For something that is so simple, The Peninsula Chicago makes Afternoon Tea a pleasing experience, if you can manage to ignore a few mishaps
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: September 15, 2018
LF Says: ★★★.5
Being born and brought up in India, you are taught to have innate respect for the tradition of afternoon tea. We are probably taking forward a British ritual from our colonial days, but it is one of those western habits we have truly adopted and adapted with open arms and hearts.
This very important mealtime is not to be skipped. Even if you are back home late after work, the cup of tea is not forgone. It is served on the table, no matter what, with some snacks of your choosing.
But as domesticated and homely as this institution is, the original British afternoon tea still manages to catch the fancy of many. Nothing beats the experience of sitting elegantly in a hotel and delicately sipping on a fine tea. So to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary, my husband, our 15-month old baby and I suited up to revel in the much-appreciated Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula Chicago.
Our reservation was made two days before the day and we were eager to be happy and pleased. But it seems things were doomed to spiral down from the get-go.
To begin with, we got delayed due to an apparent crash on the road, reaching the hotel half an hour after our 4:30pm reservation. The hotel offers afternoon tea at The Lobby for two settings only: 2:30pm and 4:30pm. When we called and informed the hotel of the delay, they were understanding and said that it shouldn’t be a problem.
Once we reached there, were seated at the table and handed our vegetarian afternoon tea menus, we were asked for our tea selection quickly since things might take time coming out of the kitchen as there was a large party also being served at the same time. I gave my tea order fairly quickly while my husband took a while to give his order from a menu of over 25 teas encompassing blacks, classic greens, Oolongs and herbal infusions. From Vanilla Bean and Dragonwell to Gunpowder and African Nectar, there was just enough variety for you to be not overwhelmed while also have room for experimentation.
You can also opt to have champagnes. The hotel offers two excellent choices – the Taittinger Brut and Canard-Duchene Cuvee Leonie Brut Rose.
Once the order was placed, we looked around and reveled in our surroundings. The flowers were fresh, tables squeaky clean, and the silverware was simply gorgeous and elegant. The floor-to-ceiling windows gave a beautiful view outside. Our baby’s high chair was upholstered in the same fabric as our chairs! That was new for us, while the baby made himself completely at home with full confidence.
And then our tea was served. While I had opted for a Marrakesh Mint, my husband had selected Mandarin Rose Petal. Both were freshly brewed, piping hot and strong on flavor – just the way we liked. However, the tea strainer wasn’t able to hold back some of the leaves in my husband’s tea. The leaves went through into the cup, making it a little tricky for him to drink it while playing dodge with the leaves. We wish the strainer was a little more fine.
Ideally, the food should have arrived a little before the tea, or at least along with the tea. But we were on our second cup and no food was in sight. The baby was getting fussy and so were we. When we asked our server, he said that it was taking a bit of time because of the large party they were serving, but the food should be there any minute. First rule of customer service? You shouldn’t be made to feel lesser than the other guests seated at the restaurant.
But the food indeed came soon, and all in proper fashion – a three-tier tray starting with sandwiches and salad at the bottom, cold soup and quiche in the middle and sweet, colorful delicacies on the top. Two separate plates contained warm scones and spreads to go along with them. The presentation was quite a vision!
And a special plate arrived for our son with sandwiches and a cup of fresh, diced fruits. As he was extremely hungry, we started feeding him right away and realized after a while that one of the sandwiches had ham in it. Since we had informed our server early on that we were vegetarians, getting a ham sandwich was a little upsetting for us. We returned the plate and were promptly served another one with fresh fruits, and PBJ and cheese sandwiches. Around this time, our server also changed, and that’s when things started picking up.
The delicacies and the style
As we started sampling our delicacies, each one turned out to be better than the previous one. The classic Cucumber sandwich with cream cheese was melt-in-the-mouth. We will certainly give points to the chefs at The Peninsula Chicago for the Balsamic Eggplant sandwich with tomato tapenade. The tomato gave a savory edge to the bland eggplant. It was very innovative and palatable, considering we both are quite finicky about consuming eggplant. The Black Bean and Corn Salad, served cutely in a tomato cup, was quite a classic too. The presentation scored over the taste here though. We would have liked it better if the beans were a tad bit softer.
Travelling up we reached the perfect Corn Quiche made with Japanese mayo and a slight dash of espelette. It was subtle, balanced yet with a slight kick in flavor. Pairing it was chilled Pea Soup, which was again different and so refreshing! I could have had a cup more but then the scones were waiting. The slight tang of lemon made it quite effervescent.
We next focused our attention on the incredibly soft scones, served with clotted cream, raspberry preserve and lemon curd. And as we sliced, applied the spreads and ate them, I felt myself relaxing and sinking into the chair with the sheer bliss of eating an excellently baked scone. It almost had the same effect as a spa therapy on me! My husband loved the lemon curd quite a lot – declaring it had a perfect twang and smooth texture. I was happy with mixing clotted cream and raspberry preserve on mine.
The baby, meanwhile, was being kept brilliantly entertained by our new server. We have never seen him passing such smiles as he did to him! In one trip, our server gifted him a Bear Chef stuffed toy to play with. In another, he came by to specially ask the baby how he was faring. In all the happiness of the moment, we forgot to ask the excellent man’s name.
As we made our way to the top tier of the tray, looking at the beautiful, gold paper covered sweet delights plated there, I reverently placed a piece on my plate one-by-one, making sure nothing fell or smudged. I guess my fear was unfounded because each dessert was made so perfectly that nothing dropped, moved or oozed out of place during its short travel.
The Lemon Raspberry Tart had perfect layering of the two ingredients, making the dessert quite tangy. Perfect for those who like their lemon! The Berry Mascarpone Puff looked stronger than it was. The smooth cheese balanced the berry crust covering it – again an innovative offering from the kitchen. The Cherry Financier was spongy and fresh with the cherries providing an added essence to the cake. The Hazelnut Rocher, which I saved for the last, was low on sugar and high on crunch – just the way we like it!
The surprise came towards the end though. Our server bought a sinful dark chocolate cake, complete with a candle and Happy Anniversary written on the plate! The moment was wonderful enough, and then he offered to take a photograph for us. The photograph was absolutely stunning and Instagram-worthy (yes, it’s on my Instagram)! I won’t be surprised if The Peninsula Chicago is training its servers in the art of photography – it’s quite an important skill to have now.
And to top it all, just before we left, the outstanding server gave a huge chocolate-dipped-marshmallow-lollipop to our baby, saying it was specially for him. I guess it was the result of all those uninhibited smiles he was giving to the server. It melted our heart and softened any hard edges we had due to the beginning uneasiness of our experience.
The ambience of The Lobby at The Peninsula Chicago is sophisticated and easy. Even though it’s in the lobby as the name says, and quite open, it is happy enough to make people celebrate here. Indeed, we met two other couples who were celebrating their anniversaries at The Lobby with the Afternoon Tea. Another small party was celebrating a birthday. And the big party we talked about in the beginning – I suspect they were celebrating a mother-daughter kind of moment with the tea.
To sum it up – the Afternoon Tea at The Peninsula Chicago is an experience to have. Our server turned out to be Santa Clause for our baby. The food was delectable and the portion sizes were more than enough. The entire experience is something we will remember and recommend others to partake in too. But remember to arrive on time.
LF Says: ★★★.5
Coordinates: 108 E Superior St, Chicago, IL, USA | Ph: +1 312 337 2888