Tea at the Westgate Hotel

quotation2Lady K. hosted the autumn tea for the Victorian Tea Society at the fancy Westgate Hotel.  Afternoon tea is held in the Westgate Room, which is the lobby of the hotel.  It can be a little busy with guests coming in and out but it’s a gorgeous setting for afternoon tea.

Tables for afternoon tea

Our table

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VTS table

The ambiance and setting of the hotel was beautiful and it was a joy to sit in the Westgate Room.  However, I have a few complaints…  I hate to complain but after visiting so many tea rooms and hosting a few afternoon teas myself, there are a few things that I see over and over again in tea rooms that just bug the hell out of me!  I’ve decided I’m not going to hold back anymore and just lay it all out in the hopes that the word gets out and tea room owners or managers will take notice.

Each guest gets to order their own tea which is served in individual teapots. I like this a lot!  I tried the classic English blend tea and it was okay.  I don’t have any complaints about their tea selection because they had a good variety–I just happened to pick one that wasn’t very good.  The main problem was that the water was not hot enough which is why my tea seemed under-steeped.

The second disappointment was the very slow service!  Even though we were the first party to arrive for the 2:30pm seating (in fact, we arrived early!), the wait staff did not take our tea orders until 1/2 hour after we were seated (for some of us, that was 45 minutes) and the tea didn’t arrive for another 1/2 hour.

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I liked the individual tea strainers too, just like they have at the Grand Del Mar.

In case you were wondering if the Westgate Hotel offered a vegetarian option for afternoon tea, here it is:

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Vegetarian option: 3 salads (Caesar salad, Bleu cheese and pear with spring mix, and kale salad), cheddar cheese muffin, and Humboldt Fog cheese on brioche

Our food was served tableside by the wait staff, instead of on 3-tier caddies, possibly due to the size of our group.  However, if you have 4 or fewer guests, the food is served on 3-tier caddies.  On the plus side: The presentation of the food was very pretty.

westgatemenuThe menu was a suggestion because the actual food served was a little different.  Comparing the menu above, we were served the following instead: smoked salmon with caviar on brioche (notice the caviar is missing), black tiger shrimp and cilantro cream cheese on sourdough toast, white cheddar cheese muffin, Humboldt fog goat cheese on brioche, and curried chicken salad sandwich.  My two major complaints related to food:

  1. I don’t mind when the menu changes but it really bugs me when the wait staff can’t explain what the foods are!
  2. All the sandwiches were extremely dry or so crisp that when you took a bite, the filling got squished out or slid off the bread or toast!
  3. The food was obviously made far in advance.  The wait staff brought out the food on platters still covered in plastic wrap which implies it had been sitting in the fridge.  For the sake of appearances, the plastic wrap should have been removed in the kitchen and not at the table before serving.  It seemed tacky to me and inappropriate for an establishment that is trying to promote white tablecloth fancy dining.
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Shrimp with cilantro cream cheese on sourdough toast, cheddar cheese muffin, smoked salmon canape, curried chicken salad sandwich, Humboldt fog goat cheese on brioche

When one of the ladies marveled at the caviar on the salmon canape, I was disappointed that my salmon canape lacked the caviar.  One of the wait staff overhead me so she brought out a new one for me!  (OK, so the staff got brownie points for this)

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Smoked salmon with caviar (yes, the salmon was as dry as it looked)

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Berries ‘n’ cream and Raisin vanilla scone with clotted cream

A big plus: The scones were top notch!  Look how big there were, taking up the entire plate!  I picked out the raisins but still thoroughly enjoyed the scone.  I’d come back just for their scones!  I’m so glad they got the scones right!  I have a theory that the secret to a good scone is the size.  They have to be just the right size (biscuit size) or else they risk being overbaked and dry.

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Left to right, clockwise: Mocha cake, lemon cheesecake, blueberry muffin, coffee macaron, fruit tart

The desserts were beautiful but two of them had coffee in them which the wait staff did not identify, even when asked.  For example, the opera cake is garnished with a coffee bean but the wait staff insisted there was no coffee in it (well, there was coffee in it). 😦

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The fruit tart was delicious!  That was my favorite dessert

All in all, I had mixed feelings about having afternoon tea here.  It’s beautiful and there was an attempt at making the food interesting.  However, the setting did not make up for the lack of service, quality of the food, and warm tea.  That said, I would come here for afternoon tea over the Hotel del Coronado any day!  So if you’re looking for something fancy, and are thinking about the Hotel del, choose the Westgate instead.

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Tea favors: Cookies from the Good Stuff Cookie Co., a bakery that specializes in stuffed cookies! Chocolate cookie and peanut butter oatmeal

Lady K. gifted us with cookies from the Good Stuff Cookie Co., a bakery that specializes in stuffed cookies!  Now these, I highly recommend! 😉

Yum! Inside the stuffed cookie

Thank you Lady K. for hosting an elegant and lovely tea!  Despite my misgivings, it was so nice to get together and see everyone.  It really is the company that matters.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — a tea table

[NOTE: This is part one of two related posts.  The impetus for this tea table was the 2nd annual afternoon tea fundraiser]

I have always wanted to host a Alice in Wonderland tea party because the creative possibilities are endless.  After rereading the book, I was convinced it was a mad but grand idea and decided to pursue it.  I found inspiration in the most unlikely of places–in a recycling pile in the garage!  I spied a big box that once housed a new bicycle and decided to re-purpose the box back to its former glory as a tree.  This 3 ft. tall tree became the centerpiece for an Alice in Wonderland themed tea table in an upcoming tea fundraiser event.

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cheshire Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where –”
Cheshire Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

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“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice. “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”

I constructed the tree using cardboard, construction paper, paper, wire, and acrylic paint.  Each side of the tree depicts a moment from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  I wanted my guests to see something different no matter where they were seated at the table.

“Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!”

White Rabbit: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

With the tree ready to go, I started setting the table itself.

Mad Hatter: “Would you like a little more tea?”
Alice: “Well, I haven’t had any yet, so I can’t very well take more.”
March Hare: “Ah, you mean you can’t very well take less.”
Mad Hatter: “Yes. You can always take more than nothing.”

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I added LED lights to the tree

To pay tribute to the Queen of Hearts and her subjects, the napkins on the table were black or red and folded as one of 4 card suits: heart, diamond, spade, or club.  I also scattered playing cards all over the table.

“Get to your places!” shouted the Queen in a voice of thunder, and people began running about in all directions, tumbling up against each other; however, they got settled down in a minute or two, and the game began. Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all ridges and furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingoes, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and to stand on their hands and feet, to make the arches.

The decorations on the backs of the chairs were from the Talking Tables Truly Alice party prop set.  They were great for hiding imperfect bows but also added to the whimsy of the table.

There seemed to be no use in waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it, (“which certainly was not here before,” said Alice,) and round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words DRINK ME beautifully printed on it in large letters.

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Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words EAT ME were beautifully marked in currants. “Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice, “and if it makes me grow larger, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I’ll get into the garden, and I don’t care which happens!”

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Tea party favors — homemade shortbread

“Twinkle twinkle, little bat
How I wonder what you’re at?
Up above the world you fly
Like a tea tray in the sky.”

Here the Dormouse shook itself, and began singing in its sleep “Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle–” and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.

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Dormouse–this little guy is at least 40 years old!

To be continued ….

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September High Tea at Marlene’s Tea & Cakes

I was thrilled when Marlene’s Tea & Cakes agreed to cater our upcoming afternoon tea fundraiser and couldn’t turn down an opportunity to join Lady J. for a tea tasting.

It’s no secret that my favorite tea house is Marlene’s Tea & Cakes.  I have posted about Marlene’s many times and never tire of having afternoon tea there (and that’s saying a lot because I get bored easily when it comes to food).  If you have never visited Marlene’s, you are missing out!  Let me count the ways …
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The table settings are always gorgeous and meticulous (ironed white tablecloths, fresh flowers, delicate china, crystal glasses …).  Most tea houses get the table settings and ambiance just right.  However, they usually fail in one of three areas: Tea, food, or both!  I don’t care how beautiful, charming, or cute a tea house is.  If the tea house does not serve properly brewed tea or decent food, it is neither a tea house or a restaurant.  A pretty house will not keep me coming back.  Marlene’s is the complete package!At Marlene’s, the tea is always hot and, most importantly, properly brewed.  Marlene brews and tests every pot of tea herself.  She won’t serve anything that isn’t up to her standards.  I have the utmost admiration and respect for her passion and commitment to excellence and quality.  She is a woman after my own heart.

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My favorite tea from Marlene’s tea menu, (above) hands-down, is Paris.  On this visit, Lady J. and I tried the Lady Londonderry and I dare say it’s a close second to Paris.  Other wonderful teas are Creme au caramel and Roasted almond & fruit, which happen to be caffeine free.  If you don’t know which tea to choose, Marlene is happy to help you make a selection!

Lady Londonderry Tea (Black tea, lightly and elegantly flavored with strawberry, lemon balm leaves, calendula and sunflower petals)

Ahhh …! The food …!  My favorite thing about Marlene’s is the food.  Marlene excels in tea foods and makes savories and sweets equally well.  Her menu changes monthly with ingredients that keep up with the seasons–her culinary creations are imaginative, creative, gorgeous, and delicious.  I look at her menu every month just to see what she comes up with next!

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Potato leek soup with puff twist (I love that Marlene left some of the red potato peel in the soup to give it texture!)

Marlene also takes great pride in the plating of the food.  I appreciate the effort she makes in the presentation–she is an artist.

Bonus: Banana bread with our scones!

Marlene’s sandwiches are the freshest in the business.  Even though both Lady J. and I know a few tricks about tea sandwiches, we still marvel at the freshness of the sandwich breads at Marlene’s!

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Egg salad and watercress sandwich; Cucumber and carrot sandwich; Turkey, cheddar, and apple butter panini; Mini beef Wellington; and Bleu cheese mascarpone red onion confit quiche

This double chocolate zucchini bundt cake is why I love Marlene’s.  She’s always willing to push the limit and try something different.  This cake was scrumptious!

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Double chocolate zucchini bundt cake

In addition to being a top notch chef/pastry chef, Marlene is a gracious, warm, and lovely hostess.  She tries to make every visit special whether it’s a personal visit to the table, an extra pot of tea, or additional goodies not on the menu (on this day, we got some banana bread with our scones).  I highly recommend a visit–plan an elegant party, have tea with a loved one, or invite your girlfriends for tea.  You will not be disappointed with afternoon tea at Marlene’s Tea & Cakes!  NOTE: Reservations are required.

If you are cold, tea will warm you,
If you are heated, it will cool you,
If you are depressed, it will cheer you,
If you are excited, it will calm you.

–William E. Gladstone

November high tea

The Tea Committee celebrated their hard work on the anniversary tea in September by having high tea at (where else?) Marlene’s Tea & Cakes.  Still my favorite tearoom to date, I’m always happy to have afternoon tea here!  The food and tea were fantastic as always!

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Beautiful table settings 

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Roasted almond and fruit herbal tea with roasted caramelized almonds, apple, cinnamon, and beetroot pieces (yes, it really is a lovely reddish rose color). This tea tastes like an almond bear claw!

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Butternut squash soup with puff twist (The soup is always excellent. I appreciate that it’s served hot)

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Mini beef Wellington; Turkey, cranberry, and brie sandwich; Cucumber and herb sandwich; Toasted ham tomato and cheese sandwich; Blue cheese mascarpone and caramelized red onion confit quiche

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Fresh fruit and Cranberry lemon scones (Marlene’s scones are the best!)

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Pumpkin cheesecake trifle, Upside down pear gingerbread, Chocolate opera cake, and Raspberry & cream spritz cookie

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My favorite is this little gem, the red onion confit quiche. The caramelized red onions are what make this so special!

The pumpkin cheesecake trifle was excellent. Tasted like fall!

The pumpkin cheesecake trifle was excellent. Tasted like fall!

Marlene made the afternoon even more special with her bonus surprise dessert, homemade banana bread (it was more like a cake!) following all the wonderful food we already had!  This is just one of the many ways that Marlene tries to make every tea experience a special one.  The proof is in the details and the pride she takes in everything she does.  Thank you Marlene, for caring so much!

Thank you again to the Tea Committee and Marlene for all your hard work on the 35th Anniversary Celebration Tea!

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”

― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

VTS Autumn Tea 2015

Lady K. hosted the 2015 Victorian Tea Society Autumn Tea.

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The table settings are meticulous. See the tablecloth

invitationautumnteaI had been wanting to visit Marlene’s Tea & Cakes ever since they opened so I was excited when I learned that Lady K. had chosen to host the next VTS tea here.  DSC05862 (Small)Marlene’s is an elegant white tablecloth tea house and I appreciate the spacious interior.  I get nervous when I visit tea houses with too many china cabinets and furniture arranged in too-close-for-comfort quarters resembling Victorian parlors.grass

The next important detail was the tea.  It was brewed properly (thank you, THANK YOU!), the temperature of the tea stayed warm for a long time, and the selection was wonderful.

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Paris (black tea with bergamot and hints of vanilla and caramel). A very smooth black tea. Excellent!  I love the lady bug on the inside of this teacup!

menuOne thing I really appreciate about Marlene’s is the attention and care given to the food, its quality, its presentation, and its variety.  They change their menu monthly (not just seasonally!) which keeps customers coming back (unlike other tea houses that shall not be named)!

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Mango & Friends herbal tea, lightly sweetened by dried mango, oranges, and blossoms

Butternut squash soup

Butternut squash soup (delicious with a hint of curry!)

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Sandwiches and savories (left to right, clockwise from top): Cucumber sandwich, Blue cheese mascarpone and red onion confit quiche, Sweet & savory turkey pinwheel, Ham and sweet potato biscuit, and Mini beef Wellington.

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Fresh fruit and raspberry & white chocolate scones.  See how the fruit is so nicely cut?

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Bonus dessert: Marlene’s pumpkin bread with cream cheese frosting

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Desserts (left to right, clockwise from top): Marlene’s teacake (shortbread), Pumpkin bread, Carrot cake, Mini pumpkin pie, and Chocolate toffee trifle.

All the food was excellent.  Furthermore, Marlene was a pastry chef before she opened her tea house and it shows in the quality and creative execution of her desserts!  I don’t understand tea houses that outsource their desserts or foods. 😦

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Lady K’s tea favor (vegan gluten-free sugar cookies from Starry Lane Bakery). The fall colors and theme were a very nice touch!

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Lady M’s tea favor (Pumpkin spice potpourri)

One of the Victorian Tea Society’s traditions is to buy a gift for the hostess.  Lady K. received a Downton Abbey Christmas tea ornament from Lady T. that was particularly charming.  I had to include this here as a feast for the eyes since it possesses the hallmark of every good miniature: Details!  You will see something different from every angle!

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CUTE TEA THING: Downton Abbey Christmas tree ornament with silver teapot and 2 china teacups (photo by Lady J.) FRONT

Okay everyone, all together now … “Awwww … how cuuuute!!”  I know, right? 😉

Photo by Lady J.

CUTE TEA THING: Cucumber sandwiches and scones (photo by Lady J.) BACK

Marlene’s is definitely going down in my books as my favorite tea house!  Thank you Lady K. for hosting a wonderful autumn tea!

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The Witches Tea 2015

It’s my favorite time of the year again, Halloween!  Hosting the annual Witches Tea is one of my little joys!
2015 witches tea invitation

New tablecloth!

New tablecloth!  Like the candy corn teeth? 😉

Place setting

Place setting

Witchy details

Witchy details

Napkins

Printed and themed paper napkins are a great way to dress up glass plates.  I own a set of clear glass plates and teacups so I can have this flexibility when decorating.

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Themed napkins for dressing up the table and glass teacups

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Witches' brew (matcha latte)

Witches’ brew (matcha latte)

Witches’ brew (matcha latte)

1/2-1 tsp. matcha powder (I use Royal Matcha)
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. almond milk
1 tsp. agave (or sugar)

Heat water to 180 degrees.  Add matcha powder and agave to a cup.  Pour 1/2 c. of water into the cup and whisk the tea until bubbly.  Warm up the milk (optional: use a milk frother to make foamy).  Pour milk over the top of the matcha tea.  Dust the top with more matcha powder if desired.

Halloween elixer (pumpkin chai latte)

Halloween elixer (pumpkin chai latte)

Halloween elixer (pumpkin chai latte)
(yield: four 6 oz. cups)

1 cup of strong brewed chai tea (from tea bag or from scratch)
1/2 cup milk or non-dairy milk
2 Tbsp. pumpkin chai latte mix (recipe below)

Add 2 Tbsp. of pumpkin chai latte mix to the tea.  Mix until smooth using a whisk or hand blender.  Fill a cup 3/4 with tea.  Warm the milk (optional: use a milk frother to make foamy) and pour enough milk over the tea to fill the rest of the cup.  I usually use a 3:1 ratio of tea to milk but you can use 1/2 tea, 1/2 milk.  Serve hot and enjoy!

Pumpkin chai latte mix

1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup light brown sugar (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Mix ingredients together.  Use right away or keep in fridge for up to a week.  Use as needed.

Sweet potato shepherd's pie

Sweet potato shepherd’s pie by Witch Broomhilda

Purple monster eater

Purple monster eater (open faced eggplant tartine sandwitch by Witch Agate)

Dragon's eggs

Dragon’s eggs by Witch Henni

Rat tails and lizard cheeks sandwitches (see the rat tails?) :)

Rat tails and lizard cheeks sandwitches (see the radish rat tails?) 🙂 by Witch Henni

Golden enchanted pudding

Golden enchanted pudding by Witch Henni

Squeamish scones

Squeamish scones

Pumpkin guts

Pumpkin guts cupcakes by Witch Hazel

Tea party favors

Spooky tea party favors

We concluded the Witches Tea by drawing some cards from (what else? :)) the Halloween oracle!  The cards held us in thrall, revealing uncanny truths, keeping us mesmerized to the very end.

The witches outdid themselves this year.  The food was wickedly delicious and the afternoon spellbinding.  Thank you, ghoul friends! 🙂

 “As spirits roam the neighborhoods at night,
Let loose upon the Earth till it be light…”

–Nicholas Gordon

Bit o’ Britain

Another successful and fun year of the Victorian Tea Society was concluded by the final VTS Tea of 2013, hosted by Lady K. at Bit o’ Britain.  A British foods shop, gift shop, and tea room rolled into one, Bit o’ Britain offers traditional British fare such as Shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties, pub sandwiches, and afternoon tea.

Vegan, gluten-free sugar cookies from Starry Lane Bakery

Lady K.’s tea favors: Vegan, gluten-free sugar cookies from Starry Lane Bakery!

We sampled 4 teas: PG tips, Yorkshire Gold, Ahmed blackcurrant black tea, and Ahmed Darjeeling.  My favorite of the 4 teas was the blackcurrant tea, only because I drink the other teas quite regularly.  Call me a tea snob but I am always a little disappointed when tea houses use tea bags because part of the joy of afternoon tea is slowing down and being able to enjoy a cup of properly brewed tea.  I can use tea bags at home … heck, I usually only use tea bags at work!  I actually take the time to brew loose-leaf tea at home!  🙂

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Table setting

Our first course was a savory, pork sausage rolls, which I enjoyed.  It tasted very much like England.  🙂

Savory course: Pork sausage rolls

1st course (savory): Pork sausage rolls

Next came the tea caddy loaded with sandwiches, scones, and many desserts!

Tea caddy

Tea caddy

The sandwich course consisted of 3 sandwiches: Ham and tomato, cucumber, and turkey and tomato.  They were ordinary and I did not enjoy them since they were slathered in mayo, probably to make up for the dry bread.  There is no excuse for serving sandwiches with dry bread!  There are tricks to keeping the bread fresh, even if the sandwiches must be refrigerated or made in advance (although I expect a tea house to make them to order!).  The cucumber sandwich was the least appetizing of the bunch due to the marinated cucumbers that were overly sweet and tart at the same time.  The vinegar was overwhelming.  For once, I would have welcomed butter on a cucumber sandwich since the mayo called unnecessary attention to the over-marinated cucumbers.

Ham and tomato sandwich, cucumber sandwich, turkey and tomato sandwich

Sandwich course: Ham and tomato sandwich, cucumber sandwich, turkey and tomato sandwich

DSC02505 (Small)The scones were on the sweet side but I appreciated being given the option of a plain scone.  The scones were decent and served with Devonshire cream, strawberry jam, and lemon curd.

Plain and raisin scones

Plain and raisin scones

There were a lot of desserts!  It was an interesting array consisting of only one or 2 homemade desserts and the rest were commercially available: Walker shortbread, pumpkin bread (homemade?), lemon cakes, lemon bars, meringue kisses, raisin bread (homemade?), and the pink marshmallow coconut jam biscuits known as Iced VoVo’s (from Australia) or Jacob’s Mikado biscuits (from Ireland).

Assorted desserts

Assorted desserts: Walker shortbread, pumpkin bread, lemon cakes, lemon bars, meringue kisses, raisin bread, and Iced VoVo’s

And last but not least, some tea fashion!

Lady K's spectacular fascinator!

Hostess Lady K’s spectacular fascinator!

As much as I enjoy food, I am reminded with each successive tea experience that the company is always the most enjoyable part of having afternoon tea.  I am the type who usually finds it really difficult to sit at a table with food and not eat.  But when the food is subpar and I don’t feel like eating, I have no choice but to focus on the company–I was really thankful for that today because I was aware of more quality moments with my tea friends.  Thank you to the VTS ladies for always making the afternoon tea experience so enjoyable!  Congratulations to Lady K. on hosting your first tea!

“Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea.”

–Henry Fielding, Love in Several Masques, 1727 (Lady Matchless)