It’s the school vacation and although summer shows no signs of arriving in Seattle, the Minx and I have been having some fun adventures (hence lack of blogging).
A couple of weeks back we decided to visit my friend Lisa in Victoria, on beautiful Vancouver Island. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and a proud outpost of the old British Empire. Statues of Victoria, Jubilee bunting, manicured lawns and gaudy ornamental bedding plants abound, so of course I felt right at home.
Imagine an English seaside town, say Bournemouth, plonked into the middle of the magnificent mountains, islands and water scenery of the Pacific North West; graced with some beautiful old hotels and government buildings; and colonised by a strange combination of Canadian retirees and high-tech hipsters.
We were invited to take afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, the huge and beautiful hotel modelled on a French chateau that has graced Victoria’s waterfront for more than 100 years. Tea at the Empress is a Victoria institution and as an afternoon tea aficionado (a?) I was naturally hugely excited to attend.
Tea is served in the hotel’s beautiful lobby in front of the Palm Court with its spectacular stained glass dome. Surrounded by gorgeous antiques, sterling silver teapots, screens and chintzes, and gazed upon by portraits of King George V and Queen Mary, it’s like stepping back in time a hundred years. Lady Violet of Downton Abbey would feel right at home here.
First up we were brought strawberries and cream while we perused the tea menu. Here is the Minx trying, and spectacularly failing, to eat with decorum.
Tea itself is served from seemingly bottomless silver teapots in the extremely pretty ‘Crown’ tea service. We particularly liked the story of the tables, which are beautifully handcrafted from the original tea lobby floorboards.
After strawberries came the delectable three-tiered tea, which we were instructed to eat from the bottom up.
Firstly a selection of truly delicious finger sandwiches and savoury delicacies, including smoked salmon pinwheels, egg salad croissants, coronation chicken sandwiches and sundried tomato crostini.
The Minx was served the ‘Princess’ tea for kids under twelve and got her own personal little tiered tea tray, with kid-friendly sandwiches and slightly less elegant cakes.
We then moved on to scones, jam and cream. The cream was an excellent approximation of the true English clotted cream which is impossible to find in North America. I got the recipe from the chef and I’ll be testing and blogging it in an another post.
Finally we tucked into some exquisite little cakes – mini lemon meringue tarts, perfect macarons, Battenberg cake (squee! can’t remember the last time I saw one of those) and chocolate shortbread.
The Minx loved her kid-friendly meal, though she was still struggling with decorum at this point.
In fact the welcome the Minx got was one of the very nicest things about the whole experience. It’s not at all dumbed down for kids – there’s no shrieking or running about or cartoons – but kids are very much welcomed and accommodated, with a choice of juice or their own un-caffeinated tea, their own tea plate and extremely solicitous service. The Minx absolutely loved it and felt extremely special and grown up throughout.
Here we are among the teaplates.
And here she is clutching her ‘Princess of Afternoon Tea’ certificate with a friend from Seattle who was also coincidentally taking tea with her mother.
And here is the Princess of Afternoon Tea, having abandoned all pretence at decorum, sticking her finger in the jam pot.
If you’re going Victoria, you absolutely have to do this. The food is scrumptious, the setting incredible and the service is beyond reproach. It’s a treat for everyone from eight to eighty and one of those eating occasions which transcends being a mere meal and turns into a fabulous life experience. I’m sure the Minx will remember this for a long time.
And so in fact will I.
Full Disclosure: The Minx and I were the guests of the Fairmont Empress for one night and for afternoon tea. I promise that they have had no influence on the content of this blog post and all opinions are my own.