise, and roast beef with horseradish and cream. I got the vegetarian version, which included cheddar with pickle, cucumber and cream cheese, and a tiny artichoke tart.


Vegetarian selections. I enjoyed the rolled sandwich with roasted red pepper and cream cheese. The tart had a curried flavor. The round sandwich is a simple “jam penny” of white bread, jam and butter, said to be a favorite of Elizabeth and Margaret when they were small children in the nursery.


And the treats? There was the Queen and Prince William’s favorite Chocolate Biscuit Cake (very fudgy), a sharp-flavored lemon tartlet with raspberries, caramel banana cake, and vanilla shortbread. After we devoured these, we were given a choice between Prince Philip’s favorite Earl Grey fruitcake, or pink and yellow frosted Battenberg cake.

This was a very traditional tea, satisfying if a bit bland. The finger sandwiches would be easy to make at home (spread white bread with butter or cream cheese, thinly sliced cucumber or cheddar, a bit of chutney or pickle, and slice off the crusts). The tartlets and rolled bread were more delicate and sophisticated. The desserts were sweet and homely rather than haute, but it all seems just right for a British royal tea.

My favorite (after the scone and cream)? The Chocolate Biscuit Cake was memorably rich, with a grainy texture like brown sugar, and studded with walnuts.