A few days ago I wrote about going out with a couple of Argentine women for merienda (snack). Well, earlier this week I went to have my version of merienda, a proper English high tea at at the Alvear Palace Hotel. Since this is Buenos Aires and not London, it took place a few hours later than I would normally take tea (our reservation was at 5PM) and by the time we waddled out of L’Orangerie, it was 7:50PM. Having a full English afternoon tea was not something I seriously thought of doing in Buenos Aires, but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity when a lovely Brazilian couple and an American visitor generously extended an invitation to join them. Of course when you throw in the decadent luxuries of the Alvear Palace Hotel, I really couldn’t say no. So on Wednesday, I unexpectedly got to spend a fantastic afternoon with great company sheltered from the oppressive heat of Buenos Aires.
Set in the beautiful neighborhood of Recoleta, the Alvear Palace Hotel is as posh, elegant, and sophisticated as one would imagine a French palace to be. The restaurant has a dress code; Luis, the affable Brazilian, told me that when he stopped by to make the reservation he was wearing shorts and the staff informed him that when he returned for afternoon tea, he should be wearing trousers. It reminded me of the dress code policy at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok; I don’t know if it’s still true but the first time I went there.. over a decade ago, you couldn’t wear sandals or shorts to their high tea or in the lobby of the hotel. The afternoon tea there was very special though… Over the years I’ve hosted a few high teas at my apartment with finger sandwiches (full credits due to Martha Stewart’s countless tea sandwich recipes), homemade apple crostata (Ina Garten’s recipe), steaming pots of Earl Grey, and BBC’s production of Pride and Prejudice as entertainment. Six hours of Colin Firth! But I am definitely going off on a tangent here.
What I am trying to say is that I love a good afternoon tea. To prepare for this grand event, I had a light lunch (fully expected to skip dinner), put on a lady-like dress, and went to L’Orangerie ready to indulge. The waitstaff were decked out in red jackets and white gloves, silently moving about and deftly handling all the brilliantly polished tea pots and fine china. The soaring ceilings, smooth marble floors, ornate chandeliers, lush green plants, and deep red roses completed the air of refinement in the room.
I chose the Chinese jasmine tea to accompany the three tiers of tea sandwiches and sweet little tarts. I didn’t find any of them particularly amazing, but I was happy to see a mini bagel with cream cheese and lox. What I did love were the lemon curd and raspberry jam that came with the scones. Too bad there wasn’t any clotted cream but if you’re reading this Paula, I think you would have enjoyed it…
The real highlight of the tea service for me was the dessert, which we could choose from a trolley they pushed over to our table. And if you’re reading this Kevin, you would have given your seal of approval here->
My favorites were the fruit tart with fresh figs, strawberries, and nectarines, and the milhojas with dulce de leche on the side. The milhojas here with layers and layers of crispy puff pastry and delectable cream made me think of the mille-crêpes from Lady M (have you had those lately, Janice?) made with alternating layers of cream and the thinnest crêpes that resemble a cake.
There was so much food that I can’t really imagine how anyone can actually eat the entire thing. The four of us split two complete tea sets with extra tea, but the couple next to us had each their own. They couldn’t finish or opted not to have their desserts, and they sent theirs over to us so we ended up with four desserts instead of two. We reluctantly (sigh) accepted and while I was tempted to take mine home (a very viable option), we decided to try everything together. It was a feast for the eyes as well as for our palates.
My sincerest thanks to Ron, Luis, and Sabine for inviting me to join them, and to Ron for treating me to such fabulosity. THANK YOU!
Alvear Palace Hotel: Avenida Alvear 1891, Recoleta, Buenos Aires; tea service at L’Orangerie from 4:30 to 7PM
My Favorite Places for High Tea:
New York: A bit unorthodox but my favorite place is a Japanese tea house in East Village called Cha-An. I threw a bridal shower for my college roommate there with Cha-An’s English-Japanese afternoon tea. It’s great any time of the day (they serve lunch as well as late night desserts) but the tea service is beautiful as only the Japanese can do. You can also go there to watch a traditional Japanese tea ceremony on Fridays.
London: The annual Tea Guild awards for top places to do afternoon tea in London include some heavy hitters. But personally, the “great scone hunt of 2010” and the scone binge that followed will always go down as one of the funnest things I’ve ever done. Afternoon teas are offered at the Tate, Bea’s Bloomsbury, and The Modern Pantry.
Hong Kong: Definitely the Peninsula Hotel lobby. . but I will always remember my very first English high tea with my friend Sandy at the Ritz-Carlton, way back in 1999.
Bangkok: Author’s Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel where Joseph Conrad used to go… Fond memories of my first solo trip to Thailand and a lazy afternoon I spent there.
Singapore: Raffles Hotel oozes old British colonial charm; the afternoon tea is served in the Tiffin Room. I think they had a dress code there as well.