I have been out of touch with the Chowhound community over the past week, as both work, and my SO coming to town took up much of my time – many apologies! But onto a new posting that I’ve been slowly building over the week each time my SO had been occupied (so it may be a bit disjointed)…
The SO was back in town and requested yet another afternoon tea excursion. As such, I decided to try the newly created C5 offering. Priced at $25, it was one of the more affordable (ever so slightly) options. I thought I should take a chance at a slightly less conventional space, as I figured they would attempt to compensate for their lack of a typical afternoon tea atmosphere with above par food. As well, since they had just recently started offering afternoon tea, they would probably try hard to establish a name for themselves.
(The outside of the restaurant: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-... )
We made a reservation about ½ a week in advance and were able to secure a space. They offer tea sittings between the hours of 3 and 5pm, Thursday through Saturday. There seemed to be a number of seats still available the Saturday we attended afternoon tea, so it appears that a reservation would not be that difficult to secure.
I have been to C5 on a previous occasion when they first opened for lunch and was quite impressed. This gave me comfort over the quality of the food coming from the kitchen. The menu consisted of the following items:
• Chanterelle & cave aged gruyere quiche
• Dungeness crab and wasabi finger sandwiches
• Duck confit & citrus cured foie gras profiterole.
• Green tea sponge cake with butter cream icing and pistachios
• Honey pink peppercorn madelines
• Cranberry scones with clotted cream and homemade preserves
(menu: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-... )
Along with your finger foods, you have a selection of teas by Mighty Leaf. The selection during my visit can be found at this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
At first when I saw the mock-ups of the proposed building design, I was not very impressed. I felt that it was going to mar the beautiful ROM, and become yet another one of those ‘over-designed’ modern, dated pieces that would eventually become an eyesore as tastes evolved. However, I would have to say the design has grown on me and now I love the additional light that has infused the once dark and dull interior of the ROM. I was apprehensive of the tea room itself, as it is the restaurant space and I have visited it on a previous occasion and I could not see it lending well to the relaxed atmosphere I generally seek out when having my afternoon tea. I worried that the sharp edges, tightly spaced tables, modern (read stylish, slim and not lounge-y in the least) chairs and tables would become uncomfortable all too soon, thus not allowing us to soak in the sunlight and immerse ourselves in conversation for 3hrs, as we did at King Edward. But I ventured to take a chance, as I figured this was probably as good as they’d ever be, as they were on the top of their game in trying to build a solid reputation. Windsor Arms would always be around…
The restaurant space itself: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
The afternoon experience began with a ‘full-sized’ quiche. This course came alone and was served alongside a nice mesclun mix with a subtle citrus dressing. The quiche was excellent – the egg was fluffy and light, with a creamy texture from the cheese. The crust was really a stand-out - light, like a phylo/puff pastry. It was handled deftly and I would have ordered this on another occasion on its own. The salad was dressed with a very light citrus vinaigrette and was a fresh compliment to the more savoury quiche. This dish was an eye-opener and a hint of things to come. I was very pleasantly surprised by the size of it, as I was used to the miniscule servings at other afternoon teas that were not ‘full meals’, but rather a ‘snack-sized’ meal. This set the tone, and my expectations for the rest of the meal. The plates utilized were also very nice and varied between diners. I enjoyed the variation as it went well with the museum ambiance.
Quiche photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
After the quiche, we were presented with our tea selections in a stainless steel, sleek, modern vessel. I ordered the Organic Mint Mélange, the SO had Chamomile Citrus – both were herbal selections, as we are trying to cut out caffeine from our diets. I was worried at first that the mint would be overpowering and interfere with the tastes of the snacks, but it sounded so unique that I just had to try it. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen something a little lighter and less aromatic, because my SO kept complaining that the scent of my tea interfered with their own tea’s scent and caused great confusion! The pots used were very modern and leant well to the surroundings and atmosphere. It was quite a departure from the usual, more traditional tea sets. It did not have a strainer though, neither inside, nor outside, to rest the tea bag in to prevent over steeping of the tea bag. However, the teas we selected were not overtly pungent, hence ours were not as affected as say a heartier Earl Grey may have been. Our teas did not become too strong over time, which was actually quite unexpected.
The towering platter of tea snacks came soon there afterwards. The plexiglass contraption was rather refreshing – quite a change from the more traditional silverware towers. However, the production quality of the tower itself left something to be desired – it appeared that it was slapped together by a group of 2nd year engineering students. But I am just being overly critical. It looked great against the immense windows and really complemented the feel of the room. A novel design that felt very organic.
We began with the bottom tier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Because of the appearance of the lobster toastada, we were attracted to it first. This delicate wafer was topped with a very sweet piece of lobster. The lobster was excellently prepared – not overdone, nor rubbery in the least. It was moist and flavourful - a treat and quite an amuse. The caviar atop it did not add much unfortunately, but the silkiness of the avocado complimented the crunchiness of the toastada and the lobster quite nicely.
(And yes N-dawg, it was as good as it looked)
Next, we tried the foie gras and duck confit profiteroles. The profiterole had a nice texture – firm, and structured. The foie was very smooth and went well with the strands of confit. It was good, but not a great dish. Once again, I am analyzing this as a restaurant quality dish, and not an afternoon tea quality dish – these are two very different animals. Since the quiche elevated my expectations, I have decided to compare it to more worthy adversaries. If compared to other afternoon tea experiences I have had, it would blow the competition out of the water.
The last item on the bottom tier was a crab finger sandwich. Quite a departure from the usual ham and cucumber sandwich I usually get with my afternoon tea. This sandwich was possibly the highlight of the afternoon. The crab was very succulent and exceptionally sweet. There was a wasabi mayonnaise whose heat really brought a kick to the dish, and contrasted nicely to the crab’s inherent sweetness.
The second (middle) tier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
First off were the scones. Upon my first taste of these scones, I found them to be a bit cakey and dry. They were definitely not the traditional scones in flavour, nor in taste. My SO, however, convinced me that this was an interesting departure and that if one does not bite into it expecting a scone, it was, on its own, quite a delight. I enjoyed the honey-sweet crust surrounding the scone, and the bits of dried fruit were nice as well. The clotted cream was much better than the King Edward version, and was nice and thick, as well as mildly sweet.
scone photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
The earl grey chocolate cakelet was nice and moist. I could not taste any tea “essence” if you will, but it was a nice dessert course. It was not very memorable, as I can barely recall it now while I am trying to write this review. I do not remember it being offensive, nor exceptional. Overall, it was still much better than any offerings from King Edward.
Lastly was the overly sweet pistachio, green tea sponge cake. I think there was too much cream atop too little cake. The sweetness thus became a bit overpowering. The pistachios added a nice textural element though. The tea flavour did not come through, as I believe the icing was too sweet, and the pistachios covered what remaining flavour the tea may have exuded.
green tea cake photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Top Tier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
Atop it all rested a Madeleine with pots of clotted cream and homemade preserves. The preserves were quite sweet, and very syrupy in consistency. I cannot recall what flavour we were offered, but it was quite sweet, with a touch of tartness. I was mostly surprised I think by the liquidy texture of the preserve, as it was difficult to ‘spread’ and would drip off the edge of the scones. This was a mild turnoff for me as a result, as it made it very sloppy to try and consume. The ‘drippings’ did create an elegant kaleidoscope on my plate once I done though! The Madeleine was very petit and was mildly sweet, though I would have to be honest and say I could not taste the supposed pink peppercorn flavour.
Overall, I was very impressed by the food offerings of C5’s afternoon tea. The teas themselves were also nice and light, though I would probably appreciate a strainer to remove my tea bag, just out of habit more so than the flavour becoming overpowering from the over-steeping. The modern stemware and silverware were also a welcome departure from the classics, as was the starkness of the room itself. Everything was very minimalist and pared-down, which I appreciated for a restaurant. However, this also lent to a rather ‘cold’ and unwelcome feeling, when compared with my more sumptuous surroundings of King Edward (my only other afternoon tea experience in Toronto). If I were in search for excellent food, I would no doubt head back to C5. However, I find that I am there as much for the ambiance, as the food – and as a result, the relaxed feel emanating from the comfy couches of more classic hotels would probably suit my tastes a bit better. I really enjoyed the 'experience' at the King Edward, personally preferring to place emphasis on the atmosphere more so than on the food. But to each their own, and if you are in search of superior food during your afternoon tea experience, look no further than C5 to fill your desires. I can only hope that the other more traditional spots take heed and elevate their culinary offerings to match that of C5, or at least make it a reason to indulge in afternoon tea. Great atmosphere and good food should not be two distinct subsets when it comes to afternoon tea – each should go hand in hand. We Torontonians should come to expect tasty food when we go to Afternoon tea – and we should demand this as a minimum. I welcome C5’s offerings with open arms and am excited to see if it makes its mark in Toronto. Traditional spots, such as the King Edward, have unfortunately become complaint over the years in Toronto. But they should beware, as a new thoroughbred has joined their ranks. And it looks like it’s in it to win.
Cheers and Happy Eating!
C5 Afternoon Tea (Thursday, Friday and Saturday only): 3 pm - 5 pm
Location: The ROM restaurants entrance, located on the west side of the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal at Bloor and Avenue Rd.