The ritual of afternoon tea was started in the early 19th century by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, to help her cope with mid-afternoon hunger pains and to stave off a sinking feeling, commonly known by the British as the dropsies. Quickly, this new type of mealtime caught fire among the social set. Tea parties, tearooms, tea gardens and tea lounges in luxury hotels became staple components of English high society.
The Palm Court in London’s Ritz Hotel became the standard-bearer for teatime, which has remained so to this day. Several years ago I had the pleasure to have tea here and will never forget that exquisite afternoon. I felt I had experienced some rite of passage in English culture. Since this initial tea experience I have made it a point to take afternoon tea on my travels wherever there is an acclaimed tearoom.
On my recent 50-day solo trip around the world, I had the opportunity to indulge in the highly recommended afternoon tea at the famed Abu Dhabi seven star hotel, the Emirates Palace. My hotel’s concierge made the required reservation and told me "smart casual" was the appropriate dress. People in jeans, sportswear or trainers are not allowed in the Le Cafe tea lounge. The day of my visit was spent shopping in the city’s souks, something that always wears me out.
At 3:30 pm I hailed one of the many clean Abu Dhabi cabs with their uniform drivers and shared my destination was the Emirates Palace. As we drove along the Corniche road that parallels the beautiful blue Arabian Sea, I began to wonder how the Emirates Palace tea would compare to my memorable one at the Ritz.
After clearing the front guard gate with proof of my tea reservation, we drove up the grand drive to the porte-cochere where dozens of extremely high-end luxury cars were parked. My first thought was this meal was going to be very expensive and I was glad I hadn’t splurged on shopping that day.
When I entered the hotel, I was awed by its opulence. The immense, octagon shaped grand rotunda was decorated in soothing light earth tones accented with an abundant amount of gold guild. The exquisite Arabic detailed marble floor was elegant and the magnificent cupola was one of a kind. Such expense could only happen in a hugely rich oil-producing nation.
The hostess escorted me to the hotel’s tea lounge, the Le Cafe, and I was seated in an elegant, one of a kind, asymmetrical high back chair, a signature design element of the restaurant’s interior. I was feeling upbeat in this plush venue and was ready to fend off my shopping dropsies with the much anticipated tea experience.
I was given the menu and explained I had several options to choose from. Traditional afternoon tea-- with or without brut or rosé champagne-- or a traditional Arabic tea were my choices. I settled on the basic traditional option and was relieved it was affordably priced at $60 since I was expecting it to be closer to $100.
A perfectly brewed pot of Earl Grey tea and a three-layer caddy full of scrumptious treats were served. Everything looked to die for and I knew even though I was famished, since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, I couldn’t possibly consume all this fabulous food.
As the relaxing piano music played in the background, I started in on the top layer of the tray. Finger sandwiches made of roasted Angus beef with horseradish cream, smoked salmon on brown bread were excellent when paired with my delicious first cup of Earl Grey tea. My hunger was subsiding. The next tray tier had two selections of superb scones, both plain and raisin. Devonshire clotted cream, lemon curd and homemade wild strawberry and rose petal preserves were the topical accompaniment options for the scones. As one would say, I devoured the scones.
By the time I got to the third course and finished off three cups of tea I was feeling quite satisfied. So I started to slow down my consumption trying not to leave anything uneaten. Chocolate filled macaroons and strawberry vanilla filled tarts completed the tea tray. I stuffed the last sweet into my mouth and was completely satiated with food and drink but satisfied I had enjoyed all of it.
Shortly thereafter, the attentive waitress brought me a fourth course, a decadent 23-karat "gold" flake topped chocolate fondant. I thought there was no way I could possibly fit any more food into my stomach! The waitress was used to this reaction by others. I shyly asked if I could have a bag so I could take home the chocolate flourless cake topped with eatable real gold. She smiled and replied, “Of course. We routinely send our satisfied customers away with this special treat hidden in our fancy take out box!” Thank goodness, the thought of not eating something with gold on it would have been a downer.
To compare my experience at the Emirates Palace to the one I had at the Ritz in London, I would have to say it was equally as pleasurable. The settings were totally different but the beautiful background music, the superb eats, high quality tea brewing and the attentive service paid to the solo traveler were of the same quality and attention to detail. For these reasons, when in Abu Dhabi I highly recommend you "raise your pinkie" and treat yourself to afternoon tea at the Emirates Palace.
Enjoy this video showcasing the Emirates Palace hotel and what it’s like to experience afternoon tea in a modern royal setting.