A high tea evoking both the decadence of imperial Russia and the barrenness of Siberia…
High tea is not a NYC forte — after quite a number of high tea experiences in NYC, we have yet to come across a venue that offers the lavish dessert spreads seen in the former English colonies in Asia and Australia, or the cultivated creativity of desserts seen in London. To celebrate five years in NYC, we recently visited The Russian Tea Room, a much-lauded New York restaurant institution that has featured in many a Hollywood movie.
Resplendently decorated in fiery reds, deep greens and lustrous golds (including that 24-carat gold ceiling), the Russian Tea Room is a place that calls for an extravagant outfit. Founded in 1927 by the Russian Imperial Ballet group, one can almost picture clandestine meetings gathered around the generous banquette seating in the years bygone as much as bejwelled ladies congregating for afternoon tea. As to the latter, afternoon tea at the Russian Tea Room is available daily, from 11.30am – 4.30pm, for USD $80 pp (plus tax/tip). It is served by wait staff who are immaculately dressed, attentive and discreet in the old-fashioned way. The tea selection is sparse, featuring just six types of teas (English breakfast, Darjeeling, chamomile, oolong, mint and rooibos). The tea is somewhat watered down, and is accompanied with honeyed cherries, in the Russian style.
Savouries arrive on a traditional three-tiered silver platter. There are a variety of crustless sandwiches, including two with smoked fish, a mini croque monsieur toastie, and caviar served on tiny medallion blini pancakes. The sweets similarly arrive on a three-tiered stand, and number three scones for each person, along with four mini cakes and two chocolate bites. The scones are the highlight, done in the proper English, rather than American, style. The rest however, are somewhat forgettable. On our visit, the orange macaron was crunchier than the autumn leaves in Central Park, and the cupcakes were…suffice to say that in a city known for its cupcakes, these would not make any recommendation list.
Afternoon tea at the Russian Tea Room was for us, akin to opening a Faberge egg. On the outside, it’s opulent to the most minute detail, but when you open it up, there is a tiny surprise inside. In this case, the surprise was not an ideal surprise. The surprise was a lackadaisical, tiny portioned high tea. It felt as though someone had designed an experience evoking the majesty of imperial Russia, but offering food as scarce as one would find in the remote wilderness of Siberia. Oh New York, why are your high tea experiences generally so mindlessly disappointing?? All that said, simply because it is one of the most theatrically beautiful dining venues in New York, visiting the Russian Tea Room is nonetheless something you should do at least once… just not for the high tea.
Dessert adventure checklist
- ☑ Dessert destination: The Russian Tea Room, 150 West 57th Street, Midtown Manhattan.
- ☑ Budget: $$$ (USD $80 pp+ tip/tax).
- ☑ Sweet irresistibles: High tea
- ☑ Must-eat: The scones.
- ☑ The short and sweet story: A high tea evoking both the decadence of imperial Russia and the barrenness of Siberia.