Afternoon tea with jam, cream and scones is practically a British institution, right? Except I know of not one person in Blighty that partakes of this quintessentially English meal.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the art of afternoon tea being embraced by most luxury hotels and their dining establishments here in Hong Kong… and even some not so luxury ones, if the ‘high tea set’ at Spaghetti House is anything to go by (it includes crisps and chicken wings… high tea at a five year old’s birthday party perhaps). In fact, enjoying the tea set at the Peninsula has become one of those ‘must-do’ things here (I’ve done it twice and yes, it goes on the long list of things I mean to write about eventually). However, the Crabtree & Evelyn Tearoom must be one of the few places in HK that specialises only in serving afternoon tea – well that and being quality purveyors of nice-smelling hand cream.
You’d never guess that this quaint little corner of Little England would be tucked away in a nondescript office building in Wan Chai. Crabtree & Evelyn has always cultivated a traditionally English image so I was somewhat surprised to discover that the company is actually American and was founded in the late 1970s. They certainly had me fooled – and with their Tearoom, complete with floral crockery, relaxed atmosphere and scones laden with cream and a variety of jams, they’ve successfully managed to keep up the illusion of being every bit as old-world as the tearooms you might find in an Agatha Christie novel.
Enjoying your tea set – and you really should take time to enjoy it, as that’s practically the whole charm of the thing – is as much about lusting after the pretty-as-a-picture tableware as it is about the food itself. I knew I’d died and gone to chintzy heaven when even the printed napkins matched the teapots. (So much so I banned my boyfriend from using his, so I could take them home to stroke lovingly).
I opted for the rose tea, whilst the boyfriend went for lavender with the menu listing the various health properties each type of tea has – let’s say the rose tea was a little too good for my digestion, if you catch my drift! But it’s always fun to see what looks like pot-pourri floating in your brew and the fragrance was really rather pleasant. The lavender one did taste a bit too much of garden but the rose was not too strong and had a nice, clean taste, both getting considerably better once you stirred in some honey!
The food itself was a little hit and miss. The undoubted star of the set were the scones, which came with enough types of jam to make the WI’s stall at the village fête look positively understocked in comparison. They were warm, buttery, claggy mounds of scrumptious, especially when smeared with liberal lashings of cream and jam. The only sad thing is that scones are so filling, we didn’t manage to polish off the lot! I’d say they were superior to the ones at the Peninsula, to be honest.
The rest of the sweets were decidedly less sensational. There were some fruit tarts that looked better than they tasted, with the fresh fruit element much nicer than the bland hard pastry. The kiwi-topped one had some kind of custard in it that was far too sickly sweet; sorry Mr Crabtree, but Maxims can do better. Eating the four small chocolates was like a confectionary-based form of Russian roulette – my first attempt was a marzipan one, which was disgusting, mainly because I hate marzipan. My boyfriend got luckier with a plain chocolate one with a gorgeously gooey centre, and there was another nice one that had crispy bits in. The final one had the word Amaretto on it, so at least the rich kick of alcohol was expected. It reminded me of that chocolate-eating face-off ad for Revels (‘Coffee!!!’); since they’re small and all different, it makes sharing with your partner-in-crime a little difficult!
Finally, the savouries. To be honest, I was unable to distinguish any difference between the pastries so could not begin to guess what they were filled with! They were acceptable but not exceptional. The sandwiches, however, were in a different league. Then again, I’m a big fan of sandwiches as part of afternoon tea although in any other setting, I won’t touch them! Lovely, soft, fresh white bread (can’t stand places that try and fob me off with brown or worse, wholemeal), filled with lovely soft fresh fillings. Delightful. One was the classic combination of tuna and cucumber (again, I won’t touch cucumber in any other setting!), the other was sliced chicken. There’s nothing more simple than a sandwich but I guess the genius of these were that they really reminded me of what I’d get back home. The best sandwiches are so light you don’t even realise they’re gone until your hands are empty and these were exactly that.
The tea set for two clocks in at $298, which I’d describe as reasonable value for the whole experience rather than just the food itself (HSBC credit card holders also get 10%, which basically cancels out the service charge). I think The Tearoom is also the only place where Crabtree & Evelyn’s beautifully-packaged cookies and preserves are available for sale. It’s best for a lazy day where you can enjoy the meal in the lovely atmosphere – namely, with the divine scent of Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries floating in the air (you actually get a gift-boxed hand cream free; alas, the jar of honey that other reviewers have commented on is now reduced to a jug of the stuff that cannot be taken away!). Even the furniture has an English country house feel, with plush high-backed chairs, marble tables and a pretty veiled gazebo outside if you dare to brave non air-conditioned HK weather. There are only a few tables and given that it is still a shop, you do get customers wandering in, which can feel a little weird as you’re scoffing down your scones. We went on a weekday afternoon, meaning we were the only customers and able to enjoy our meal in peace, quiet and luxury although I imagine weekends are much busier and you’d have to book.
Overall, I had a luverly time but I’m not sure I’m in a hurry to go again, especially as there are so many tea sets to try out in HK. But it was worth it for the atmosphere, which really did feel like home – or at least, the chocolate-box version of it. I even felt like I had to watch my table manners (of course, I always do!), hold my teacup with my pinkie sticking out and come suitably attired (I wore a dress)! Definitely one for girlie girls looking to coo over pretty plates – just don’t hold me responsible if you find yourself disillusioned with Ikea’s finest afterwards!
Shop 126, Sun Hung Kai Centre, 30 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong 2511 0868 (now closed, boo)