Afternoon tea at the historic Westin Moana Surfrider hotel was one of my favorite experiences on my trip to Oahu back in 2013 and so I have been on a mission to do “high tea” elsewhere. Even though the views wouldn’t be of the Pacific Ocean and seating wouldn’t be outdoors, I was still intrigued by the afternoon tea that was offered at the Omni William Penn hotel, a historic property in its own right (it dates from the 1930s).
When debating activities to do with my parents while they were in town for the Christmas holidays, I considered afternoon tea. Originally I had hoped to partake in Britain’s most famous ritual on Christmas Eve (it seemed like a great time to do so). However, when I attempted to make reservations I was told they were all booked that day (tea is served from 2:30-4 PM Monday through Saturday). Well, when I heard that bit of news, I decided I was meant to do it with my parents after all when they were in town. The first time I called, no one picked up at the Palm Court (where the tea takes place). The operator then transferred me to the adjoining Terrace Room and once again (annoyingly) no one picked up. I didn’t take this as the best of signs since I wasn’t calling at obscure times. I tried back later on that same day although more “weirdness” occurred. I spoke with someone at the Palm Court whose job didn’t seem like she handled phones too much (she spoke heavily accented English). I said I wanted to make reservations for the following week at such and such time and gave her my name and phone number. Right before hanging up, she told me that I didn’t have a reservation yet, that she wasn’t able to make them, but a manager would be following up with me. W*%^$#%? All I said was “okay,” since I had never heard of anything so ridiculous before.
I knew that a manager was never going to “call me.” So thankfully we happened to be downtown the next day and I went to the Omni in person where I could be assured that someone couldn’t act like such a moron. I explained what had taken place the previous day and of course, my name wasn’t anywhere in the system, but thankfully I was able to make a reservation there and then with someone who knew what he was doing. It DID get better after that.
Visitors to the Palm Court have their choice of two tea selections-The Victorian Tea and the Royal Tea. The former is $25, the latter $32. The difference is that the Royal Tea comes with your choice of either a champagne cocktail, a mimosa, or a Kir Royal. My dad, being the spirits aficionado that he is, went with the Royal Tea, while my mom, D and I all opted for the Victorian. For children 12 and under, the Mad Hatter Tea is available ($15) which includes a choice of hot cocoa, cold milk, or organic vanilla rooibos tea and comes with a sandwich presentation (ham and cheese pinwheels, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and nutella and banana sandwich).
Regardless of which service you go with, you have your choice of teas. I selected the Old Blue Eyes which was decaffeinated and consisted of primarily sweet berries with a hint of caramel and vanilla (I found the berries overpowered any taste of caramel and vanilla); D ordered the Chocolat; my parents both chose the Darjeeling. Tea is, of course, served the traditional way; loose tea leaves which are steeped in hot water. Everyone had a place at their setting where they could put their leaves once done steeping.
First came the sandwiches-the selection consisted of smoked salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese on a dill gougère; ham, gruyere, tarragon mustard on white bread; and arrugula, goat cheese, and marinated artichokes on a spinach tortilla. I’m really not a cold salmon fan so the ham and gruyere was naturally my favorite of the three.
And then came the tower of sweets…literally. There were traditional plain and lemon blueberry scones accompanied by crème fraîche, raspberry preserve & orange marmalade; a white chocolate basil macaron for each diner (the basil gave the macaron such a delicious and unique taste); chocolate cups with amaretto mousse that were topped with almonds and coca nibs; and fruit tartlets of mascarpone that were topped with kiwi, blueberry, strawberry, and raspberries. The sweets were all decadent to say the least. How the British once did this as frequently as they did I will never know.
There was also a fresh fruit kabob which made one feel somewhat less guilty over consuming all of the calories they just did.
Excluding the rather abysmal time of making reservations, afternoon tea was a real treat. The service was courteous and attentive, the selections special and memorable, and the setting inside the gorgeous and striking lobby of the hotel unparalleled. If a trip to England isn’t in your immediate future, I would definitely recommend checking out the Omni William Penn hotel afternoon tea instead.
Omni William Penn
530 William Penn Place | Pittsburgh, PA | 15219