For me, there's always been something quintessentially British about tea and finger sandwiches at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. That is, until my recent trip to Toronto.
Situated in the heart of the city, the Shangri La oozes sophistication, fine dining and all things luxurious. Outside, we pass Zhang Huan's widely-admired, 'Rising' statue, a work of public art shipped overseas from Shanghai. The intricate structure is a suitably striking symbol of invitation — not merely for its sheer size — but for all it represents. Look closely and you'll spot a series of “peace pigeons” climbing up the hotel's exterior, many of which fly from twisted tree branches resembling a Chinese dragon. On entering, dazzling chandeliers hang high above our heads, the room lined with floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing all its streets have to offer.
We're invited into the Lobby Lounge ready for tea to be served. A plush sofa sits behind a low marble coffee table. This is a welcome contrast to the uptight white-tablecloth-setting you'll find in a lot of British dining rooms.
Our server greets us in traditional Chinese dress, adding to the authentic feel of the setting. We're presented with a tea list which, with 75 varieties, is the largest selection you'll come across in North America. I opt for something from the specialty Chinese tea selection — the 'Ancient Tea Forest', a black tea with 'a deeply earthy and sophisticated profile of extraordinary quality from the famous Yunnan region of China'.
Everything from the carefully crafted china to the drinks menus bound with works of fiction is beautifully presented. And the culinary delights we're about to feast on are no different.
To start, a selection of Dim Sum, including Bao Buns and Rice Paper Rolls containing Marinated Wild Mushroom, Coriander shoots, and Ginger Emulsion. The unique flavors blend perfectly with the traditional black tea. These are washed down with a glass of champagne — an extra little taste of luxury to begin our afternoon.
Next up, a three-tier serving tray — the first containing a variety of Asian sandwiches and each a unique twist on a traditional British sandwich selection. On the menu: Poached Atlantic Lobster, served with a Citrus Creme Fraiche on a Brioche Roll, Pacific Smoked Salmon, dressed with Truffle Egg Mayonnaise on Whole Wheat Bread, Soy Braised Brisket with Mustard Seed and Coriander on a Steamed Bun, and Ginger Chicken, served on a bed of Crispy Rice, with Scallion and Soy. A seafood lover through and through, the lobster roll was a clear winner for me (but I can see why bao buns are fast becoming a favorite among foodies).
On the second tier, a selection of Warm Oven-Baked Scones — the first flavored with Royal Red Dragon Tea, and the second, with Classic Asian Lucky Spice. Each is accompanied by Homemade Pandan Leaf Curd, Strawberry Jam, and Clotted Cream. Being British myself, I must admit, I find the jam and clotted combination tough to beat — but the Homemade Curd was a welcome alternative and something I'd love to try making myself.
On the final tier (the one we all patiently wait for) — pastries. Of all the delicacies we'd been served so far, this had to be the most aesthetically impressive. Black Sesame and Banana Cake served with a Caramel Yoghurt Mousse, Spiced Mousse and Candied Macadamia with Milk Chocolate Cremeux and Chocolate Crumble, Pineapple and Yuzu Tart with a Fennel Sponge, Tofu Cheesecake with a Sweet Red Bean Paste and Matcha Sable, a traditional Egg Custard Tart, and finally, a Warm Ginger and Sesame Ball. From the finely crafted chocolate swirl atop the Tofu Cheesecake to the golden brown pastry beneath the layers of pineapple and yuzu, these dishes are more than just a treat for the taste buds — they're tiny little works of art.
High Tea is served daily in the Lobby Lounge between the hours of 2pm and 5pm. Visit the Shangri La website or contact the hotel for information about seasonal afternoon teas offered throughout the year.