Midtown shop serves the charming ritual of afternoon tea
My friend Jeanne is something of a connoisseur of afternoon tea. She seeks it out wherever she travels.
I’m not talking about a cup of English Breakfast served with a cucumber sandwich and a shortbread biscuit. We’re talking about the full-on experience, complete with mandatory three-tier cake stand, lined with dainty treats. Her favourite, she will tell you, is served at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.
Thus, it was inevitable that when she visited Toronto she uncovered a small restaurant that specializes in this genteel custom. And so we found ourselves at T-Buds, on Yonge Street in the Teddington Park area.
Up a short flight of stairs, we made a beeline for a window table with large overstuffed armchairs and settled in with the menu. There are several afternoon teas available, but Jeanne must have the full-on version ($24). I opt instead for an appetizer from the salad menu, and T-Buds’ other specialty: crêpes.
Choosing the beverage is slightly harder.
The tea menu is significantly larger than the food one, and we have a challenge selecting between classic black teas, aromatic oolongs, herb teas and even aged Pu-erh. The descriptions are more complex than many wine notes I have seen.
While Jeanne chooses a Darjeeling summer buds brew (born of experience), I opt for a malty autumn-picked Assam (using the eyes-shut-and-point method). It’s a beautiful blend.
In fact, I do know enough to choose a fuller bodied tea to go with my menu choices. A chat with the owner later affirms our decisions, though he suggests I might have tried an even more robust Pu-Erh.
Jeanne’s tea starts with a miniature quiche, which she proclaims is light as a feather and very tasty. My Moroccan root vegetable salad ($5) is so good I end up urging our neighbours at the next table to try some. The salad wins universal praise.
From a list of crêpes that includes seafood, cultural specialties from Mediterranean to Aztec and Moghul, I choose Arabian ($10). A large crêpe — made of a blend of buckwheat, spelt and white flour — is filled with a generous helping of spiced lamb cubes and spinach. It’s served with a small condiment dish with some minted yogurt and a sweet date sauce.
The little sauces are the perfect foil for the spicy meat. Delicious!
The pièce de résistance is the three-tiered stand. It arrives with two sweet petit fours on the top, two scones and a fluted bowl of fresh fruit filling the middle, and six little sandwiches on the bottom tier.
It looks a little sparse because I have opted not to have full afternoon tea. But the sight of the display for two beside us, brimming with sandwiches and goodies, is quite spectacular.
The sandwiches meet with approval. Thinly cut bread — not wrap — has been formed into a pretty, multi-tiered chicken and apple wedge, or wrapped into tight circles around a tuna filling. Each is a miniature work of art.
The scones, one blueberry and one plain, come with lovely apricot jam and mascarpone cream (alas, no clotted cream, Jeanne laments). And the petit fours, one tiramisu and one mango, are a delicate sweet finish. The fruit cup lends a final air of healthy dining to what is essentially a lovely, slightly decadent afternoon ritual.
The owner tells me he travels to estates in India, Sri Lanka and Taiwan to find the teas he serves and sells, though some are imported through agents. The walls are covered in bottles of different blends, most his own, which are available for purchase. I see people leave with bags filled with little boxes of tea.
Quirky and unique, this spot is worth a visit. Book in advance, especially for afternoon tea, as it takes a little while to prepare. On the other hand, afternoon tea isn’t a race, but a charming ritual. So relax, enjoy your cup of tea and prepare for a treat.
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