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Monday 7 October 2013

Fairmont Empress High Tea, Victoria, BC - Pure indulgence with fresh scones, pastries, desserts and finger sandwiches like royalty!

When I bugged my Vancouver foodie friend for fun things to do in Victoria (on top of the stuff I had already planned), she told me having high tea at the Fairmont Empress was a must do as its a unique experience.  High tea with freshly baked scones, cream, jam, finger sandwiches, desserts and of course a well steeped cup of tea in a grand hotel?  Honey, you had me at tea! :D

I made a reservation, as most high teas at any hotel that serve them tend to book up if you try to just show up, unless you're Kate, William or the Queen herself lol! But for overflow, they do serve high tea in the Palm Court adjacent to the Tea Lobby, so you'll get your tea! With the inner harbour as a backdrop, and vintage mismatched tables (made from original floors of hotel lol!), sweeping tapestries and antique chairs, it made for a picturesque setting inside the frankly grand but warm and inviting tea room.

We lucked out and got a table by a window looking out to the inner harbour (partially obscured by the outdoor patio, but c'est la vie).  There was 3 types of high tea:
1) Afternoon tea - served with your choice of tea, a tower of sandwiches, scones and desserts
2) Royal Tea - Everything on the Afternoon Tea menu plus a plate of local Salt Spring Island cheeses, a glass of tawny port and fresh honey harvested from the Chef’s honey garden.
3) Prince and Princess's tea - the food and pastry tiers are geared to kid's palates
We ended up choosing the "regular" Afternoon tea as there is a ridiculous amount of food that comes with, although the table next to us stepped up to the plate and ordered the Royal tea so we could compare.

The Afternoon Tea and Royal Tea menu is quite different from the original high tea served up to royalty... heehee!

As we waited for the goodies to be served up, we admired the simple embossed silver jugs that held cream, sugar and milk.

 As well as the Empress Tea China, a pattern reproduced by Royal Doulton from the same ones used during a Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939 (available for purchase at the hotel after in the gift shop).

Before our tea was served, we had a little dish of Blueberries and Empress cream. (The fruit changes occasionally depending on seasonal availability).  Fresh BC blueberries topped with a super thick buttery rich and lightly sweetened cream? Dreamy! Took a bit of willpower not to eat all the luscious cream to save space for tea and other tasties!

Although there was a large selection of teas available to be sampled, we went with the Empress Blend as it was the most intriguing, held the most history, (and not surprisingly is the most popular tea selection). Its aromatic with light floral notes, with a slight malty richness shines when you add a touch of milk or cream, and its elusive fruity flavors shine in this tea blended with Assam, Kenyan black tea, Kenyan green tea, Sri Lanka Dimbula and Keemun tea. Mmmm.

After a bit of time for us to leisurely enjoy a cup or two of the excellent tea, our massive tier of food came out.  Goodness, if folks had high tea like this ages ago, I'm surprised folks weren't more... well rounded LOL!  You can eat the scones, sandwiches and desserts in any order you'd like!

As we had missed our earlier ferry to get onto the island, we started off the high tea with the finger sandwiches as a belated lunch.

The smoked salmon and herb cream cheese pinwheel was my favorite with rich silky salmon with a light hit of smoke and creaminess from the cream cheese. Nom!

The mango and curried chicken on rye is a nod to the love that the British (still) have for Indian curries, and was among my boyfriend's favorites.  The creamy chicken salad with mild curry spices, had sweet and savory flavors that played well off each other. You can't have a high tea without the quintessential cucumber sandwiches and these were nicely done in bread faintly tasting of saffron. This was one of my favs - a lightly seasoned cognac pork pate on sundried tomato bread. Creamy, savory yum!

I was surprised not to see a lobster or potted shrimp salad, but a tasty free range egg salad croissant instead.

We had to start pacing ourselves as we were starting to get quite full!  Next up, we dug into freshly baked scones (sadly cool when they arrived at the table, but still delish!)  There's something about a biting into a thick creamy buttery scone slathered generously with strawberry jam and the incredibly rich and buttery lightly sweetened Empress cream.  Its not the same as Devonshire cream, but I'm not complaining!  If you're putting in bare minimum amounts, you'll change your mind once you have a fully loaded bite... its about indulgence after all! Nom!

Finally, last but not least, we started on the dessert tier designed by Executive Pastry Chef D'Oyen Christie and team. It made me wish I saved the sandwiches for last as I only had room to take a bite of each.

The cappuccino chocolate tea cup is super cute, with a smooth coffee flavored chocolate ganache within the delicate chocolate cup.

The rose petal shortbread was super buttery, but didn't detect much of the rose flavor.

The Devil's Chocolate and Pistachio Battenberg was wrapped neatly with some red fondant, light airy cake and was quite pretty.

Loved the delicate meringue on top of the lemon curd meringue tart, though I was surprised the lemon curd tasted mass produced.

We finished off with some well executed macarons. We had chocolate and almond ones, while we spotted pistachio, lemon and strawberry at other tables.

But we're not done yet! Remember the Royal Tea menu? A large fruit and cheese platter of local Salt Spring Island cheeses and a glass of tawny port was brought out...

And one of the chefs from Executive Pastry Chef D'Oyen Christie's team came out to chat and scooped a large gob of honey straight from a honeycomb in the Chef’s honey garden (located outside to the right of the hotel). Sweet indeed!

After we wrapped up our high tea - and brought home quite a few leftovers, it was time to go to the gift shop to pick up some of the excellent tea blends, jam, explore the hotel, stroll around the manicured grounds..

and if you're truly too full to move or breathe... they have quaint horse drawn carriage tours you can hop on ;D

Truly a tasty and fun experience to step back in time, for a time honored tradition.

Fairmont Empress High Tea
Address 721 Government St, Victoria, BC V8W1W5
Phone (250) 384-8111
Daily Afternoon Tea first seating 11:30am- last seating 4:30pm
May-Sept only Evening Tea Thurs-Sat  7pm- last seating 9pm
Fairmont Empress on Urbanspoon
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