Sat, Nov 14, 2009
Afternoon Tea at The Ritz Carlton, Chicago reminds me of spending a relaxing afternoon in someone’s luxurious parlor or living room. The mood is unhurried, the atmosphere is elegant, and the overstuffed sofas and chairs just make you want to stay and never leave. In some ways, it reminds me of The Gallery at The George V in Paris, one of my all time favorite places for afternoon tea.
Tea is served in The Ritz Carlton Hotel’s lobby located on the 12th floor of Water Tower Place in Chicago, a high rise building on The Magnificent Mile that includes retail stores on the lower floors, the Ritz Carlton Hotel on the mid floors and luxury condominiums with views of Lake Michigan on the upper floors. You’re close to the high energy of the city yet, at the same time, twelve floors above it in a soundproof oasis. (This is also where U.S. television personality Oprah Winfrey lives in Chicago.)
On this midweek afternoon, I was graciously seated at a table and began the afternoon by just taking in the ambiance of the room. The posh and elegantly designed seating area with low tables reminded me of how afternoon tea actually began – in the sitting room of Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. The opulent furnishings and the soft rush of water falling from the nearby fountain all made for a very relaxing and agreeable place to have afternoon tea.
Nearby was a table with a woman working on business documents and having tea to help with what looked like an onerous workload. At another seating area were three generations of women – grandmother, mother and daughter – all dressed to the nines and out for the afternoon to spend some leisurely time together. There were also tables of shoppers that appeared to be taking a mid-day break from being in one of Chicago’s most prestigious retail neighborhoods.
No one hurries you here and when you’re ready, you can begin by looking over the afternoon tea menu. There were well over twenty full leaf tea selections including black, green, white, oolong, herbal and decaffeinated varieties. Of the two oolongs, the waiter advised me that the Orchid oolong was less flowery than the Bleu Peacock, so that’s what I chose. The tea was brought out in a Narumi bone china teapot and placed on a stand with a small flame in the base, to keep the tea hot.
The full leaf oolong was excellent and had a light almond flavor.
The tea sandwiches here are exceptional, especially the Cucumber and Sun dried tomato on white Pullman bread – cool, crisp, and moist. I also enjoyed the egg salad on dark rye bread; it had subtle flavors and was very light, just as a mid afternoon snack should be.
Next were the warm and crusty scones – one plain and one cranberry – also fantastic. They were served with Devonshire cream, homemade lemon curd and homemade preserves.
One of the noteworthy sweets was an interesting white chocolate and strawberry mousse “pyramid” with a lime curd and strawberry center. It is served on a sugar cookie with lime angel food cake.
The service, as you might expect at this world class hotel, was impeccable. Staff were always there and never there, if you know what I mean. Once, I was brought something that I was just thinking about, and the waiter said he had anticipated my request.
The Ritz Carlton Chicago is one of the most posh, comfortable and relaxing places that I have taken afternoon tea so far. The elegant surroundings, the ambiance of the room, and the sound of the water flowing from the nearby fountain, all invite you to spend a quiet afternoon in luxurious surroundings while sipping a cup of full leaf tea and having a light snack – just what afternoon tea should be.