By Alexis Green
Nestled in the heart of Montreal, amidst the bustle and noise of a the busy city that almost never sleeps, is a quiet oasis of classic tranquility. To a city that hosts lively events like the Montreal Jazz Festival, Formula One racing and has been plagued with daily student protests in recent months, high tea at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel is a breath of fresh air.
The hotel itself is situated on Rene-Levesque just west of University and not far from the unforgettable Vieux Port de Montreal. The Queen Elizabeth’s mundane, even forgettable outside is merely a shell that keeps hidden the inner beauty that the Fairmont Group has so meticulously designed. From the elegant lobby entrance with its marble tables and fresh Cala Lilies in simple crystal vases, to the sultry Les Voyageurs Bar with its dark wood, soft lighting and live piano player, the hotel is styled in the very vision of refinery and elegance.
High tea is held in the Montrealais bistro on the west side of the hotel facing an impressive cathedral that reminds me of the stories of Camelot. Tea was moved there two years ago from the handsome tea lounge adjacent to the lobby. The lounge is a library style corner with dark wood tables, classically studded leather reading chairs, and a cozy fireplace nestled between bookshelves filled with an array of hardcover classics. The ambiance in the bistro is quaint and provincial, but lacks the sophistication of the lounge and what most people would assume their experience would be. The decor is mostly wood with the colour palette in the greens and reds, which gives the feeling of a small farmers market.
High tea at the Queen Elizabeth is by reservation only, and although there was no host to greet us, the server behind the bar was very polite and welcoming. Our table was in the back corner on the lower level, in an area with a grand wrought iron chandelier. Our table was set with fine white linen, embossed silverware and table settings that look like they came directly from Harrod’s in England. We were only one of two tables enjoying the service that day, but the clientele seemed to be mostly well-to-do families and businessmen.
Service was started with the introduction of our server, who spoke to us in both English and French. She explained how the afternoon would unfold and then explained all the various teas to us. There was a selection of ten teas, my favourite being the Buckingham Palace, which is also known as the Queen’s tea. This divine import is a lovely blend of Earl Grey with a hint of jasmine and creates a warm coppery colour when brewed. Subtle on the palate, which medium body, this tea is the very personification of the experience. While the teas were left to brew in their individual pots, we were brought the delicacies on a three tiered serving platter. On the top tier were dainty finger sandwiches comprised of smoked salmon, egg with cucumber and roast turkey. The second tier were the mini delights including strawberry custard tarts, pistachio macaroons and chocolate crisps. But the real treat was the bottom tier with their buttery scones, strawberry and orange jam and the rich, velvety Devonshire cream that makes the whole experience worthwhile.
The service was prompt but discreet, and the staff were knowledgeable and welcoming. There was nothing rushed about the day, and even though we stayed well after the last guest had left, no one came to even hint at us leaving. We sat in peace for hours chatting and absorbing the calm tranquility in the middle of an urban jungle.
The price of the experience ranks among the top three in Montreal after the Birks Cafe and Le Maitre Chocolatier, but compared to the rest of the country is actually quite affordable at $25 per person. There is nothing exemplary about the experience, but there was nothing disappointing other than the change in location.
High tea is offered Monday to Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday 3:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. following brunch. The service is not offered on some holidays such as Mother’s Day where brunch will be offered all afternoon. For more information or to make a reservation, contact the hotel directly at (514) 861-3511.
Alexis Green is a Toronto native living in Montreal and has been in the food, beverage and entertainment industry for over ten years. She is also the owner of AG Design specializing in graphic design, event planning and consulting.