The other cream teas I've been to thus far in Toronto were competing for the high-end market - tourists or Yorkville shoppers, for example. The Old Mill isn't. It's offering an afternoon's relaxation aimed at families and locals, easy access to light nibbles on a daily basis. They serve tea every afternoon of the week for at least an hour, and do so for at least $10 less than the nearest competition thus far sampled.
The effort they put into their goodies reflects the different goals they're aiming for. There was nothing particularly special about any of the food. It wasn't bad - it just wasn't anything into which too much work had been put. Our three finger sandwiches still had parts of the crusts on them. The salmon sandwich possess the clearest taste, a decisive, simple salmon slice with a bit of lettuce. The tomato and watercress wasn't, the watercress replaced by lettuce. A tomato-and-lettuce sandwich lacks a certain something. The Old Mill was paying attention to what a cream tea requires, however, and included a cucumber sandwich as the third. The scones were unmemorable, but the jam was reasonably good. Best of all, they provided pots of both butter and clotted cream, a thoughtful detail. A lackluster strawberry tartlet and generic shortbread cookie completed the provisions.
As for tea, I was slightly confused. The menu took pains to point out which teas were bagged and which were't. theengineer and I both ordered tea not listed as bagged - but both came that way. Still, the waiter came by regularly to top off our teapots, so we were amply provisioned with tea. Also, the teapots were the right size - about two cups worth, so the water never became cold or overbrewed, as can happen with enormous teapots.
Service was appropriately attentive, but self-conscious. The waiters always told us what they were doing ("I'll take the tiers away now and leave you the plates which still have food on them."). The Old Mill hotel, conference center, and spa is a cross between a hunting lodge, a pseudo-medieval building, and a more usual hotel space. The buildings sprawled across the banks of the Humber, winding and complex. The walls were ornamented with pseudo-medieval decorations carved in dark wood. The remnants of a fire burned in the large fireplace.
The experience was pleasant enough, but only a shadow of the heights to which the other cream teas have aspired. Then again, The Old Mill isn't really trying to compete with the same market. The prices and amenities are family-friendly, a good place to go on a weekly basis or with friends, when the company is more important than the details, or when the attendees aren't interested in rich, decadent foods or pretentious locations.