Pull up a teacup and crook a pinky. There’s no better place than Victoria for indulging in a pot of afternoon tea with decadent nibbles
Afternoon tea, which became a cultural institution during Queen Victoria’s reign, is one quirky British pastime worth hanging onto. Fittingly, Victoria - named after that indefatigable lady sovereign - is the best city in Canada for indulging in an afternoon tea service.
When it comes to posh nibbles and aromatic brews, Victoria has you covered. Here are the five best afternoon tea rooms. Some are steeped in tradition; others are hipster chic.
All serve a quality spot of tea with delectable sweets and dainty finger sandwiches.
The Fairmont Empress
The posh Fairmont Empress has been entertaining British royalty and Hollywood celebrities like Rita Hayworth and Katharine Hepburn since opening doors in 1908.
"Taking” afternoon tea at the Fairmont is a pricey ($59.95) ritual that’s worth it when you see the pomp of the grand Victorian tea room. Add the bow-tied waiters, the exclusive Empress blend tea and four courses of dainty treats, and it’s an unparalleled journey back in time.
Start with fun savouries like the curried chicken and mango sandwich rolls on rye, or free range egg salad on baby croissants. Move along to the stacked, fresh-baked scones with dense cream and strawberry jam. Save room for the pink, checked Battenburg cake, rose petal shortbread and the rest of the army of sweets waiting on the top tier.
Since there’s a chance you might brush elbows with Queen Liz in the lobby, the dress code is elegant. Reservations are recommended.
Venus Sophia Tea Room & Vegetarian Eatery
Situated in the heart of Victoria’s edgy Chinatown, Venus Sophia Tea Room is a lovely and hip hideaway. Mismatched antique teacups and vintage bicycles serve as decor. Tea treats come in vegetarian and vegan varieties.
Start by chatting with the friendly owners, Sally and Alain. They’ll help you choose among 30 kinds of organic loose leaf tea. It will arrive with a charmingly discordant tea set. Despite the eclectic, cool kid feel, old world elegance is ever present in terms of formality.
The three-tiered tray holds goodies like cucumber mint finger sandwiches, raisin scones, dainty french tarts and tea-infused house-made chocs. This gem of a tea service is budget-friendly, too, at $25.50 per person.
Murchie's Tea and Coffee
The largest Murchie’s Tea and Coffee House is just a stone’s throw from Victoria's inner harbour and the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Murchie’s - a locally owned cafe and tea shop that’s over 100 years old - is essentially BC’s Fortnum & Mason. Murchie's even has a coat of arms, bestowed upon it at its centennial in 1994.
Murchie’s prime location on Government Street is bright and elegant, with 110 seats plus patio seating. Drop by for afternoon tea - a pot of fair-trade tea, buttery scones and jam will keep the bill under $15, although they're served on a silver tray. Accessorize with a slice of strawberry princess cake or sacher torte.
When finished, get your Brit on by browsing the teas on offer, including a new brew commemorating the upcoming Diamond Jubilee, with matching commemorative teacup.
The White Heather Tea Room
This family-run Scottish Tea Room in Oak Bay is a flouncy yet comfortable alternative to the downtown Victoria options. Afternoon tea at the White Heather comes in three varieties priced between $16 and $48. They include Wee Tea, Not so Wee Tea and The Big Muckle Giant Tea for Two, a name chosen by the resident tea marm from a Scottish nursery rhyme.
Tea is served in a sunny, warm room full of lace and bits of tea kitsch you might find in a country inn, or your great grandmother’s sewing room. But the food is the real deal.
Scones come with homemade preserves, lemon curd and cream. You can also expect “sconewiches,” cheese crispies, and smoked salmon finger sandwiches. The sweets are all delicious but hard to differentiate, due to the extremely generous frills of cream that top everything, and perfectly match the lace curtains. Just try to resist crooking your pinky.
Butchart Gardens Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea in the Butchart Gardens Dining Room is an experience of unparalleled beauty. Not only do tea-takers get to gaze upon the world-class florals in the Private Garden, the Italian Garden and Tod Inlet, the menu is among the best in Victoria.
The $29 per person price comes with a berry trifle - layers of sponge cake, berry compote and Chantilly cream - an afternoon tea rarity, along with house-made sausage rolls, mini quiche, and no less than five types of finger sandwiches.
House-made sweets include poppy-seed orange loaf, truffles and a chocolate-brandy Napoleon. The signature, candied ginger scone with Devon cream steals the spotlight with its sweet simplicity.
The teas served during the tea service, including the garden’s own 100th anniversary blend, are on sale in the Seed and Gift Store. The best bit? You can stroll off the hip-clinging cream in the garden’s many paths.