“[T]he tea-party, an extraordinary meal in that, being offered to persons that have already dined well, it supposes neither appetite nor thirst, and has no object but distraction, no basis but delicate enjoyment.” —Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste, 1825
For some of us, the simple arrival of mid-afternoon is reason enough to gather for tea, cakes and conversation. But if you need extra impetus to indulge in this—really the best practice to come out of Victorian times—there’s at least two good reasons for doing so this month. What better way to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday on May 22? Or to treat the reigning monarch of your household this Mother’s Day? From a classic cuppa to an Asian update, here are some of the best places to get the royal treatment.
Like the drawing rooms where the ritual was first inspired, The Tea Room at the Windsor Arms Hotel (18 St. Thomas St., 416-971-9666) exudes a quiet refinement that makes it a cozy setting for sittings at 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. daily. The Full Tea ($27) brings sandwiches like smoked salmon and salmon caviar with oven-roasted tomato cream cheese, and warm goat-cheese and caramelized-shallot tarts. Fresh scones and berries with whipped cream hardly leave room for the dainty petits fours to follow.
The Restaurant at the historic Le Royal Meridien King Edward (37 King St. E., 416-863-9700) serves a royal spread on Fridays through Sundays, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. The King’s Tea ($28) harkens to an era past with mulled plum compote. Finger delicacies take such forms as flaky croissants filled with lemon and dill shrimp, and warm French Canadian tourtière. An array of pastries tempts: chai spiced crème brûlée and cinnamon-scented Madeleines to name two. A sprinkling of cranberries updates the requisite scones.
Another grand hotel that hosts the midday ritual is the Four Seasons Hotel (21 Avenue Rd., 416-964-0411). You can take tea from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., starting at 1:30 p.m. on weekends, in the bright atrium of The Lobby Bar. An extensive menu of blends includes Numi flowering teas—hand-sewn leaves that, when steeped, gently and beautifully bloom. The Traditional Afternoon Tea ($28) features sandwich fillings like aged Canadian cheddar with apple and tarragon slaw. Warm scones come with lemon curd to lavish on, before a pair of treats from executive pastry chef Federico Fernandez.At Red Tea Box (696 Queen St. W., 416-203-8882), fusion cuisine and biodynamic teas update the afternoon tea menu with novel, delicious results. The draw is four bento boxes ($25 each), enjoyed at small gatherings of eclectic needlepoint and brocade seats. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party bares the closest connection to tradition: miniature scone, tea cakes, plus filled cucumber cups and sandwiches. The three-tiered Dessert Bento comes like stacked gifts of blood orange delicacies. Afternoon tea hours are 2 to 5 p.m. weekdays (closed Tuesday), until 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Named after the goddess of the harvest, Annona Restaurant at the Park Hyatt (4 Avenue Rd., 416-925-1234) serves a bounty between 3 and 5 p.m. daily. Royal blue banquettes and brown-sugar armchairs make modern surroundings for a Contemporary English Tea ($24). What arrives are such morsels as smoked salmon dill crêpe pinwheels, and grilled vegetable boursin bundles, miniature scones, opera praline cake, peach white chocolate napoleon and other succulents.
EPIC Restaurant is an expansive space with a large open kitchen, long banquettes and stately pillars at The Fairmont Royal York (100 Front St. W., 416-860-6949), and the setting for tea daily from 2:30 to 4 p.m. The Royal Tea Stand ($25) includes a berry cocktail with whipped cream, Grand Marnier buttered crumpet with honey, the chef’s daily selection of finger sandwiches and pastries, and cranberry and raisin scones. The tea selection gets a Canadian-flavour infusion with maple tea, a sweet, velvety brew with caramel notes and natural flavours. Tea and food pairings change seasonally.
The Old Mill Inn & Spa (21 Old Mill Rd., 416-236-2641) has served afternoon tea since 1914. Today, patrons of The Terrace Restaurant overlook the patio gardens and historic mill as they enjoy the Afternoon Tea Menu ($16.95) on weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m., Saturday 2 to 4 p.m., and Sunday 3:30 to 5 p.m. The dining room maintains the tradition with finger sandwich fillings like watercress and tomato, fruit tart, shortbread and scones.
True tea devotees can drink in the details at Canada’s first School of Tea at The Tea Emporium (371 Eglinton Ave. W., 416-488-4061). On May 6, savour Delicate Flavours of Green and White Teas ($28), and on May 20, learn about Tea and Health ($25).CHOCOLA-TEA Two lovely indulgences come together in handmade tea-infused pure-chocolate truffles by local chocolatiers. Yum Tea entices with six flavours: rooibos chai, Egyptian chamomile, cool peppermint, smoky lapsang souchong, Earl Grey with bergamot, and kombucha green tea with lime. Find one of each in boxes of six ($11) at The Tea Emporium (371 Eglinton Ave. W., 416-488-4061). Temptations at JS Bonbons (811 Queen St. W., 416-703-7731) include Earl Grey moulded chocolates (pictured) and chai milk-chocolate morsels (box of two truffles, $4.25).
KIDS’ TIP A children’s tea menu is served at the Royal York ($15, or free for children under five), complete with a swan pastry, and the King Edward ($12) where it includes a chocolate brownie lollipop!—Anne Gibson