We saw the fourth member of our party already seated from across the room, so the hostess waved us off to find our own way to our table. Maybe this is why we missed out on having anyone offer to take our coats, not that we really needed the offer, as there was plenty of spare space to drape them on the couch or the backs of the ample chairs. And yet it was the beginning of the very friendly, but only sporadically attentive service which brought us our tea.
It was a pleasant afternoon. We were there both to celebrate ultrascichick's birthday and to continue our ongoing tour of Toronto's cream teas. This was our second stop, with both C. and double0hilly coming along for more tea, clotted cream, and pastries. However rich it is, cream teas are, by definition, decadent.
It took some time to choose between the eleven or twelve teas on the list, but less to choose between the three nibbles menus. We all went for the most substantial one, although the birthday girl was sorely tempted by the alternative prospect of chocolate-dipped strawberries. I went for the orange pineapple tea, which arrived in a pot far larger than the amount of tea it contained. The tea was pleasant, particularly since it wasn't too sickly sweet, a common flaw in fruit teas. The pots had built-in sieves which were easily clogged. It took double0hilly three or four minutes to fill her tea cup. As is so often the case in restaurants, it took two attempts to order water before it arrived.
The Royal Tea Stand (as the full menu was called) began with a first course, composed of a berry cocktail with a dab of whipped cream and a warm crumpet oozing honey. The berries made a nice topping for the crumpet, but it was unclear if that was what we were meant to do with it or not. The kitchen neglected to add the house-made whipped cream the first time around, so the waiter brought us extra dishes of it, useful when it came time to eat the last scones later, when we ran out of clotted cream. The first course was messy. The berries were elegant in their martini glass, but the cream and the juice got all over them and the plate in the process of eating it, and spooning the compote onto the crumpet.
After the table was cleared, our second course arrived, the classic three-tier plate stand of finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries.
The finger sandwiches were competently done, but rarely inspiring. The egg salad, with a hint of spice, was easily my favorite, although I heard good things about the salmon sandwich. There was tomato and cream cheese, cucumber, and ham finger sandwiches the platters too, none of which were particularly memorable.
Who puts powdered sugar on a scone? Sure, it looks good on a plate, but it's not very convenient for something so clearly designed to be finger food. The scones were overly large, smooth battered with only a few raisins and dried cranberries in them for decoration more than flavor. The size mean that the meager portions of clotted cream and jam were particularly outbalanced. The clotted cream was fine, the jam a functional strawberry.
The pastries were unquestionably the highlght of the meal. The chocolate mousse cake was intensely chocolated, smooth and creamy. The pastry was light and fresh. There were little nibble-sized coconut cookies and soft red-hued amaretti. They were flavorful and well-sized for the nibbly kind of eating which a cream tea invites.
I'd read good things about tea at the Royal York before I went there. It's the only place in town with a tea sommelier, although there was no sign of him today, nor any specific evidence for his work, although I'm sure he picked out the tea blends for the hotel. Also, despite being at least a third empty the entire time, the hotel had called me back a few days earlier to change the time of our reservation. It was unclear to me why they had needed to, but it doesn't really matter.
Afternoon tea at the Royal York hotel was respectable, but not overwhelming. The pastries were lovely. The rest was competent and pleasant (particularly because of the company), but not much more.