As the prestigious Shangri-La Hotels celebrates the launch of it’s London property, At The Shard, the Toronto Shangri-La Hotel is promoting the tradition of afternoon tea. ‘UK Pastry Chef of the Year’, Executive Pastry Chef Nicholas Patterson, who has twice secured the Tea Guild’s ‘Best London Afternoon Tea’, has now brought his patisserie experience and his individual flare to Toronto to steep our eager palates in his decadent tea-inspired confectionery.
Seated by the fire in the lively lobby lounge, we are delighted by the sounds of Terence Gowan’s piano playing to the tunes of Elton John and the Beatles. We sink into our cushions and open the menu to its selection of seventy-five different teas. How can I possibly decide? I choose a flight, and enjoy a selection of “sips”. According to the menu, each sip serves a different purpose. My flight follows an aromatic vanilla rooibos to moisten my lips; a royal cream of Earl Grey to halt my melancholy; a floral Taiwanese oolong to spark my intelligence; a pure white rose tea to flush out my grievances; a ginger sencha infused with lemongrass to detoxify my body; pu’er from Yunnan blended with cocoa to connect with my soul; and lastly, an exclusive blooming Chinese green tea with a hand sewn white lily for the ultimate journey. With tea, it’s never merely about the taste; it’s about the experience of arriving at a state of ease, and indulging in the properties that each tea has to offer.
Our three-tiered display of pastries is set before us, and we are delighted by the description of each bite. The menu features cakes that will be appearing At The Shard in London, and will also be available in their cake shop.
Finger sandwiches include Scottish smoked salmon on whole grain; roasted chicken on mixed seed bread; egg and watercress on whole wheat with a crisp of Serrano ham; cucumber and apple on country white; and a curried lobster and chives on a brioche roll. Like the tea, these tastes are selected to be savoured not wolfed-down—a rare notion in our fast-paced city that values time as a commodity. Here, we take our time—we have left the rush behind.
As we linger over our warm chamomile scones with a berry preserve and Devonshire cream, Patterson surveys the smiling faces around the room and observes, “It’s a very nice thing to do; to take time out of your day to just relax and enjoy some cakes”. For him, “It’s about giving pleasure; enjoying the cakes and the ambience as well”. Initially influenced by his mother’s baking, his inspiration is based on classical combinations, colours, textures and seasons. As the seasons change, the cakes change.
Now, about those teacakes…it was love at first bite. We understand why this masterful pastry chef was requested to visit Toronto and create this menu. While I could easily devour each cake by myself, the enjoyment is truly in sharing the experience. Layers of chocolate ganache, raspberry compote, chocolate sponge and soft chocolate cremeux are a beautiful confluence of very fine delicate textures from crisp to velvety. It is rich and decadent—not sweet, but refined. Patterson calls this one Temptation, but what we taste is an all out seduction. Coco is a rich medley of coconut, calamansi lime, ginger, coriander and pineapple that coalesces into one luscious symphony. My favourite, the Café au Lait, is another divine blending and impossible layering of textures that are somehow parceled into one pillow of vanilla mascarpone cream, coffee cream, white chocolate and coffee soaked sponge. The ultimate alchemy is the Passion Fruit Sensation in which Patterson turns a shot glass into an edible kaleidoscope of passion fruit cream, tropical fruits, mango coulis and passion fruit marshmallows. There is remarkable precision involved in understanding the ingredients, how they marry together, and how to balance such bold flavours into such a light confection. It’s a wonderful artistry. Against the wall is a London phone booth where we can skype the UK and tell them just how good we now have it over here.
~ For reservations from now through the end of February, call 647-788-8888, or go to firstname.lastname@example.org ~