I have always wanted to have tea at the Hotel Del Coronado. In my mind, having afternoon tea in the Crown Room at the Hotel Del must be one of the crowning jewels coveted by all who appreciate afternoon tea gems. 🙂 So when my friends N. and S. wistfully expressed their desire to have tea at the Hotel Del, I didn’t hesitate!
Afternoon tea was served daily at the Hotel Del from the time it opened its doors in 1888 until the 1950s. Today, it is only served during the week before Christmas. If you would like to experience afternoon tea at the Del, make your reservations early (November) because seatings sell out every year. Full payment is required for reservations with a 48 hour cancellation notice.
I could hardly wait for Tea Day! As you can see, the description of Victorian tea at the Hotel Del is indeed very enticing!
“Take a step back in time with classic Victorian tea for the holidays. Enjoy a variety of teas, finger sandwiches and sweets while beautiful music sets the atmosphere. Ladies and gentlemen, mothers and daughters and good friends will love this charming tradition.”
The Hotel was decked out in Christmas cheer …… and Hanukkah too!According to Wikipedia, when the Hotel Del opened its doors in 1888, it was the largest resort hotel in the world. Due to a lumber and labor shortage in San Diego at the time, the hotel would not have been realized if it had not been for lumber shipped all the way from Eureka, California and the labor of Chinese immigrants from San Francisco and Oakland. The Crown Room was architect James W. Reid’s masterpiece. Its massive wooden ceiling was installed completely with pegs and glue–Not a single nail was used. Unless you are attending a special event (e.g., wedding) or Sunday brunch (which costs a hefty $93), you may never get to experience the glory of the Crown Room. Ask me how excited I was, by the idea of having afternoon tea (a Victorian one at that!) in the Crown Room? 🙂
When we checked in with the hostess at the door for tea, we were escorted promptly to our table. I was a bit confused upon entering the tea room. The Crown Room was much smaller and not at all as grand as photos I’d seen. What happened? I know I’m getting older but my memory is still as sharp as an elephant’s. 😉
As we sat down, it was difficult for me to contain my disappointment and my friends noticed. S. inquired with the waitress about the Crown Room and much to our relief, we learned that we were not actually in the Crown Room but in the Coronet Room which is a smaller, less spectacular room next to the Crown Room. While we were relieved to know that the Crown Room still existed and had not been re-purposed or made obsolete, we were nevertheless disappointed that we did not get to sit in the Crown Room as anticipated. This, unfortunately, was the first of many disappointments …
Another less spectacular sight … dozens of caddies filled with desserts, sitting out in the open room. Pretty, but not so appetizing? Unlike a buffet table where the food has a higher turnover, this food was displayed as part of the decoration and must have been sitting for awhile since we were the 3rd seating of the day. The only other decoration in the room was a single Christmas tree at the entrance.The Hotel Del is a white tablecloth establishment, but there was no fine china or proper tea cups! Only coffee cups!
Upon seating, the wait staff (of which there were many!) offered us glasses of champagne (with a splash of raspberry chambord) and Martinelli’s (with a splash of pomegranate juice). According to the waiter, the splash of chambord/pomegranate juice in the champagne/Martinelli’s reflected the colors of a sunset. How very San Diego. 😉
Apparently, the Hotel Del has not changed their tea menu in at least 11 years (or so that was the understanding I got from the wait staff).
The tea selection was small but the water temperature was just right for brewing loose leaf tea which made me happy. The tea warmers kept the tea at the right sipping temperature. I tried the black currant and Darjeeling teas (misspelled on the menu) and both were good. I appreciated that we each got our own teapot so we could choose the tea we wanted. My only complaint about the tea service is that the servers did not pour the first cup for us and we had to brew our own tea. Though it is nice to be able to brew tea to my own taste, I prefer to do that at home and not to deal with tea leaves unless the tea room provides tea strainers.
The next disappointment … the sandwiches, savories, and scones were served on plates and not caddies. I think that took away part of the charm of afternoon tea. There were also some tiny errors in execution that ruined an otherwise decent plate of sandwiches and savories. Firstly, the toppings/garnish on some of the savories had fallen on the edge of the plate and the spoon with the egg salad was covered in cream on one side. In other words, the plate looked messy (Note: I cropped the messes out of the photo). Secondly, the herb cured salmon was excellent, probably among the best I’ve ever had. Easily the best item on the plate, it was slightly ruined by the dried roe on top (I think it had been left out in the open for too long and had formed a hard crust on the outside). The crab salad was a bit fishy but that seems to be par for the course because most crab savories I’ve had in tea houses have been on the fishy side. I don’t mind briny but fishy is not appetizing. With the exception of the cucumber sandwich, all the other sandwiches were made with toasted bread which was cold by the time it was served. This gave the bread a crunchy chewy kind of texture that was a little hard to eat. I also didn’t care for the golden raisin scone (raisins aside).
Unlike the sandwiches and savories, the desserts were served on caddies. The desserts were generous and okay. I was a little disappointed that the wait staff were not more knowledgeable about what was being served. Sometimes, there aren’t enough wait staff in tea rooms. At the Del, there were too many wait staff and unfortunately, all seemed equally uninformed. They were also surprisingly casual and informal. Again, my expectations might have been too unrealistic but for the location and the price tag of the tea ($79), I expected some basic tea serving etiquette and a little bit more formality. On the subject of formality, I was dressed for tea (not even to the nines!) but felt overdressed. There is something wrong about that! It’s sad day when you’re having afternoon tea, at the Hotel Del no less, and you feel overdressed. 😦
Lastly, “the beautiful music that sets the atmosphere” was a guy playing Christmas carols and popular holiday tunes on the electric guitar. Hardly the “Victorian” or afternoon tea atmosphere or vibe I was expecting! I had envisioned a harpist or a pianist. Is that too cliche?
Despite the disappointments, the tea prevailed where it mattered most. As noted in the tea keepsake menu, “Afternoon tea … is the Victorian tradition of taking time to restore the body and replenish the spirit.” Over the years, I’ve learned that the success of the afternoon tea experience is measured by the friendship and sharing that occurs over tea. The icing on the cake is when the food, tea, service, and location come together to create that perfect experience but when it doesn’t, you can still have your cake and eat it too when you are in the company of good friends. 🙂 Thank you N. and S. for a lovely afternoon that I will always remember because of your company and friendship!
The latest creations by the local Sand Castle Man:
“Teatime is, by its very nature, a combination of small luxuries
arranged in social symmetry. And although tea for one
is certainly a fine thing, the addition of a circle of dear
friends to share it with ensures the whole is larger
than its parts.”