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 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.
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.
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.