Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beautiful Afternoon Tea at The Urban Tea Merchant

The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon

(Photographs courtesy of my dining companion.)

table setting - bowl of brown sugar
(What is TWG Tea?)

Had a very unrushed, relaxed, tea service at The Urban Tea Merchant (Georgia / Alberni location) on Monday to get together with a friend I hadn't seen in a very long time.

From the get-go, the experience is calm, friendly, polite -- like something you might receive at the highest calibre of restaurant dining. The food is carefully crafted to look neat and beautiful, with little touches here and there to raise it from the ordinary: For example, chocolate dipped strawberries had three drops of white cream (?) to add decoration and interestingness to them; and miniature waffle cones had sesame seeds to add to the aroma of the waffles, which held very rich fillings, and which were smartly dressed in gold foil wraps.

This is definitely quality over quantity, and with it comes a very appropriate ambiance and excellent service. The tea service is comprised of one or two-bite samplings, each carefully prepared and with a richness that may catch you off guard if you're not expecting it. At the same time, the rich feel isn't so overwhelming as to be greasy, which can sometimes be the case. For instance, the scones had enough butter to be in the aroma, but not so much that butter dominates the smell and flavour.

Unless you eat like a bird, you should not expect to walk away from their Afternoon Tea feeling full despite the price at which it is offered -- but that isn't the point of Afternoon Tea (and there is a not-a-tea-service menu which I will have to return to try at some point). Afternoon Tea is more like a selection of delightful desserts to be savoured while you unhurriedly pass the time in delightful company.

For our noon get-together, we chose the Taste of India Petite Afternoon Tea (on for a limited time), and Sweet Share Plate. Faced with the bewildering array of tea, we opted for a rooibush and let our server suggest two scents to try, which turned out to be Jade of Africa and Lemon Bush.

We were started off with a lemon sorbet with a sliced strawberry at the bottom. As sorbets go, this was the creamiest I'd ever had, and more ice cream than sorbet, which typically has a ground-ice texture. The mango flavor was also very intense.

mango sorbet

At this point, I must confess I found the Taste of India Petite Afternoon Tea to be somewhat disappointing, as the only thing that really leapt out at us as being Indian was a sandwich with a curried filling. As far as a tea service selection went, you had sandwiches on the bottom tray (with some pickles and olives on the side), a couple of waffles with creamy fillings, a single scone with cream and jelly on the middle tray, and a dessert tray on top with a mini-burger-like macaroon/macaron (which had the look of a biscuit that would fall apart inconveniently at one bite, like an Oreo might, but which held together very nicely) and a chocolate-dipped strawberry.
As we each had one tray, our macarons were different, evidently randomly drawn from a stash of various flavours.

taste of india petite afternoon tea 4

taste of india petite afternoon tea 3

taste of india petite afternoon tea 2

taste of india petite afternoon tea 1

The Sweet Share Plate was half fresh fruit (with sad-looking grapes, unfortunately) and a half sampling of two random macarons, two "sparkling cookies" (like brownies and covered in sugar), four small truffles, two random patries, and two chocolate-dipped strawberries.
I'd be curious to see if (for example) three diners would get a slightly smaller selection but samples selected in threes.

sweet share plate 2

sweet share plate 1

The bill came out to a clean $60 before taxes, $80.20 after tax and tip.

For interestingness, The Urban Tea Merchant is no ShakTea, but those looking for a more traditional looking and tasting tea service in a brighter and more western-looking room should definitely drop by. The tea salon is "in the back" with an entrance facing the quieter Alberni Street rather than the main thoroughfare that is downtown West Georgia.

The store itself has many beautiful and ornate things -- definitely more than just tea, and with the exotic ambiance of India and Africa and a selection that includes beautifully bound journals, chocolate spreads, bathroom products, and rich tablecloths. Worth a browse if you've never been.

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