Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Afternoon tea at Fairmont Royal York

I brought my Mom to the Fairmont Royal York for afternoon tea for Mother's Day this year. Last year, I also took her to afternoon tea, but at Windsor Arms, a place that I've been to a handful of times (last time I had tea there was in their Russian Room).

I've only been to Windsor Arms for afternoon tea and have always wanted to try other places so when a WagJag coupon came up for Royal York, I bought two coupons right away; it was tea for two, valued at $79, for the price of $38. Let's just say I regret getting two coupons because after this experiece at Royal York, I now appreciate my afternoon tea experience at Windsor Arms so much more. I have no desire whatsoever to go back to the Royal York. My Mom and I were really disappointed at the service and the food at the Royal York.

Royal York's afternoon tea is only served on weekeends. We went several Sundays before Mother's Day for a 3PM sitting (their only available time that day). The room was packed full and was extremely noisy. My Mom was sitting across from me and we both had to lean forward to hear each other - the sound level was similar to a Chinese dim sum place, no joke. There was also a guitarist, which was nice if the room was actually quieter as I couldn't even hear the music much and because of that, the music merely added to the noise in the room. 

Aside from the noise level, I do like the decor at the Library Bar. It was very cozy and warm with the dark wood, carpet, and the beautiful drapes. I also liked the variety of seating there.

However, after being seated, nobody came to serve us until nearly 10 minutes later. We didn't have menus. There was clearly not enough staff to handle the crowd, and believe me, I tried flagging down someone but nobody came by my direction (we were seated at a table right by the entrance, not the greatest place). When our server finally came over, I told him we don't have menus yet so he quickly went to get them.

When we were given the menus, our server apologized to us about the wait. He then asked us if we would like some complimentary champagne. My mom doesn't like champagne so she got a glass of house wine instead. The wait was quickly forgiven (but not forgotten lol)

When we were waiting for our tea, I noticed that food was laid out behind me at the bar. They were actually there when we came in around 20 minutes ago (we did not see them served until half way through our tea). I personally did not like this. I mean, I just don't want to see them all in the open like that.

The scones were placed in the silver dome in the picture above and the servers would open it whenever they need to get the scones. While sitting at my seat, I snuck in this picture when a server left it open, and what was weird was that once he saw me trying to take picture of the scones, he quickly went over to close the lid. Errrr...okay....

Anyway. Tea was served in these beautiful teapots. 

The tea was what really bugged me about this place. Noticing that there was no strainer, I looked in the tea pot and noticed the tea bag inside. So Royal York was using tea bags, and honestly, I don't care if they are called infusion tea bags, or some other fancy name, or even if they put loose leaf teas which they would normally serve without the bag INSIDE a bag, I would still prefer loose leaf tea with no bag. I personally think an important part of the afternoon tea experience is literally using the strainer, pouring tea into the strainer, visually seeing the individual tea leaves, taking out the strainer, etc etc. Maybe it's just me.


I was curious about this so I asked our server if Royal York always served their tea this way. He had a long explanation to my question (it sounded like he was prepared for it) so let me break down his answer for you:

1.  They used to serve loose leaf teas but they have now changed to bags because the strainers they previously used were hazardous, as in, they were not designed to fit the tea cups and were too heavy so many people got burned when the strainers tipped over;

2.  Some of the teas leaves they offer are so small in size that they pass through the strainer, so the bags actually work better;

3.  He said they found that the bags do a better job because of the material of the bag and how it was designed; and finally

4.  He suggested that we could always open the tea pot and use our spoon to push down on the tea bag several times for more flavour.

Wow. I thought he was kidding about the last part but he was serious. How lady-like and classy! I do that at home but at afternoon tea? I also can't wrap my head around his explanation of how their fancy bags were better than loose leaf teas by that even possible? From a space perspective, even if you have the same loose leaf teas in a bag, tea leaves still need space to swell and expand, with good water circulation around the leaves. I can somewhat buy the idea if he said their bagged teas are just as effective as full loose leaf teas without the bag, but for him to say the bag is BETTER? Huh.

 My Mom and I were not amused and things pretty much went downhill from here (actually the downhill part started when we had to wait but was temporary forgiven when we got our complimentary drinks).

Seasonal Berry Cocktail served with Baked Crumpet

I am used to having strawberries with cream at the end of afternoon tea at Windsor Arms, so when I saw this I was caught off guard. I personally prefer fresh fruit at the end of tea or a meal because it's refreshing after food.

The baked crumpet was drizzled in Grand Marnier butter but the crumpet was cold, hard and extremely sticky with no taste. Thank goodness for the butter.

Traditional Finger Sandwiches
Nova Scotia Smoked Salmon, Cucumber, Arugula Cress & Caviar; 
Smoked Turkey Breast with Aged Manchego, Arugula Cress, & Apple Chutney with Dried Cranberries;
P.E.I. Lobster and Mango salad with Tomato Carpaccio, Celery Cress & Saffron Brandy Aioli; and
Ontario Brie with Niagara Apple, Strawberries & Peach Preserve. 

The P.E.I. lobster and mango salad was my favourite, the others were so plain - the smoked salmon and turkey breast sandwiches were actually very dry. Besides the lobster and mango salad, the other finger sandwiches were way too big for my taste - they do not look cute, nor petite, nor delicate...just not "refined" you know? They look merely a tad nicer than catered sandwiches (compare these ones to the sandwiches at Windsor Arms).

After we were done our sandwiches the tower came. 

I'm not sure if I'm just stuck with the way Windsor Arms work but I missed alternating eating scones and sandwiches (Windsor Arms served them at the same time). I did not like being forced to eat all the sandwiches first and being served the scones and the dessert after. It also didn't help that the scones were not nearly as good as the ones at Windsor Arms, not even close; it was not as soft and had a rough texture.

Chocolate Crunch Flourless Cake
Royal York Honey & White Chocolate Madeline

Choux Pastry Swans

Chantilly Cream and Fresh Fruit Clafouti

I really don't have much to say about the desserts. They were all mediocre and reminded me of desserts served at buffets; we didn't even finish it as we were just not in the mood. We actually didn't even bother packing them either.

We were the last table there (I guess everybody had an earlier sitting) and all the servers were nowhere to be found. We waited so long for someone to come out and when that "someone" came out it wasn't even our server! So I had to tell that person to get our server so that I can pay and leave. Once I got the bill and paid, it took several minutes for him to come back out and get my change. My Mom and I felt so abandoned.

And as for the tea? My Mom and I thought it was okay, not as flavourful as we would like. Whether it was psychological or not, knowing that it was bagged tea just didn't help. And to be honest, even without the whole tea bag issue, our experience at Royal York leaves a lot to be desired, especially when Windsor Arms only charges $3 more than Royal York at $38.

I so regret getting that second coupon but I'm going to go with a friend in a few weeks and I sincerely hope, I really do, that my experience next time will be better. I am also going to ask if they can bring out the sandwiches and the tower at the same time.