High Tea at the Empress Hotel: Happy 88th Birthday, Helen!
High Tea at the Empress Hotel has been on my bucket list for over 40 years. This was to be the year to take our entire family on an all-inclusive vacation for an early 90th celebration of mom’s life, but due to our little Penny puppy still alive, thriving and adorable at 18 years (though also blind, deaf and warty) we have been unable to all be away at the same time, together. Thus, a mommy-and-me trip until we can make the whole family thing happen. Where better to cherish my relationship with my mom and to spend some mommy-and-me time than the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia? You bet High Tea at the Empress would be the highlight of our time together. I booked it when I booked the hotel!
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Dream of the Stay
Oh, my, has Victoria changed. We had not been there for 10 years. The bridge is replaced. The Empress is no longer covered with its signature ivy. Yet, the small town feeling remains amongst the polished new construction. The Wax Museum closed in 2010! Madame Trusaad’s used to be in Banff and is a cherished memory of mine visiting it there as a child. Then, the Wax Museum of London in Victoria was a nod to that time in my life and a step back in time. But, it is no more. However, Fisherman’s Warf is a new venue that is a great little place for a fishy lunch. So many new curiosities. Yet, our anchor and focus upon arrival was the wonderful opportunity we had afforded ourselves for this together time: our stay at The Empress Hotel.
After years of the dream, visiting the city, the hotel, and walking by, we were now registering as guests. Staying at the Empress and loving every minute of the feigned royal manner it rose within each of us. Oh, my. Pinky raised, we waddled to the elevator and up to our most luxurious room. Pampered doesn’t describe the service. Impeccable. Gracious. Every single detail addressed before you would think it. Mom and I sunk into the incredible mattresses heads resting on cloud-like pillows and slept like the queens we knew we both were upon arrival our first evening.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Room for High Tea
The weather was dreamy. The flowers and foliage beckoning every Albertan to move to British Columbia this time of year. We spent our morning acquainting ourselves with the city by car, then walking and shopping and lunching and browsing. Feasting our senses on every aspect of this gorgeous Vancouver Island city was spiritually edifying. Back to our rooms for a rest before our 5 pm booking for High Tea at the Empress. Above, the grand room where High Tea is served. This was once the lobby and main entrance into the hotel, directly behind the grand doors mom stood in front of, above.
And here we are. High Tea at the Empress is booked from 11 am to 4 pm daily, but I asked for a 5 pm reservation as we were staying there and it would be our evening meal. This was clearly not a problem. We were the only couple there for a bit, and soon after there were a few other late bookings.
Some prefer to sit in the couches or high chairs in a more leisurely living room setting. So many seating options are available. We chose a table for two at the window overlooking the harbour.
Isn’t she gorgeous? 88. Eighty-eight. Born April 21, 1930. A Taurus, it is true. And a beauty.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Tea
Now, you must understand an integral detail about my mom. She was born Helen Rose Hecht on April 21. This is the same day as Queen Elizabeth’s real birthday. It has played a major role in her identity. HRH. Her Royal Highness. Helen Rose Hecht. But, of course. When she married dad, she became Helen Rose McKinney. HRM. Her Royal Majesty. Helen Rose McKinney. So, High Tea at the Empress is the perfect way to celebrate the birthday of HRM, no? And look at the china? A crown inside of the cup, no less. So elegant. Just sitting in the room was an experience that transforms one into another place and time. I coveted the little holder with the four sugars and later found it in the gift shop for one hundred and forty dollars. Of course, I have good taste, but that was daunting.
Luxuriating in the experience is exactly what this beautiful woman should be doing.
I was admiring the china when the waiter presented us with a book of teas to choose from.
The top six were included with the price of the High Tea. Those under the line could be ordered for the additional price indicated under the description of each. We know how to treat ourselves, but we also know our limit. Any of the top six it would be. I could not decide amongst three, and hands down, the waiter directed me toward Lady Di’s favourite, the rose scented tea that is also sold in the gift shop. Mom chose “The Duchess” likely as there wasn’t a choice titled “The Queen”.
We were then presented with a translucent white porcelain tea warmer that was absolutely beautiful with a candle in the centre.
When the teapots were each placed upon the warmers, the waiter turned the timer upside down and suggested for the best tea brew for each of our choices that the 5 minute steep (the brown sand) would be best.
Watching the sands of time and enjoying every moment.
Of course, I poured our first cups immediately upon the timer’s command, but forgot to remove the bags to the little bowl provided until halfway through the cup! Neither of us is tea drinkers, though when presented with a good cup of tea, we both wonder why. Each of us revels in these experiences and the quiet ritual that drinking tea begs. My tea was divine. I was going to buy it in the shop until I found the bag there for 32 dollars. Blush. Mom’s tea wasn’t available at the shop. She preferred hers. I preferred mine. Both were visually as different as they were flavour-wise. Neither required sweetening and I do tend to reach for sugar with black teas. Sublime. An irresistible pleasure on the palate.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Savories
Very shortly after serving our tea, the tiered tray of accompanying goodies was presented.
My reaction was surprising as I saw the entire “meal” on the three plates. In London, we were served savouries first, followed by the sweets later. This is what I had expected. My second reaction? Is that all? Please don’t mistake that for gluttony. I am just being honest. Everything was exquisite and a feast for the eye, yet the amount appeared to be meagre at first glance. Keep in mind, each person’s high tea is 75 dollars without tax. There are 10 morsels each: 5 savoury and 5 sweet. Reading the menu, I knew there was ample. Seeing the food on the tiered tray had me second guessing.
As always, the warm scone with clotted cream and lavender scented strawberry jam is the suggested place to start. Bliss. Somehow the taste and texture and eating experience of a simple scone are exponentially elevated in this elegant environment. Yet, it isn’t just the ambiance. It is the exquisite scent of lavender added to the strawberry jam; the addictive rich unctuous velvet clotted cream is addictive and the warm scone so comforting that cuddles into one’s innards with a cozy embrace. Who needs more? Honestly, sipping the rosy tea while nibbling the warm buttered scone pinched pink into my wilting elderly cheeks. Completely satisfying and so filling.
The Hand Peeled Tofino Shimp Tartlet was next. Ginger and lemon mayonnaise with freshly snipped chives yielded a fresh bite of the sea with a crisp pastry shell that was bright and noteworthy.
The classic smoked butter-tender salmon generously piled atop a mound of fresh dill and creme fraiche on a soft delicious bilini was my favourite savoury bite after the scone.
The roast beef on whole wheat had to be dissembled to spy on the thin leaves of golden earthy beet. What was that flavour? Peeking at the menu revealed it was beet! Tasty. The Cucumber on Rye with Cream Cheese is always a favourite. I could not finish 2 of my savoury bites and couldn’t eat any of the sweet bites. I do not lie. I was so worried about there not being “enough”, yet there was certainly more than enough. I enjoyed the sweets later in the evening in my room. Yes, they do pack your leftovers, even at The Empress.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Sweets
An appealing and artful array or sweet delicacies.
Mom started with the small round Banana Pudding Cake. I found it “OK”. She was over the moon with guttural pleasure biting into it. The white chocolate tart shell filled with pistachio cream topped with fresh fruit was my favourite. Really delicious and I will definitely make these. Actually, I am completely motivated to present a similar tea to my gal pals. Watch for that. This tart will be on the menu. The passion fruit dark chocolate square tart was the one I looked forward to the most and it was so disappointing. Dark chocolate is the wrong pairing with this amount of passion fruit. It got completely lost in the powerful strength of the rich dark one. The shortbread? Nah. That was unexpected. I make excellent shortbread and have bought tastier than this one. The layered gelatin dessert was so appealing, but also bland. Even the texture was bouncy instead of soft and giving. All that said, it was still the most incredible, unforgettable and perfect experience I could have hope to share with my very special mom on her birthday.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Momento
As I told her later, “In the perfect world, I would have browsed around the shops and the internet in advance to have the perfect memento to honour the occasion wrapped boxed and presented to you at the end of our tea.” But, the world I live in is not perfect. This came close. We shopped after in the little hotel shops on the way to our room when I spied the lovely bracelet above, had put away not as slyly as I would have liked and picked it up the next morning to present to her as a representation of the love we share and of her royal right to her position as HRM. Of course, those are all diamonds! And the crown is real, too! She loved it.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Memory
Nothing is as precious as a memory shared.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel: The Ambiance
Up to our room we meandered after shopping through the hotel, doggie bag in hand. Fat (me), happy and very tired (both of us).
Now home. Reminiscing. Remembering and rejoicing that I have had the life I have had, the parents I have had and my mom for the many, many years I have had her. Here’s to many more.