Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Tea at L'Espalier

In lieu of getting each other gifts we would inevitably return this year, my friend Kim and I decided to celebrate the holidays by going out for a fancy meal.  We settled on afternoon tea and after asking around, it seemed that L'Espalier was the place to go for just that. 

 L'Espalier offers what they call a "fantasy tea party."  There are three different tea menus to choose from, all based off of fairy tales and nursery rhymes.  Beyond the names, the fantasy aspect is nonexistent.  In fact, the whole tea service, though good, was presented somewhat awkwardly.  Beginning with our arrival.  We came in through the Mandarin Oriental hotel.  To get to the restaurant, you walk through the hotel lobby, upstairs, down a hall, through Sel de la Terre (another restaurant) and then into a round vestibule area.  In the vestibule, a gentleman took our coats and told us to have a seat in the lounge until our table was ready.  Being that we were the only people we could see in the restaurant, and had made a reservation, being asked to wait was somewhat confusing.  A few minutes later, the gentleman reappeared and showed us to one of two tables directly off the lounge area, separate from the regular dining area.  It was private, which was nice, but it was also a bit like being seated in a hall.

When the waiter arrived, he was dressed in a full suit.  It was formal, but also confusing.  I wasn't actually sure if he was the waiter or another maitre'd.  He described the teas to us in general terms, but offered no leaves to assess. 

We both opted for Red Riding Hood's Basket, which is the full tea, sandwiches, tea service and pastries.  We also both chose the Darjeeling tea.

 The tea came first and was promptly followed by the sandwiches.  They had no issue replacing the ham and cheese on my order with a plain grilled cheese.  The waiter (dressed in waiter garb) who brought the tea seemed confused about who was getting what and had to return to the kitchen before bringing us the service, making him the first of three waiters who made it half way to our table, stopping and returning to the kitchen and finally returning to our table. 

The sandwiches themselves were very tasty and quite filling for the small size.  I found the lobster salad to be disappointing, as that it didn't have a lot of flavor and the lobster was stringy.

 The maitre'd returned to clear our plates and then another waiter made the halfway to the table, turn, pivot, retreat, re-approach move before bringing us new spoons and then we were served the pastries.

The pastries consisted of a signature L'Espalier swan cream puff filled with mocha cream, an almond cookie with pomegranate seeds, a fig bar, chocolate decadence cake, cranberry scone and panna cotta.  Not being much of a sweets person, this part might have been slightly wasted on me, but I enjoyed the chocolate cake, panna cotta and scone.  Their having replaced our knives and forks with spoons (of multiple sizes) made cutting the scone and spreading the clotted cream, jam and honey a bit difficult.

 Kim, on the other hand, had no issue going to town on the poor swan.  The maitre'd/waiter reappeared at one point to refill our tea pots.  They let us stay for as long as we liked and eventually seated another couple in our hall/lounge area, which made it only slightly more awkward to be in a small, secluded area with another group so close.

milk and sugar service
our view
 The situation of the restaurant being in the hotel and our table being in the weird area meant that there were constantly people walking in our peripheral and waiting for the elevator off the lounge area.  There was also some sort of birthday party consisting of screaming children that was not addressed until another diner found the original maitre'd and complained, and then only addressed mildly.

All in all, the afternoon was lovely, but I think that was more a product of the company and conversation than the tea event itself.  While the food itself was tasty, the situation of the table and seemingly confused waitstaff made the whole event something to scratch your head over more than walk away wanting more.  L'Espalier has most likely deservedly earned its stars for their food and presentation (which I've never had, way out of my budget), but did not make much of an impression for afternoon tea.

1 comment:

  1. Transitioning to that mid-meal plate shot is very entertaining. "TAKE THAT, PRICY FOODSTUFF! STABBY!"