It was 2:45 pm and I had arrived early for the Afternoon Tea Service at The Peninsula Hotel in Chicago. From the moment you walk in, you sense something different, elegant. You get the feeling that if you simply think of a request, someone would appear to fulfill it without any further effort on your part.
Finding some available seating nearby, I decided to take in the ambiance of one of the finest hotel operators in the world. You first become aware of the soft, almost imperceptible, classical music emanating from some invisible-background source. Then I notice three french-speaking gentlemen checking out and another guest deeply ensconced in an upholstered sofa busily tapping away on his laptop. Occasionally the “bing” of the elevator signals another set of guests arriving to check into this ultra luxury hotel. The tone is busy but orderly.
Shortly after 3:00 pm, I am shown to my table in “The Lobby” which, fortunately, was located right next to a wall of 20 foot high windows, diffusing mid-afternoon sunlight into the room. Traditional Afternoon Tea at “The Pen” Chicago is served here – a large, beautiful, high ceilinged, airy room on the 5th floor, adjacent to the hotel’s main lobby.
A staff member soon came by and asked if I had made my choice for tea for the afternoon. I asked her if there was a particular variety that she could recommend. After discussing a few options, we settled on one from the “Premium” side of the menu – a black Himalayan Peak Darjeeling Organic from India. It was truly spectacular.
Directly next to me was a table of three young women, in their 20’s, who seemed to be celebrating some happy occasion. In addition to the Traditional Afternoon Tea, they had ordered a bottle of champagne. I couldn’t help but notice a twinkle in one of the young ladies’ eyes as she gently reached for the three tier tray, carefully choosing one of the sweets or savouries.
I was enjoying the view from my 20 foot high window, listening to the classical music, and sipping my Darjeeling when the three tier tray arrived. I was told that I might want to direct my attention to the spring pea and lemon ricotta quiche as it was the only item served warm.
You just never know what is going to be to your liking, but one of the first items I tried turned out to be unforgettable. It was an heirloom tomato with herbed cream cheese, fresh basil on pain de mie – absolutely mouth watering. You can see it in the picture below, located right behind the quiche. Later, it completely slipped my mind that “replenishments” were an option for anything on the three tier tray. How could I have missed requesting a second?
Directly ahead of me was a table of seven men, formal-looking business types to be sure, with one gray-haired gentleman doing most of the talking. The remainder seemed to be dutifully listening, politely nodding and otherwise sitting up very straight. They were having tea (or coffee) and no doubt discussing strategy for some future business endeavour. Curiously six of the seven were wearing conservative business attire, while the last looked like he was on his way to the racetrack.
The savoury items in the picture above are 1) smoked salmon on a toasted brioche, with salmon mousse and caviar, 2) smoked chicken salad with apricot marmalade, wild arugala on multi grain bread, 3) the quiche, and 4) the outstanding heirloom tomato.
Also served were a plain scone and a star anise pernod scone with a mint chocolate milano cookie.
Sweets included a chai creme bar, a rasberry chocolate tart, rhubarb vanilla panna cotta, a pistachio fromage blanc and a red velvet cupcake. Near the end of the service, you almost forget that there is a coconut-lime souffle on the menu. Then it too appears.
The china service is Wedgewood Bone China – India.
All good things must come to an end, but as I was arranging for the bill, a staff member informed me that he had already called downstairs to have my car brought around. Why not spend an extra ten minutes at my table rather than the wait on the busy street outdoors? Perfect.