Over the years, I have seen The Shangri-La Hotel quite often in passing whilst downtown, and a couple weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending their afternoon tea service with a friend. Stepping foot into their Lobby Lounge - also known as Toronto’s “urban living room” - a wave of excitement washed over me. Before being seated, we took a brief tour of the lobby. The Koi pond, the luxe seating, the massive floating fireplace, the gorgeous handcrafted Fazioli piano, all left me in a state of awe.
Another element of the brightly-lit interior that really stuck out to me were the Versace couture dresses displayed promptly throughout the lobby, which really helped to accentuate their current fashion theme.
We were soon seated (right by the fireplace), where we were then offered a complimentary cocktail. Because I’m not much of a drinker, I opted for the Elderflower Fizz (the pink drink on the left), which I found to be quite pleasing. As you can see from the photo below, there was quite a bit of thought put into the Pret-A-Porter cocktail, which featured honey and bee pollen extracted from the hotel’s on-site beehive.
The tea selection was provided via local tea company, TEALEAVES. Each of the twelve teas were contained within “sensory” jars, in which you are then able to remove the lid and sniff at the contents, in order to help make your tea choice a bit easier. Although the Shanghai Rose & Wild Strawberry called to me, my visit was the same day as National Chai Day (September 21st), and because I was on a mission to drink only chai that day, I think you can figure out which tea I ended up picking…
Our served arrived with our respective tea pots (which beautifully matched the floral motive of the corresponding tea cup & saucer), taking the time to assist us in pouring our first cups of tea. The description given to Masala Chai was nearly spot on. Despite not being able to detect the “light citrus notes”, the tea otherwise was incredibly flavourful and smooth, while being light in body. It also took well to the addition of cream, even after the second infusion. I appreciate that neither the star anise, nor the licorice root managed to intrude on the overall flavour.
Similar to that of the Omni King Edward, an amuse-bouche preceded the sandwiches. These dainty mini tart shells contained a mixture of crab meat, and even though I liked the idea of cleansing my palate before the next course, I wasn’t really a fan of the seafood filling.
Time for sandwiches! All four were presented on a plate, separate from the desserts. Starting at the top and working clockwise, the sandwiches were as follows: Seared Albacore Tuna with duck egg mousse, caper aioli, poppy seeds, and cilantro on rye bread; Duck Pastrami with blood orange marmalade and goat cheese on homemade brioche; Cream Cheese & Cucumber with everything bagel crumb and edible flowers on white bread; and lastly, Curry Potato Salad (spiced Yukon gold potato, celery & chives) on a choux bun!
When I initially saw tuna on the menu, I feared the worst (tuna salad). In my opinion, it was just alright. Admittedly, it wasn’t nearly as fishy as sandwiches I’ve experienced as of late, but it still wasn’t for me. The duck had a very bright flavour, and the orange helped to mellow out the goat cheese, making for an enjoyable couple bites. The curried potato was the perfect one bite, and ended up being my favourite thing on the plate. The open face cream cheese & cucumber was a close second though. A bit basic in theory, but the presentation was what really won me over.
Once finished with the sandwiches, out came a tiered tray, containing two types of scones, as well as a handful of desserts (nearly) too pretty to eat! One thing to note about the scones was the fact that they were warm upon arrival at our table (something that all venues serving afternoon tea should consider doing!). They were accompanied by English clotted cream & seasonal fruit compote.
Of the two scones available, it was unanimous that the one with the champagne soaked raisins was our favourite, especially paired with the cream and mixed berry spread. The other scone was incredibly fragrant, scented with both lemon and rose, was enjoyable just the same, but I probably couldn’t have had more than a couple before getting overwhelmed by the flavour. One each was more than enough.
The second tier of the tray featured the first set of sweets, from left to right: Chocolate Kiss - a violet cupcake with cassis buttercream and concord grape jam, Glamour Shot - a cotton candy flavoured macaron, followed by a “diamond ring” nestled on top of vanilla creme brulee and chocolate raspberry mousse. Of these three, I was particularly fond of the cupcake. The combination of flavours came together really nicely, and I also liked the different shades of purple (my favourite colour) utilised.
At the very top were the last three “delicacies”, from left to right: a malted biscuit in the shape of a high heel, a tube of strawberry flavoured chocolate lipstick, followed by a chocolate handbag featuring a chai tea mousse. I honestly didn’t expect to fancy the “lipstick” as much as I did, but it was really yummy, and didn’t taste like chocolate at all. The shoe cookie was another nice pause amidst all the other chocolate treats, which I appreciated as a non-chocolate fan.
An added bonus to our afternoon tea experience happened after our meal was over, when we were invited upstairs to view where the hotel harvests all of their honey. Not at all what I imagined when a beehive was mentioned, but if anything, this one was 10x cooler!
In conclusion, my time at the Shangri-La was definitely a memorable one. Even though it hurt my pocket to cough up $90, I can’t deny that the price was truly justified in terms of overall value and the attention to detail displayed (from the physical fashion pieces and watercolour imagery on the hand menus to the over the top desserts). This fashion theme was executed so well! Jolan Thiry (the hotel’s head pastry chef) deserves a huge shout-out for the curation of all the amazing treats, which really helped to bring the theme to life. I am still processing the chocolate lipstick! Best believe, I kept it as a souvenir.
If you have a moderate sweet tooth and are a lover of all things chocolate, I would definitely recommend you make a reservation to visit the Shangri-La while this theme is still active (until November 13th). I, on the other hand, am very excited for the hotel’s upcoming Nutcracker Tea, which I believe is their upcoming theme.
What are your thoughts on themed afternoon tea services? Sound off in the comments below!
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Until we steep again…