Afternoon Delight: Top High Tea Restaurants

Whether it’s the iconic three-tiered silver tray with canapés and white-glove service or something fresh like al fresco iced brews and a “TeaJ” in lieu of a harp, afternoon tea is getting pinkies and thumbs up. Boston Public Library has even gone so far as to cancel its lunch service to make space for sippers all week long, and dads can get in on the game with boozy brews and heavier snacks like s’mores with maple-smoked bacon at another seaside hotel in that historic city. Blame it on an urge to celebrate British traditions with all of this Brexit talk — the union of savory and sweet in the afternoon will always win on this side of the pond at one of these top high tea restaurants.

The Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts
Tea is just as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach at Boston Public Library, where the historic McKim Building, circa 1895, was declared a U.S. national historic landmark in 1986. The Courtyard Restaurant overlooks an open-air Italianate courtyard with a vaulted ceiling and ornate chandelier originally installed over a grand staircase in the 1950s, and the aesthetic was completed with the installation of a marble floor in the nineties. “Enjoying tea in the restaurant is transportive,” says manager Akiko Yamagata. “Sitting in the serene dining room in a historic building, one’s imagination takes hold, into a different time and its customs — just like reading a captivating novel.” The extensive menu — which changes several times a year — is just as captivating and features blends from Massachusetts-based outfit MEM Tea Imports, including the popular Wedding Blend, a fruity, flowery, and herbaceous green. Make a reservation at The Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library.

High Tea Restaurants

 Pavilion at The Langham, Chicago, Illinois
Pavilion at the Langham in Chicago, truly brings a tradition from across the pond to the shores of Lake Michigan with its Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood — which first debuted at the Langham in London in 1865. Sweet and savory bites like artichoke and melted leek quiche, a grilled asparagus sandwich with petite lettuce salad, pickled mustard seeds, and fresh ricotta, lemon-cherry scones with grapefruit marmalade and blackberry jam, and chocolate verrine with dark chocolate brownie and milk chocolate mousse are served much the same way they were more than a century ago. The Pavilion serves up 25 blends including five blends exclusive to the Langham, including a fruity rhubarb for kids. Make a reservation at Pavilion at The Langham.

High Tea Restaurants

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia
It’s no surprise that being in British Columbia the folks at Butchart Gardens would honor the British tradition of teatime — but what is unique is the way in which they incorporate West Coast flair. Both executive chef Travis Hansen and pastry chef Keith Tran — both of whom have worked at the Gardens for more than 25 years each — pride themselves on signature items such as locally smoked wild salmon, curried Cowichan Valley chicken salad, and candied ginger scones from an old family recipe. Summer is an especially ideal time to visit the Gardens for another reason, says sommelier and dining room manager Dave Lane, who notes that the Backyard Flight program is a “must-try. We’re extremely fortunate to be surrounded by wineries and orchards that provide us with world-class wines, spirits, and liquors, and every year we pick the best to pair with our teas to showcase the terroir and character of the growing conditions. It’s a unique experience not found anywhere else.” Make a reservation at Butchart Gardens.

High Tea Restaurants

Modern Tea, Chicago, Illinois
A tradition gets a makeover at Modern Tea in Chicago, where the Radisson’s swanky lobby with couches and a gold-plated mirror puts a new spin on live music from a jazz or string quartet with a “TeaJ.” There are eight Rishi teas from which to choose (available over ice when the mercury climbs) and outside seating for al fresco dining featuring sweets from the hotel’s new pastry chef Caroline Kolaja. One of her specialties is a basil passion tart, though she also admits to having a penchant for cake batter ice cream — her first industry job was as a Ben & Jerry’s scooper in high school. Make a reservation at Modern Tea.

High Tea Restaurants

Pembroke Room, New York, New York
Good things come in threes at the Pembroke Room, which features three styles of service: the classic, the Pembroke Royal, and the Lowell Imperial. Each includes a selection of more than 20 Dammann Frères fine French tea varieties, classic finger sandwiches (curry chicken, cucumber and watercress, lobster roll) a dill, egg, and cornichon salad, caviar blinis with goat cheese, scones, petit fours, and more. But the latter two options give you a chance to enhance your experience with a glass of rosé, port, or sherry as part of the Pembroke, and Champagne and caviar with the Lowell Imperial. Look for further enhancements starting in September, when the space will get a spruce-up with new furnishings, carpet, window treatments, and design elements meant to keep the spirit of the room while maintaining the tradition of classic elegance that’s been the setting for generations of bridal bashes and baby showers. Make a reservation at the Pembroke Room.

High Tea Restaurants

Rowes Wharf Sea Grille at the Boston Harbor Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts
Who says high tea is only for the girls? Boston Harbor Hotel’s chef Daniel Bruce kicked off a gentleman’s tea at the newly renovated property on Father’s Day weekend that’s getting both pinkies and thumbs up from the guys and girls. The daily 4-6PM affair at Rowes Wharf includes tea-tails, savory snacks, and sweet desserts. Expect Michter’s Bourbon, blackberry- and mint-infused tea served over ice, snacks like sweet and sour pickled vegetables, a grilled tenderloin burger, and a maple-smoked bacon, dark chocolate, and caramelized marshmallow s’more. Make a reservation at Rowes Wharf Sea Grille at the Boston Harbor Hotel.

High Tea Restaurants

Afternoon Tea-The Phoenician Restaurant, Scottsdale, Arizona
The signature lemon and thyme chicken salad and rare white teas with infused spices, herbs, and fruit may be the signature items at the Phoenician’s Tea Court, but the all-star talent — many of whom have been on staff for more than two decades — really take the tea cakes. Musician Allen Comyns has been the resident pianist for 28 years, and regulars enjoy being greeted by longtime tea hostesses Wendy and Natalie. Pastry chef Roy Pell, classically trained in London, was named one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional magazine in 2010, and he regularly puts on a show of his own with desserts like a coffee opera cake, mango dome, and brandied cherry pomponette. Make a reservation at Afternoon Tea-The Phoenician Restaurant.

High Tea Restaurants

Afternoon Tea at The Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables, Florida
A National Historic Landmark built in 1926, the Biltmore is a nod to an era gone by with white-glove service and a multicourse service that encourages guests to sit and stay a while. Each day’s treats are made to order depending on reservation preferences, including traditional English scones with clotted cream and preserves from pastry chefs Olivier Rodrigues and Michael Giovani, baked just shortly before service begins each afternoon. The whole extravaganza begins, however, with deviled eggs infused with anchovy emulsion that serve as a delicate introduction to the velvety texture of the foie gras mousse profiterole. Canapés vary from turkey with guava and mango with kaffir lime aioli to Bavarian ham with smoked mozzarella. Servers can suggest the best green, white, black, or herbal tea to round out your choice of snacks and sweets. Make a reservation at Afternoon Tea at The Biltmore Hotel.

High Tea Restaurants

Afternoon Tea-The Urban Tea Merchant, North Vancouver, British Columbia
Tea is about much more than what’s in the cup at Urban Tea Market — it’s literally infused into what’s on the plate, too. Tea gastronomy features afternoons filled with Jivara chocolate cremeux cake infused with French Earl Grey or Raspberry tart au passion ganache crafted with Valentine Breakfast Tea, plus 300 single-estate, fine-harvest, and exclusive tea blends from which to pair treats with. The Merchant is the exclusive Canadian distributor of TWG Tea, a luxury brand from Singapore used to make cocktails such as the Chocolate Mint Surprise with vodka, Kahlua, cream, and choco mint truffle tea, but kids don’t have to miss out on the fun, either — a children’s tea outing features petit fours and caffeine-free crème caramel. Make a reservation at Afternoon Tea-The Urban Tea Merchant.

High Tea Restaurants

Two E Bar and Lounge, New York, New York
What’s high tea but a little indulgence… or a lot of it? New York’s iconic Pierre kicks it up a notch with their Through Rosé Colored-Glasses afternoon, which includes unlimited glasses of Tattinger Rosé Champagne served alongside stunning tiered towers filled with both traditional and less conventional offerings, all prepared by The Pierre’s in-house pastry team. Savories rotate to feature date and baba ganoush crepes and caviar and buckwheat blinis as well as sweets including Grand Marnier chocolate madeleines, red-cherry financiers, and lemon-apricot sandwiches. Make a reservation at Two E Bar and Lounge.

High Tea Restaurants

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Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at carleythornell@gmail.com.

Photo credits: Derek Richman Food Photography (Pavilion at the Langham).