Recently Ms. Eclectic and I visited The Saskatchewan Hotel (managed by Radisson) in Regina, Saskatchewan, for afternoon tea. I had Googled "afternoon tea Regina" and was delighted to discover that the Radisson offers an afternoon tea on Fridays and Saturdays. I was even more delighted to see from their website that they know to refer to it as "afternoon tea" and that they use standard 3-tiered serving devices.
Ms. Eclectic isn't all that keen on the rituals and pomposity of afternoon tea, so I was delighted that she was willing to accompany me on this outing. But given our different views on the entire afternoon-tea experience, you can readily imagine we have somewhat different views. I'll try to include hers at times in this review.
Even though the website created a favourable first impression, my next impression came while on the telephone, making the reservation, when the manager of the Victorian Tearoom at the hotel kept referring to afternoon tea as "high tea", which is incorrect (for the distinction, see this). And then as we walked to the hotel from where we had parked, we saw a sign that says the hotel has valet parking, but there was no doorman, no valet, and nobody anywhere around who might have provided the valet parking service; we were relieved we hadn't counted on using the valet parking service. These are minor trivialities, but they created doubt.
The Saskatchewan Hotel is a fine classic. It has carpeting that is in good shape, an old-style barber shop (!), a shoe-shine palour, a hair salon, several shops, a lengthy lobby, and a bar that looks like an enjoyable place. I was relieved that there was no one in the lobby to ask where I was going, but it felt odd, too, especially since we weren't sure where the Victorian Tearoom was located in the hotel.
When we were shown into the tearoom, I nearly gasped. The 3-tiered food serving tower was already on the table, and the lower two tiers had plates with food covered in plastic wrap. Gag. That was so tacky. Surely, if the Radisson wants to have the food prepared in advance and protected by plastic wrap, they should keep it in the kitchen and bring it out some time after our tea has been served.
And then to make matters worse, when the plastic was removed for us, it was just balled up and placed on a side table. There is simply no reason for that kind of classlessness.
More disappointment followed. The Saskatchewan Hotel has an interesting tea list, but it is severely limited. And (by this time I really was not surprised) it did not include lapsang souchong tea, my favourite. The tea server (who was also our waitress) wheeled a cart to our table to fix our tea for us. This could have been a very nice part of the ceremony if the 3 tiers of food were not already sitting on the table. It would have been much nicer if our tea had been prepared for us (and served) and then the food brought out a reasonable time later. Instead, the way it was done, the tea seemed to be presented almost as a type of after-thought.
I have never been presented with the option of having coffee for afternoon tea, but I can imagine the possibility has always been available. For me it defeats the purpose, but Ms. Eclectic was delighted to take up that option. I chose the "Monk's Blend" tea, which is billed as a black tea blend with vanilla and grenadine. It wasn't lapsang souchong, but I quite liked it. Unfortunately, not even the first cup was poured for me, and the server paid absolutely no attention to my tea throughout the entire afternoon (see below for more).
The sandwiches (on the bottom tier) were fabulous. The smoked salmon pinwheels were fresh, tasty, and delightful. I'm not terribly keen on egg salad sandwiches, but these were excellent; in fact Ms. Eclectic thought they were the best of the lot. They were served with something green and leafy (spinach?) on a marbled bread; as I said, they were excellent.
The other two sandwiches were tuna salad on a delectably chewy white bread and ham and cheese on whole wheat. Both were superb. The tuna salad was at least as good as any we have tasted, and the ham and cheese were chock-full of both ham and cheese.
To top it all off, there were four quarters of each type of sandwich on the plate. That was plenty of food for the two of us.
The scones were a different story.
We were looking forward to enjoying the scones because they had been made with Saskatoon berries, but I hated them. Ms. Eclectic didn't mind them so much. They were small, dry, tasted as if they had been overcooked, seemed a day or two old, and were far too salty. The cream served with them was whipped, not clotted; and the butter provided for them was a bunch of cold little buttons of "strawberry butter". I recall having scones this small at The Dorchester a few years ago, and even though I disliked those, they were nowhere near as bad as these. Scones should be the heart of an afternoon tea, but these did not live up to our expectations. Thankfully we were not offered more after we finished what we wanted of the first batch.
The jam provided with the scones came after we had finished them, another minus, but it didn't matter because neither of us was interested in the jam: it was the standard stuff in little glass jars. Ms. Eclectic thoroughly enjoyed the lemon curd spread that was provided with the whipped cream. I liked it, but I sorely missed having decent scones with clotted cream.
An interesting plus for the afternoon tea at The Saskatchewan Hotel was that the 3-tiered server had a plateful of vegetable crudities with dip. I had never seen this at an afternoon tea before, and we both heartily approve of it. They may diverge from the typical, proper afternoon tea, but the practice is a wonderful divergence.
The tea was served in a stainless steel pot with a built-in infusor. I was optimistic because the tea was loose and could have been good throughout the afternoon. Unfortunately, there was no way that I knew of to remove the infusor, and after awhile the tea became both too strong and quite bitter. When I asked for more water, after finishing the first pot of tea, the server should have replaced the tea, too. Instead, I had more of the same, but more bitter.
I loved the ambiance of the Saskatchewan Hotel's Victorian Tearoom. The furniture was nice (we sat at high tables, which suits me fine) and the very ornate chandeliers were all lit with chandelier-shaped LED-filled bulbs. Seating was odd, though; as has happened to me elsewhere, the few customers were all seated near each other. Since there were plenty of empty tables, a little more privacy would have been nice.
When we had finished what we wanted of the food that had been on the 3-tiered server, we were not offered more. However, we really didn't expected any more, in part because we had been provided with so many sandwiches and in part because no place I have visited in Canada provides additional sandwiches or scones with their afternoon tea.
After a short break, the server returned with a plate containing two each of five different desserts. The carrot cake was okay (but I've been spoiled for carrot cake by Ms. Eclectic's which is unbelievably moist [made with some crushed pineapple]). The small cream tart with fresh fruit was barely acceptable; the custard was good, but the tart shell tasted like the blah shells from the freezer at the supermarket. There were pecan bars that looked great but were also a bit drier than we had expected; as I ate mine, I realized it tasted more like a butter tart on shortbread than anything else. There were also some chocolate-peanut-butter triangle desserts that were just plain horrible; the chocolate cake on the bottom was mouth-puckeringly dry, and there was far too much peanut butter to make them enjoyable. By far, the best of the desserts were the chocolate covered strawberries; they were huge, ripe, and sweet-but-not-too-sweet.
Ms. Eclectic's view was that the service was fine but aside from the sandwiches, the food wasn't so great. As you can tell from what I've written, I was quite disappointed with the service. The server was quite pleasant (though it would have been helpful had she explained the various items of food), and I suspect much of my objection to the service stemmed from what most likely was management ignorance of what a proper afternoon tea experience should be.
As we discussed the overall experience, Ms. Eclectic pointed out that the price ($20 each, including the tip) was less than a third of what I paid per person for some of the better afternoon teas I have had in the Mayfair district of London, England. In fact the price for afternoon tea at the Saskatchewan Hotel was no more than we paid several years ago at The Boathouse in Guelph, and it was, all things considered, better than The Boathouse. As Ms. Eclectic said, "That's not a bad price for a very filling meal."
Keeping all these things in mind, I am rating afternoon tea at the Saskatchewan Hotel in the lower half of my middle category. My recommendation to them: charge a bit more, offer finer service, and provide better scones.
My previous reviews, ranked in order of preference (yes, some rankings have been changed after some reflection):
These three were superb. Highly recommended:
- The Four Seasons, London, England
- The St. Regis Hotel, Houston, Texas
- The Lanesborough, London, England
- Claridge's, London, England
- The Dorchester, London, England
- The Ritz, London, England
- Brown's, London, England
Those in this large middle group ranged from very good to just okay. I would consider returning to them, but those in the upper portion of the list were significantly better than those in the lower portion of this section:
- Scolfe's Tea Room, Boreham Street, England (superb, but not really afternoon tea)
- The Pump Room, Bath, England (also superb, but not really afternoon tea)
- The Windsor Arms, Toronto, Canada
- The Saskatchewan Hotel, Regina, Saskatchewan (this review)
- The Boathouse, Guelph, Canada
- The Grand Hotel, Eastbourne, England
- Langdon Hall, Cambridge, Canada
- The Royal Crescent Hotel, Bath, England
- The Queen's Hotel, Portsmouth, England
These next two were unacceptable: