October 24th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

Terroni, Mitzi's, Four Seasons etc.

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Afternoon Tea is comfort food. When done in style, it can be extravagant comfort food. That's what tea at the Four Seasons is. The surroundings are tasteful and comfortable, despite being just off of the hotel's main lobby. The service is diligent, but not overbearing. Full linens, silver-shining strainers, china: it's Afternoon Tea with capital letters, and that sense of completion extends to the eats and drinks as well.

Both times we were there, double0hilly and I ordered the Relaxing Tea, an herbal blend which includes mint, camomile, catnip, among other herbs. It's a very smooth tea, no bitterness to it at all. I'm fairly sure it was more finely ground this time than last - I don't remember quite so much of the leaves making it through the tea strainer last time. C. ordered the classic English Breakfast, which he said was slightly weak, even when well-brewed. None of us had mishaps with the tea strainer this time. Last time, I forgot to use the strainer once, and my eating companion rather easily spilled the teapot. The secret is to pour decisively.

The substantial offering of nibbles comes in three layers on a plate rack. On top were a variety of finger-sandwiches, including traditional cucumber sandwiches. Their three-layers-of-bread-thickness made them awkward to eat with fingers. We gave up and opted for knives and forks. Happily, the other finger-sandwiches really were: old cheddar with chutney; slender slices of roast beef twisted into flowers on a delicate bed of mixed apple slivers and horseradish; and smoked salmon and cream cheese on pumpernickel.

I didn't try many of the tartlets and cakelets either time. Elegant and small, they arrived in a sampling variety, raspberry and chocolate layers, strawberry and custard, caramel, key lime pie. Their tastes were slightly dull after the beauty of presentation. The crust on the custard and on the key lime tartlets was dispropotionately thick compared to the filling: they would have benefited from a slighter, flakier crust. C. reports that the caramel confection wasn't any more interesting.

The scones, however, were quite good, especially because they were served with clotted cream, and a good-quality, richly flavored raspberry or strawberry preserve.* High fat content certainly can make dairy tastier.** The scones themselves were smooth-battered, clearly produced for smooth cutting, with no pretence to home-cooked sconey roughness which many have. Also, while perfectly decent, the scones were primarily designed to highlight the flavors of their toppings.

With pleasant service, frequent water-refills, and a grey, rainy day awaiting us outside, we were in no hurry to leave.

* The jams were made by Greaves, from Niagara-on-the-Lake. They're available mail-order, at their retail outlet in Niagara, or from a handful of high-end in-town supermarkets, including the Avenue Road Pusateri's, and Bruno's, the nearest one of which is at 1560 Yonge St.

** Yogurt with fat in it is remarkably hard to find in my local grocery stores these days, but it tastes so much better than low-fat or fat-free yogurt, plus I like the texture much better. Where would I go to buy clotted cream in town, anyways?