Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Afternoon Tea Around the World

As an anglophile and a history nerd, I love a traditional afternoon tea. Cream teas (which include scones and/or sweet pastries) are all well and good, but I will go out of my way for a proper afternoon tea, with savory sandwiches as well as the scones and sweet pastries and a pot of tea (not just a cup of hot water with a teabag in it). I have had some delightful and decadent DIY tea parties with friends, but my husband and I also enjoy splurging on a special afternoon tea when we travel. These are my Top 5 Afternoon Tea Experiences from the past decade:

5. The Mandarin Oriental, City Center, Las Vegas - We did not have a European trip on the horizon, so we decided to satisfy our afternoon tea cravings by seeking out one of the two fancy hotels on the Strip (the other one is the Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay) that offer afternoon tea. This was a modern foodie take on the ritual. The sandwiches were spicier than usual, but delicious. The food was served on a floor-standing slanted chrome three-tiered rack. The teapots were glass, allowing us to watch the color change as it steeped. If you have ever used the term molecular gastronomy, this is the afternoon tea for you.

4. The Orangery, Kensington Palace - On our first trip to London, we chose this venue out of several afternoon tea suggestions in our guide book. It was one of the less expensive options, and one that did not require a reservation (at the time, they did not accept reservations, although I believe they do nowadays). I am so glad we did, even if the food and service were not as fancy as the other venues on my list. We each had a choice of several varieties of tea and a choice of dessert pastry. Rather than bringing out a three-tiered server, they served the refreshments in three courses. The tasty sandwiches were followed by fresh scones, still hot from the oven, served with pots of jam and clotted cream. They may still be the best scones I have ever had.

3. Mr. Fogg's, Mayfair - This London nightclub is themed as Phileas Fogg's Mayfair residence. About a year ago, they began offering "tipsy tea" on Saturday afternoons. Tea-infused cocktails are served in teapots. There is a choice of several varieties. Some of them are meant to be mixed with champagne, which is served in the milk pitcher. The three-tiered rack contains savory sandwiches and a great many macarons and other sweet pastries, but no scones (the small nightclub tables do not have sufficient space for pots of jam and clotted cream). The tipsy tea has proven so popular that there are now two Saturday afternoon seatings and one on Friday afternoon as well. It is rather expensive, but the ambience cannot be beat -- you are surrounded by Mr. Fogg's collection of exotic souvenirs and gadgets.

2. Caffe Florian, Venice - This was a spontaneous discovery. After touring St. Mark's Basilica and the Correr Museum, we were starving by mid-afternoon. We saw a sign outside this fancy café advertising afternoon tea (there are many British tourists in Venice) and decided to treat ourselves. There are sidewalk tables, next to a musical ensemble playing 1920s-style jazz, but we opted to sit inside. The place is decorated with paintings and lots of red velvet upholstery. It looks rather like a rococo brothel, but I love that sort of kitschy decadence. This is the oldest coffee shop in Venice (dating to 1720), and its patrons over the years include Casanova and Lord Byron. The refreshments were served on a three-tiered rack, and the food was excellent. I still remember the tea sandwiches with prosciutto ham.

1. The Wolseley, London - This beautiful art deco venue is crowded and noisy, but there is something magical about the sound of crowd noise echoing off marble floors and high ceilings. The tea is served in lovely silver pots, and the three-tiered server has a silver lid on the top (to keep the scones warm). Overall, this was the best food I have ever enjoyed with my afternoon tea. We skipped lunch so that we were able to eat every bite.

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