Monday, September 3, 2012

Beautiful on the inside at Pâtisserie Für Elise

Patisserie Für Elise on Urbanspoon Of the afternoon tea places I've been to, Pâtisserie Für Elise easily tops the list as having the most beautiful and interesting room. It's a colourful "Queen Anne style" Victorian heritage building, one of an out-of-place seeming clump near the Vancouver Public Library downtown.
If you think it needs a sign outside (and they have had one prepared for quite a while now) or could stand a colour-makeover so it doesn't look so Disney-ish, then you'll likely go crazy with the restrictions placed on Heritage buildings in Vancouver. They aren't even allowed to wash the exterior of the building without a permit, and it can't be power-washed because the water jets might damage the exterior. To have been allowed to make over the interior to support the everything-made-in-house bakery standard was probably nothing short of miraculous in the first place.

The dress in the window always made me think this place was a sort of old-fashioned tailor, but it turns out that is the uniform of the staff (with minor variations). Where the bright, white, almost vintage doll-house look finally falters in "art direction" is in the multi-cultural staff and the mixed selection of colourful, flowery, teacups from the owner's collection. Nevertheless the calm, polite, and very pleasant staff make visiting this confectionery a very pleasant experience. There's a wonderful ambiance here that makes you feel like it's a treat just to be there, and it's definitely a safe place to bring out-of-towners or anyone you'd like to impress. More than any other place, Pâtisserie Für Elise has a room that captures the romance of afternoon tea.

The patisserie itself is downstairs, and has a disappointingly small selection. Everything is apparently made in-house by the very shy owner, and looks beautiful. We were there for their afternoon tea, but the opera cake ($5.50) looked wonderful and I ordered just the one rectangular slice to share at the end. It definitely did not disappoint.

Our afternoon tea was $30 and included: (sweets plate, savories plate)
  • One pot of tea
    • Came with a small hourglass that measured out the 3 minute steeping time.
    • Had a clip in the spout that was supposed to help with the pouring, but for some of us (myself included) it didn't. Anyway, to be on the safe side, you may want to touch the neck of the pot to your cup in case the tea dribbles down the neck.
    • There was also a bird-shaped plate with a bird-shaped metal strainer. The metal strainer balances on the side of your cup and you very SLOWLY pour the tea into it so that it can catch any loose leaves. Pour SLOWLY because the tea can't get through the strainer quickly enough. Definitely not for the impatient! The plate holds the strainer when you take it off your cup and it's wet.
  • Chef's choice starter
    • We got a crème brûlée style cream without the caramelized top; instead, it was topped with a wedge of mandarin orange.
  • Prosciutto, brie and fresh basil sandwich
    • A single leaf of basil tucked in prosciutto sandwiched in a small, buttery, croissant.
    • Not shy with the butter here for taste and aroma. Slightly oily, but still fluffy.
  • Cucumber dill finger sandwich
    • A curious take on this with the slices of cucumber topping the sandwhich instead of being inside.
    • Sharp, fresh flavour on the very creamy spread.
    • A bit messy to eat if you don't manually insert the cucumber into the sandwich as the cream inside has a tendency to squish out, made worse with the cucumber on the outside rather than just the soft bread. Also big enough that it's a two-biter. Overall a bit awkward and I would have preferred it to have been pre-cut into two one-bite portions.
  • Wild mushrooms quiche
    • A very thin crust here in a long leaf / canoe shape.
    • Of the entire selection probably the mildest flavoured, but definitely mushroomy.
  • Scone with sweet crumble top
    • About the size of a ping pong ball and it cut quite cleanly in half. Buttery but not overly so. Nice aroma to it.
    • Served with a sweet confiture (fruit preserve) that was bursting with flavour. Also an almost white and light/creamy butter with a fainter butter taste than the yellowed butter you normally get in the supermarket. More similar to what you might get if you made your own butter.
  • Petit Für Elise Daisy Tartlet
    • Pastry shell featuring a ball of fruity (strawberry) cream concealing fruit inside.
    • The pastry shell didn't compete with the taste of the soft ball of fruity cream.
  • Macaron
    • Chewy! I haven't had enough macarons to really evaluate this.
    • The filling wasn't very consistently applied and that somewhat ruined the look of it in comparison with the attention to appearance the other items had.
  • Pâte de fruit
    • Tiny cube of this, about a centimeter to a side. Inconsistent sizing. Three pieces, each a different flavour.
    • Nice, strong, clear fruity flavour.
  • Some sort of white, firm, creamy dessert with a bit of fruit inside. Can't remember what it was, exactly.
  • Mini Sachertorte
    • Chocolatey with a bit of fruit tucked inside and sitting on a thin biscuit. A miniature version of the famous dessert.
    • Richest of the selection and it was recommended we save it for last.
  • EXTRA - I also got our party of six a slice of their opera cake.
    • It's a narrow but long slice that sits on a thin, gold-coloured cardboard for easy maneuvering. The portion works out to be slightly larger than most cake portions, which are broader but much shorter.
    • Eight layers of cake topped with a very dark, rich, ninth layer of chocolate on top. Decorated with a bit of gold leaf for that extra touch of class.
    • Delicious! Often opera cake comes through as "just another chocolate cake", but this had a special something to it that made it so much better.
    • My main criticism of this would have to be the cardboard it was sitting on. That pasted itself to the very bottom, very think layer of crunchy chocolate and you just couldn't get the chocolate off until after the cake was devoured and you got to scrape at it, if you really wanted to. I think that layer of crunch might actually have added to the experience of the cake with the crunchy texture. But sadly, I'll never know.
    • Definitely try this if you're there. For $5.50 you get a very rich-tasting sharing portion of cake.
Overall I would have liked to have a pair of tongs to get at the items, especially the sweets on top, where there were a lot of creams and you really needed to be careful and not squeeze too hard. Plus getting at them meant maneuvering your fat fingers amongst the other items. Wash your hands before having your afternoon tea!

For what you get for $30 it's a bit on the pricey side, but made up with excellent craft to the afternoon tea items and the unique ambiance.
They seem quite cautious about reservations and sadly a bit slow in getting back to you over e-mail or by phone. They have very few tables for afternoon tea upstairs, so don't leave things for the very last moment and confirm reservations early..

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