Audrey may have had breakfast at Tiffany’s, but Montrealers can eat their hearts out at the afternoon tea at Birks. The famed jewelry store houses a café by Europea on the mezzanine level so that you can gawk at all the diamonds and gold as you nibble on a scone or six.
The afternoon tea service begins daily at 2:30 p.m., and is in every way an indulgence. For $26.50 plus tax a veritable feast is brought before you on a silver platter, accompanied by a pot of tea of your choice from the Marriage Frères de Paris selection.
Judging by the pride in the hostess’s eyes as she announced the brand name, I can only assume that this is the tea equivalent of an exclusive Parisian designer. Indeed, this was no plebeian cuppa; the lavender and red fruits fused perfectly together in the delicate yet punchy Vert Provence green tea. I also tried the Thé sur le Nil, another green tea infused with spices and citrus. It tasted every bit as exotic as it sounds. You will surely taste the rich quality of the loose-leaf tea in the classic Earl Grey Impérial (I may never be able to go back to Lipton’s again). The teas, each in their own iron pot, were brought to our table along with three timers designating the optimal steeping time for a weak, medium or strong brew.
The food was presented neatly on a tray the length of the table, arranged in the order in which each course should be eaten. Up first were two freshly baked homemade scones, each served with fresh Devonshire cream and marmalade. The scones were buttery and warm, and the sweetness of the condiments was enough to utterly drive away the “mean reds.” After two cups of tea and both scones I was verging on full, but alas I persevered on to the trio of canapés.
The first of the lot consisted of a slice of cucumber atop a biscuit, stacked with a mini cocktail shrimp and green apple mint jelly. Following that was a duck foie gras and cranberry chutney canapé, and one with smoked salmon, caviar and cream cheese. Each one was bite sized but full in flavour.
Next up was a half-size club sandwich, made with arugula and crispy prosciutto. The arugula added a fresh herbal zing to the salty prosciutto, chicken and tomatoes. For you herbivores out there, vegetarian options are offered, though they change depending on the season.
For dessert we were each given a truffle to sample, enrobed in a shimmering edible pixie dust. The chocolates were decadent, each filled with an oozing fruit coulis. Beautiful pastel colored macaroons sat next to the chocolates. My only qualm was that we didn’t get to select our flavours, and I ended up with two that I didn’t care for. The raspberry anis one was heavy on the anis, while the pistachio had a strong Amaretto aroma. My favorite was the maple and salted caramel, though it was little on the syrupy sweet side. They were however the ideal balance between crumbly and chewy, so the potential was there.
Last but not least were three verrines, respectively filled with vanilla syrup with freshly diced pineapple, bergamot pudding with sliced peaches and maple custard with hazelnuts. The pineapple was the favourite at my table, as the fruit was tangy and welcomingly light after the gluttonous amount of food we had just consumed.
As decadent as the spread was, it was the decidedly “ladies who lunch” atmosphere that sets this afternoon tea service apart from your average midday meal. While pearls are not a prerequisite to dining here, they are certainly encouraged. My friends and I couldn’t help feeling like we were Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, shopping on Rodeo Drive in her streetwalker attire. While we may not be streetwalkers, with our school bags and casual attire, we might as well have been in the eyes of the pretentious hostesses.
Though it is a little pricey for a lunch, the food was delicious and the experience makes it utterly worthwhile for a special occasion. To make the most of it, summon up your inner Audrey and dress up to look the part. The café also offers brunch and table d’hôte or à la carte lunch services.
Birks is located at 1240 Square Phillips St.