It was a beautiful, sunny day in New York City so I decided to walk to the St. Regis Hotel’s afternoon tea from Grand Central Station. As I made my way up Madison Avenue to 55th Street, I couldn’t help thinking about a television series that’s popular in the U.S. right now. In case you’re unfamiliar, Madison Avenue is the iconic street that is home to New York’s storied advertising agencies, and it’s also the inspiration for the critically acclaimed television series, Mad Men, broadcast in the United States on the AMC Network.
By way of background, the St. Regis Hotel in New York City was built by John Jacob Astor in 1904, the same Astor who was to later give up his seat on an RMS Titanic lifeboat to his young wife and die tragically in the 1912 sinking. Afternoon Tea today is served in the Astor Court of the hotel.
The hotel is a Beaux-Arts landmark and a lasting tribute to old New York. Inside, the Astor Court has 15 tables, all covered in Porthault linens and set with Limoge china made expressly for the hotel. In the center of this elegant room is an enormous bouquet of fresh flowers and decorating the upper portions of the walls are mythological murals. On most days, a harpist or a guitar player provides background music.
As usual, I arrived a bit early for afternoon tea and upon checking in with the Astor Court’s front desk, they advised me that I could be seated if I wanted, spend some time in the adjacent King Cole Bar, or do “anything I liked.” So I opted to take my table early to enjoy the beautiful room and get a head start on the afternoon tea menu.
There are quite a few selections of loose teas including black, green, oolong, white and herbal infusions. I always like to order the local house blend, in this case – “the St. Regis blend of Keemun and Ceylon teas with blackcurrant and the essence of bergamot.” The tea was served in a silver teapot, and I have to say it was one of the best blends that I have tasted so far in my goal to visit 50 afternoon teas in the next twelve months.
Shortly after I was seated, the Waterford crystal chandeliers were dimmed, creating a more dramatic feel to the room – very relaxing and more private, perhaps. The Astor Court is an “interior” room on the hotel’s 1st floor, with only an adjacent room’s natural light coming from Manhattan’s 55th street.
At the St. RegisHotel’s Astor Court Tea, the savoury tea sandwiches and the sweets are served in two courses. At first you will receive a rectangular dish with the crustless tea sandwiches, which include smoked salmon roulade, cucumber naploeon, shrimp with fennel, goat cheese with sun-dried tomato, curried chicken salad with fresh mango, and egg salad. The goat cheese sandwich was my personal favorite, but they were all very good. The pot of tea and the finger sandwiches alone make a good introductory combination.
Later, your waiter will bring you a three tier tray with plain and rum raisin scones on the upper level and assorted petits fours (like lemon meringue and chocolate mousse) on the other two levels. Don’t miss the almond pineapple tea cake. Condiments are English double Devonshire cream, lemon curd and mixed berry jam. I thought the lemon curd was nicely balanced, not too sweet and not too tart.
On this mid-week afternoon, there were quite a few patrons in the Astor Court, including two British families that appeared to rendezvous for afternoon tea. At another table were three young women that looked like they were discussing business matters, but doing so in a beautiful, relaxed and elegant environment.
All in all, I can’t imagine having a more refined and elegant afternoon tea in New York City than at the St. Regis.