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Cream tea at the Windsor Arms

Location: Windsor Arms Tea Room, 18 St. Thomas St, southwest of Bay and Bloor. Toronto.

Yesterday, pittenweem and ultrascichick joined me on the third stop of my ongoing very slow tour of the High Teas of Toronto. Each had been to one of the two previous entries, which was helpful for discussing their relative merits.

The Windsor Arms Tea Room is actually a clustered suite of rooms, just off of the lobby, just inside the entrance, a popular location for tea rooms. This one was better insulated from the rest of the world, heavy drapes obscuring the grey, rainy day outside. The decor was comforting, well-appointment couches and comfortable chairs clustered around tables of various heights. It felt warm and comfortable.

Unlike the other tea venues we've visited thus far, the Windsor Arms schedules its cream teas in two sittings, at 1:30 and 3:30 every day. Many of the downsides of the place stemmed from this. We had to wait the better part of fifteen minutes before being seated, while the 1:30 crowd finished clearing out. And it didn't have to be that way, since there were spare tables from the 1:30 sitting, and all of two groups of us having tea at 3:30. But then again, the quality of service was easily the low point of the visit.

Between us, we ordered one Cream Tea and two Full Teas. The "Complete Tea" was only supplemented by a glass of alcohol, so none of us bothered. After a while waiting with nothing to drink, including water (more on that later), three large teapots arrived with our tea selections. I would have preferred a smaller pot with more frequent top-ups - by the bottom of the pot, the water was cool and bitter. My lemon verbena tea was fine, but uninteresting.

Lest you think the entire visit was lousy, this was far from the case. Not only was I surrounded by delightful company, but the food made up for quite a bit of the other defects in the afternoon. The finger sandwiches were sensibly ingenious, small servings of fillings stuffed inside coiled bread, ideal for eating tidily with fingers. The fillings were tasty too - the Fried Chicken with Citrus Essence was tasty, and the Smoked Salmon and Salmon Caviar with an Oven-Roasted Tomato Cream Cheese featured very good salmon, although I couldn't particularly taste the other ingredients. Baby Greens with Asparagus, Cucumber Salsa and Chive Cream Cheese were refreshing, and ultriscichick's favorite. I traded with her for another chicken sandwich. There were no cucumber sandwiches.

The scones were very much a dessert bread: slightly too sweet, speckled with nicely crunchy candied raisins. Happily, they convinced ultrascichick that scones really can be good. We were only brought a dollop of Devonshire Cream, but were promptly brought more when asked for it; personally, I prefer clotted cream on scones, but having dense, fatty cream at all is a crucial ingredient in a cream tea. The Greaves jams were decent, but not particularly striking.

The serving tray was arranged in two layers: on the bottom were the sandwiches and scones, on the top, the petit fours, no two the same. This means I can't really tell you all about the petit fours, since we all had different experiences with them. My little citrus tart was nicely acidic and lemony. I mistook the filled meringue for shortbread, but was happier to discover otherwise. pittenweem seemed fairly impressed with the chocolateyness of her choices. Alas, I ended with what I expected from appearances to be something like an apple tartlet - after a moment's disorientation of trying to decipher the fruit flavor, I realized it was a mini-mushroom quiche, not at all what I was expecting to lurk among the petit fours.

We finished with strawberries and cream, but the strawberries were bland and underripe.

Service was generally inattentive. We ordered glasses of water all around, which, as is so often the case, never arrived. When pittenweem ordered water again for all of us, she alone received a glass. I felt as if we were being gently processed through their twice-daily tea schedule, checked on at scheduled times for scheduled reasons. All the 1:30 crowd had to be cleared before the 3:30 crowd could be seated. There were three of us, but we were seated at a table with six chairs. Most of the problems were structural: the schedule, putting savories among the sweets, too-large pots of tea.

The rooms was very pleasant and comfortable, the sandwiches quite good, the petit fours and scones decent. I'm fairly sure it was better in many ways than the Royal York (which had good service), but not convinced. Certainly, it wasn't up to the overall standards of the Four Seasons.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
doctor_mama
Feb. 15th, 2005 06:42 pm (UTC)
I love going out for tea. Here in Boston there are a few places where one can do this and make an elegant afternoon of it, though I haven't gone in years. But when they don't get it right, in the ways you describe, it can really be jarring. Tea really isn't complicated but it does sound as though this place is an assembly line.
aquitaineq
Feb. 15th, 2005 07:07 pm (UTC)
as someone who waitresses, i can't stand it when I or anyone I know gets bad service, there is simply no excuse!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )