Crisp white tablecloths, engraved and monogrammed silverware, a doorman opening the grand front door, lush tea rooms, and majestic crystal chandeliers. If the Windsor Arms Hotel makes me feel like a princess, their afternoon tea is a model of royal treatment. After the doorman let myself and my boyfriend in, I was in awe. It wasn’t my first time at the hotel, but I was clearly seeing the hotel lobby and even other parts of the hotel with fresh eyes. There were lush green palms in the lobby, a gorgeous, gigantic chandelier hanging from the high ceiling, and a beautiful balcony view of the lobby and banquet hall courtyard cafe from the 2nd floor of the hotel. I was so thrilled to be here again and I was ready to sit down to a beautiful tea full of tea sandwiches, scones, petit fours, and copious amounts of sweet tea.
I was beyond excited when I decided to go to my first afternoon tea here for Toronto’s Chocolate Festival back in 2010 and I was even more delighted with the prospect of going back for Valentine’s this month. Not only was I looking forward to doing something sweet and romantic (and not to mention delicious) for the occasion of hearts and cupids, but after visiting the Windsor Arms tea menu page I was ecstatic to find out there were new nibbles! I would have been happy receiving the same selection of tea sandwiches and such from the time before, but you know how I feel about new menu items. The full afternoon tea comes with a selection of tea from their tea menu, cream, jam and preserves, scones, tea sandwiches, a mini goat cheese and caramelized shallot puff pastry tarts, fresh strawberries and whipped cream, and petit four desserts.
The menu of tea sandwiches this time around featured a mix of smoked salmon with wasabi sour cream and salmon caviar, cucumber with sundried tomato paste and dill cream cheese, and grilled chicken with granny smith apples, citrus mayo, greek yogurt, and chives. As much as I wanted to inhale the sandwiches with grilled chicken, my allergy to raw apples (and my boyfriend’s throat tickle to raw apples didn’t help the cause either) deterred me so I kindly told the server about this and asked if we could either omit the apples in it or substitute it with something else and our server informed us that he would give us more of the other two types, which was perfectly fine with us. The salmon lovers in us rejoiced!
The entire afternoon tea was fabulous, but what really blew me away was their selection of tea this time! When we were given the tea menu, I flipped it open and was astonished to find pages of tea choices! Not all of their teas are listed on the website so I was taken by surprise in the best way possible. Green tea, white tea, rooibos, the possibilities went on for pages. Windsor Arms had expanded their tea selection ten-fold and I was rapidly reading through loose leaf tea descriptions in an effort to choose one for to enjoy with my food.
I enjoyed their amazing chocolate dessert tea, Tibetan Tiger, my first time and this time, I settled on the rooibos Once Upon a Tea. What an adorable name! A tea fit for the royal afternoon tea treatment of a princess, yes? The tea was delivered nice and hot in a beautiful flowered tea pot and I placed my tea strainer on top of my dainty tea cup to catch the tea leaves. This tea was amazing! I thought the Tibetan Tiger tea was delicious but this was delicious on a whole other level. Not only did the tea have notes of chocolate and vanilla, but it also had fruity notes to it making it both a dessert tea and a fruity tea all in one. It tasted rich, sweet, refreshing, cleansing, crisp, clean – it was one of the most delicious teas I had ever had.
And the food! My boyfriend and I can’t get over how wonderful their scones are. They are SO soft, light, airy, buttery, and delicious. They literally fluff apart and melt in your mouth and the level of sweetness is perfect. The amount of food for each tea is based on how many people are at the table. Each person is allotted two scones each (one plain and one baked with either raisins and/or dried fruit), six tea sandwiches, a mini puff pastry tart, a dish of strawberries and whipped cream, and two petit fours in addition to the pot of tea, so our meal came with a total of four scones and twelve tea sandwiches between the two of us.
When you first do a once over of the food, it may not seem like a monstrous amount but trust me when I say that you will stuffed and rolling out of the tea room afterward. Don’t forget that drinking tea is a huge part of the meal and that tea is filling! Aside from the drinking compotent, the food will fill you up fast. I learned from my first experience and didn’t even eat both my scones. I saved my second one for my boyfriend to take home (since I knew how much he loved them) and enjoyed my scone dusted with powdered sugar and studded with black currants. There was cream, strawberry jelly, and blueberry preserves to go with our scones and we literally “mmm”ed in delight when we bit into our scones slathered with the cream and blueberries. It was beyond good.
The mini goat cheese and caramelized shallot puff pastry tart was buttery, savoury, creamy, and tangy, and the tea sandwiches were pinwheeled into plump rounds stuffed with tangy cream cheese, fresh cucumber, and smoked salmon goodness with that mouthwatering cured saltiness. The dollops of wasabi sour cream weren’t noticeably spicy and if I’m going to be honest, I was enjoying them in my own little world so they tasted just like sour cream to me and the wasabi compotent could have just went over my head. Either way, they were fabulous.
We were given our strawberries and whipped cream which were juicy and fresh with a slight hint of tartness and what I loved most was how the whipped cream actually retained its shaped and fluffiness and didn’t melt into a watery mess. And to finish off the delightful tea, my boyfriend and I split the petit fours between the two of us. The petit fours we received were completely different from the ones we had the first time: an adorable red velvet cupcake frosted with cream cheese frosting and adorned with tiny pink edible pearls and a Valentine’s heart, a coffee and espresso cake, a white chocolate and chocolate fudge cake, and an adorable lemon meringue tart. The meringue had the sweet, airy, bubbly marshmallow cream texture to it that melted in my mouth and the coffee and espresso petit four actually came with a chocolate covered coffee bean on top! Although I don’t drink coffee, the petit four was delicious and between the two, I actually loved the coffee and espresso one a lot.
Even though I equate afternoon tea with all sorts of luxuriousness and fancy things that are often out of my reach, the afternoon tea at Windsor Arms makes me feel so comfortable and relaxed. I don’t feel rushed and I find myself relishing and savouring every moment, every bite, and every sip of tea in absolute bliss. It was one of the best dining experiences and I’m so happy I took the opportunity to enjoy it for Valentine’s.
The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd. From Monday to Wednesday tea is served in 4 sittings: 12:30, 1:00, 3:00, 3:30, and from Thursday to Sunday 5:30 and 6:00 as well. Teas are available at a range of prices, from $18/person to $45/person, with different menus for each price point. Visit the Windsor Arms Hotel website for prices and menus.