July 6th, 2011

Sarah Goes To the Empress for Afternoon Tea.

Victoria, BC is a strange mix of genial retirees and bohemian artists with a decidedly British slant. It is a city that lends itself to easy strolls and afternoon tea. Nowhere on the island is this tradition better experienced than at The Fairmont Empress Hotel. This a behemoth of a structure. The kind no one wants or can build anymore. The costs of labor and maintenance must be staggering.  Its wood paneled walls and stained glass ceilings take you back to a time when the hotel would have been a stop on the Grand Tour.  Oil paintings of King George V and Queen Mary keep a vigilant eye on guests. 

Pinkies at the ready we arrived promptly at 1pm looking forward to a genteel afternoon looking out over the harbor nibbling delicious bites.  The experience begins with a gorgeous bowl of local, sweet strawberries and cream.  Followed by three tiered plates filled with many delights.  I'm sure there is tea etiquette that dictates how the tiers should be devoured.  My strategy is to work from the bottom up leaving the sweets until the end.  I do love the dainty little sandwiches.  The selection rarely varies regardless of where you have tea, but it never fails to tickle nonetheless.  We were treated to smoked salmon roulade, croissant filled with deviled egg, triangles of mango and chicken curry on rye, monochromatic rectangles of cucumber with horseradish, and pate on whole wheat crostinis. Scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam occupied the mid level.  The sweets took center stage at the summit: lemon meringue tarts, raspberry white chocolate cheesecake, chocolate caramel tulips, rose shortbread, and marzipan cake.  All in miniature.  

The teas offered range from a proprietary Assam blend to tisanes and one decaffeinated option.  The Empress, as recommended by our server, is a special blend of first flush leaves from various tea growing regions (India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, China, Taiwan).  Don't worry if you don't order it.  You will leave with a gift box to enjoy at home and reminisce.