Remember when Phoebe called Rachel “vanilla” on Friends?
It certainly wasn’t intended as a compliment then… but in the case of the Pierre Hermé Paris Infiniment Vanille Afternoon Tea at The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, it most definitely is one!
Banish all thoughts of vanilla being bland and boring –Pierre Hermé’s Fetish Infiniment Vanille collection of exquisite pint-sized pastries is the coolest thing to happen to vanilla since the raps in Ice Ice Baby.
Café 103 at The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong is also a pretty perfect afternoon tea location. It’s spacious and relaxed with comfy chairs ideal for lounging about in a pastry-induced coma, plus as one of the highest afternoon tea venues in the city, it delivers stellar views over Hong Kong (when the weather plays ball). I’ve been countless times now and still turn into a snap-happy tourist every visit.
As expected, the desserts were the highlight of the Infiniment Vanilla Afternoon Tea… well come on, you don’t get the patisserie experts from Pierre Hermé Paris in for nothing! Hermé actually created his own signature vanilla flavour, which blends together different varieties from Mexico, Tahiti and Madagascar – meaning a far more complex, fragrant and interesting vanilla flavour than the blandly sweet taste you might be used to.
The afternoon tea’s standout item was the simply gorgeous Tarte Infiniment Vanille (expect to be thoroughly sick of the word vanilla and all its variants by the end of this review!). Buttery shortbread pastry with just the right amount of bite, an intense but also angel-light white chocolate and vanilla ganache, a light layer of cake “imbibed” in vanilla syrup and a silky-smooth topping of airy vanilla mascarpone cream. Welcome to vanilla nirvana folks – this is total dreamy perfection.
There was also the cutest choux pastry in the world, a heaven-sent baby vanilla bomb of decadent cream, fluffy choux and crunchy sable cubes – the latter being an unusual but inspired touch, adding a neat little contrast of textures.
The Emotion Infiniment Vanille was a layered trio of vanilla gelee, baba and mascarpone cream, resulting in what was basically a dessert shot of vanilla textures (right down to the alcohol content!). I liked the warm burr of rum from the baba but alas, it verged on the too sweet for me after a couple of mouthfuls. I also found the almond pound cake too dense and mealy, and I wasn’t a fan of its thick sweet icing either.
Since this is Pierre Hermé, of course there must be a macaron! I love the chewy melt-in-mouth quality of Pierre Herme’s macarons and the vanilla one here was no exception. In fact, I even mumbled “om nom nom” in a state of dessert bliss as I ate it. I saved the chocolate bonbon until last, as a break from the vanilla brigade; it’s wickedly dark, fruity and rich with a gorgeously soft ganache centre, which cuts cleanly through the tea set’s other more fragrant vanilla flavours.
Even the savouries in the Infiniment Vanilla Afternoon Tea have a touch of vanilla in them – although, to be honest, I’m not sure it’s necessary. I’ve been for quite a few Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong afternoon teas now and whilst they’re uniformly great, they’re never quite balanced between savouries and sweets, and this one was also skewed in the sweet direction. Of the three savouries, my runaway favourite was the black truffle mushroom tart; the smell of truffle hit as soon as the afternoon tea was laid down and the tart effortlessly delivered on its enticingly scented promises. Still warm, it was earthy, salty and utterly delicious, and I’d have happily eaten a whole conveyor belt of them.
The crabmeat sandwich with green apple jam was a nice idea but I found it just too mild to provide balance against the dessert party – the jam added yet more sweetness whilst the crab itself could have done with a crack of black pepper to give the whole thing a bit more oomph. There’s an unwritten rule that every afternoon tea must contain a smoked salmon item and lo and behold, there’s one here – pleasant enough with cream cheese, if a little heavy thanks to its dense roll presentation.
There’s also an unwritten rule that all afternoon teas must contain scones – but cover your eyes teatime gods, there aren’t any here! Having a couple of scones as a comparatively less sweet option might have been appreciated but by this point, I was buzzing between crazed sugar highs and sleepy dessert stupor so I doubt I’d have fitted them in anyway!
Overall, the Pierre Hermé Paris Infiniment Vanille Afternoon Tea is as far away from Phoebe’s definition of vanilla as Ross’ was of unagi (a Japanese freshwater eel, not a martial arts technique FYI). Make your reservations fast though – the Ritz-Carlton’s afternoon tea always gets booked up and this one is only available until 24 May 2015. It’s a delicious vanilla daydream you won’t want to wake up from… especially once you get a nibble of that tart!
The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong’s Pierre Hermé Paris Infiniment Vanille Afternoon Tea is available until 24 May 2015. It costs $388 per person.
Café 103, The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong, +852 2263 2270
Note: this meal was by invitation