It was Saturday afternoon in Shanghai and outside it was cold and stormy, but inside it was warm, peaceful and serene in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel. As I entered the hotel, I could hear live background music in the distance and, as I approached the Lobby Lounge, a trio of young Chinese musicians (piano, violin and cello) was playing, “See the Pyramids Along the Nile/You Belong to Me, amid cushy chairs surrounded by faux palm trees. It was quite a contrast as you could see the wind blowing and the rain falling just outside through the large glass windows.
The Four Seasons Hotel, Shanghai is a 37 story high rise building located in fashionable west Shanghai, just off Nanjing Road, near many of the city’s major attractions and close to the Metro (subway) that I relied upon heavily during my trip. Since this is a city of 20,000,000, traffic can be an issue, but the Metro will express you to just about anywhere in the city in no time flat.
Afternoon Tea is served in the ground-level Lobby Lounge, and I was greeted by a female staff member, who proceeded to show me to my table and soon began explaining the various options for afternoon tea. She was most helpful in answering any questions I had and went over the choice between the Traditional English and Four Seasons Afternoon Teas. I chose the Four Seasons Afternoon Tea.
There were 23 different teas on the menu – green, oolong, black, white, infusions and fruit teas. While she was still at my side, I explained that I had tried Long Jing green tea more than a few times while in China, and was ready for something a little different. She suggested the oolong and, specifically, the First Grade Oolong Dong’ Ding. (Dong’ Ding means “high mountains” or “frozen mountain peaks.”) It was an excellent choice, since Oolong Dong’ Ding is one of Taiwan’s finest and most famous oolongs, a sweet, flowery, lemony brew that tasted all the better on this cool day in February.
The room began filling up with a wide variety of guests – couples staying at the hotel, young Chinese women decked out in the latest fashions, gentlemen having drinks, and new guests filtering in all the time.
As I was enjoying the oolong tea and the live musical accompaniment, the three tier tray was brought to my table. I should mention the raisin scone – it was served warm enough so that the clotted cream just sank – melted into all of the crevasses. I added a little honey and presto – I had “thunder and lightning” as it is called in southwestern England. The raisin scone was fresh, warm and one of the best I’ve had in a long time.
The afternoon tea savories included a beef shank terrine on mini ciabatta with red onion cream and fried shallots, smoked salmon on grain bread with chive cream cheese and caper berries, and duck confit Reuben on caraway seed gougere with pickled cabbage. All of these selections were much more elaborate than what you would normally expect for typical afternoon tea fare, but the standout was truly the beef terrine on ciabatta. in fact I would have to add this to my list of all-time favorite tea sandwiches. I won’t say any more than that, because I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice.
On the sweets level, happily there were no weak links. My favorite, though, was the mango tartlet, but the Aileen’s carrot cake with mascarpone cream was very moist and flavorful.
To set the scene for you this Saturday afternoon in Shanghai, it was dark and brooding outdoors, but here in the Four Seasons Lobby Lounge, you could hear string and piano music playing as you eased back into your deep-upholstered chair and sipped Taiwan’s finest oolong tea. It was a wonderful way to spend a weekend afternoon. Service and ambience are always high at Four Seasons Hotels and this was no exception.