Why? Well, after all, it's the Empress Hotel and they've been doing this fabulously well since 1908. The tea room is a huge European-style salon and you are served on Royal Doulton china and silverware. It is Old-School Fancy.
It's utterly civilized but never descends into snobbery. After settling into a perfectly set table near the fireplace, our first course of fresh strawberries with whipped cream appeared almost immediately. Just the simple act of being seated is a totally calming experiences and makes you feel like someone is taking care of you.
Next, we each chose our individual varieties of tea. Then four individual pots of tea come out with two sets of a stunning array of finger foods is gently deposited onto the middle of our table (see photo below).
The bottom layer held a cucumber finger sandwich, egg salad in a mini croissant, smoked salmon in a dark rye roll and a pork pate on a crostini. The first three were delicious, and it was quite surprising that these small sandwiches could be so filling.
Then we all stared down at the pork pate, the gatekeeper to the upper layers of goodness. My son said, "YOLO," teen-speak for "You Only Live Once" and took a bite. "Tastes like Spam, but better." That's all we needed to hear. Bottom layer was a clean plate.
The scones on plate two are the highlight. My husband makes good scones but I had to tell him that these were were better. Buttery, flaky, warm and just enough sweetness. Definitely one of the best things I've ever eaten. The top layers were a shortbread cookie, a marzipan petit fours, a lemon meringue tart, and a mini cheesecake. At the end, we were pleasantly full and none of us could finish everything.
I cannot emphasize enough how kind and genuine the staff is. They have impeccable manners and treat you like a treasured friend. Our server was more than happy to photograph us. He even offered additional scones ("You have growing kids!") and made sure that we took home any leftovers, including the unopened mini-jam jars. As part of the service, we all received 4 boxes of tea to take home as well. We were never rushed, and despite the fact that we were definitely on the 'casual' side of casual elegant dress, we just felt very welcome.
Afternoon Tea at the Empress is pricey. It was the most expensive meal we had. However, on this trip we opted not to buy "stuff" and tried to create memories--teenager charmed by afternoon tea? Priceless.
Eat Well. Be Well.