There are a handful of cafes and tea salons offering a Christmas themed high tea this season. But “H Tasting Lounge” is setting itself apart with their Ferris wheel display, the ability to have mulled wine with your finger sandwiches, and to enjoy live music with it all.
Their festive tea is only available on weekends, from November 30th to December 29th, from 11:30am to 4:30pm. The cost is $55 per person. After reading the press release, I ventured down to be the first person to try it, on what should have been its release date. However, due to complications with the menu, it was delayed for the following week. So I ended up dining with them the first day, tasting from their new winter menu instead; and then returning a week later to try the official winter tea service. This post will be an accumulation of the two visits.
I am a huge fan of “H Tasting Lounge’s” modern space. It speaks to luxury with velvet furniture in soft pastels, metallic throw pillows, and gold panel detailing with a 20’s flair. The latter, a remnant of the aviation themed bar they originally launched as. We grabbed my favourite seat, within the open space. One of the two c-shaped booths in the corner, by the patio entrance. A crushed blue velvet backdrop in your very own booth. It hugs you and your guests, whilst offering just the right amount of intimacy for two.
High tea starts with a box of loose leaf teas to sort and sniff through. You un-lid each vial and make your choice based on smell, much like a sensory menu.
Given that I was the very first person, during the very first service of this, they were still working out the kinks. Meaning we weren’t given the option for either of their two seasonal teas; which we would have ordered. The “Tealeaves Nutcracker Black Tea Blend” and/or the “Tealeaves Organic Herbal Sugar Plum Fairy”. So in the this case, I went for their “organic vanilla rooibos” instead.
Teas is served in a modern white and gold gilded tea pot that matches with your cup and saucer. It comes with milk and sugar, should you need it.
Although, I am more partial to their alcoholic drink options, and highly recommend either their “Mulled Wine” or “Miracle on Bayshore Dr.” cocktail. The latter a mix of rye, brandy, gingerbread syrup, milk, whole egg, and marshmallows. But today I went with the mulled wine, because where else can you get mulled wine (not at an outdoor market)? Here it is made with red wine, holiday spices, brandy, and peach schnapps. The wine is steeped with sugar plum tea leaves, and infused with clove cinnamon and star anise. After one sip, I concluded that I much rather a glass of mulled wine indoors, with each sip furthering my warmth.
Looking for another hot beverage to get tipsy on? They also have a lovely “Rye chai”, served warm in a tea pot. Made with rye, mezcal, apricot, falernum, lemon, and chai. It was a strong sipper, but I didn’t get much of the chai flavour I anticipated. Good hot or cold with the natural burn of the alcohol fuelling things.
For something just as festive, but packed with ice, their “Cranberry cobbler” offers dessert in a glass. Gin, cranberry, all spice dram, and lemon. This was refreshing and effervescent, with the cranberry offering its unique blend of sweetness and tartness.
As for the actual food portion of the tea service, it is a combination of savoury and sweet bites swinging back and forth on their precarious Ferris wheel. Take it from first hand experience, it is best to remove all the elements from the tower before you start eating. Emptying one glass plate throws off the balance of the entire apparatus, and spinning it has plates catching on to one another. Worst case scenario, everything falls and you have mashed cake on the table.
The follow is what we had, in the order in which we ate it. From lightest to heaviest, savoury to sweet, starting with the soup. Served in a shot glass, the “Squash Soup” with an herb and cheese crisp was a sumptuous start. A thick and creamy soup, so rich that it could function as a sauce, especially when dipping the crispy flaky cheese twist into it. I wanted a larger bowl of this, to enjoy alongside the sandwich I liked below.
This was a savoury bite reminiscent of the season: “Confit Turkey Sandwich” with apple butter and cranberries. It reminded me of a classic turkey dinner all in one easy to eat handheld. Juicy, pulled, white turkey meat, sage and thyme seasonings, and pops of sweet cranberry. The only thing that was missing was a cup of gravy to smother it all in, thanksgiving turkey style.
My favourite feature of the set was the “Tourtière”. A savoury ground meat pie with a golden brown buttery crust, topped with a crispy fragrant sage leaf. This was just beautifully done. I have had my fair share of this Québécois classic, and to date this is my favourite.
Not winter specific, but familiar to any high tea tower is the “Smoked Salmon & Cucumber sandwich”. The “H Tasting” version is served on rye bread. This is a classic that tasted exactly as you expect it to.
Similarly, there were scones included, scones being another staple to any good tea tower. Each was a perfectly crafted raisin scone: crispy, flaky, and crumbly all in one. It was just as shame that they didn’t make them with the cranberries and thyme that was used to decorate the plate. This would have spoken better to the holiday theme. Though it didn’t stop me from taking a bite of the scone and popping thyme and cranberry into my mouth after it. The scones also come with a jar of orange fruit spread and clotted cream, though the former wasn’t necessary given how much dried fruit there is already on the plate and within the scones themselves.
The menu described this as the “Festive Cotton Candy Bonsai Tree”. I understand the “tree” part, with the mental object being the “trunk” that the round of green and pink cotton candy sat on. However, I was still missing the “festive” portion of it. It could have been flavoured like peppermint, or given a sprinkle of powdered sugar for snow. It didn’t speak to Christmas, but instead spring. Nonetheless it was fun to eat, we enjoyed pulling tuffs from this impressively spun cloud of sugar.
Next we moved on to the dessert portion of our high tea service. Here, we learned that all the restaurant’s pastries are outsourced by “Faubourg Bakery”. They were okay, but I wasn’t expecting this from a hotel property of this caliber. And maybe if it was all made in house, I might have liked them more.
The “Yule Log” was the visual show stopper, it immediately spoke to the holiday with almond jaconde, praline, and ganache. It had a nice chocolatey hazelnut flavour, but a little too sweet for my taste. My guest on the other hand was not only enamoured by this visual, but liked its taste as well.
I couldn’t taste the gingerbread mousse or cranberry compote from the “Festive Profiterole”. The shell was a little soggy and the spices lacking. This wasn’t as memorable as I had hoped.
I preferred the mild flavour of the “Frangipane Cake” with spiced pear and almond. A dense cake that is a little on the dry side. Though the pear in its syrupy coating helped to moisten the two bite treat, flavouring it with hints of cinnamon and apple.
I also didn’t get any gingerbread in the “Gingerbread Cake”. The sponge was chewy with a burnt caramel flavour, and the black currant mousse tasted more like raspberry with its tartness and colour. Sadly, it was bolder in hue than taste.
Overall, I preferred the savoury options to the sweet. None of the desserts, outside of the Yule log, felt or look all that seasonal. Much like the restaurant’s decor, there wasn’t much in terms of Christmas flare. A tree or two outside the restaurant and the ability to cozy up with one of their fur blankets if you get cold. I wanted peppermint, more gingerbread, and/or eggnog. More embellishments and more red and green as the holiday is known for. The Ferris wheel wasn’t even decorated in tinsel. It could have been hung with metallic balls. And the cotton candy bonzai, could have easily been reinvented into a cotton candy Christmas pine with coloured sprinkles and a candied star topper. I am still glad I got to try it, and can’t hold the pastries against them, considering it wasn’t prepared by “H Tasting” go begin with.
But if you are looking for something more heartier, they do have their new winter food menu out as well. The following is what we tried from it.
Their new persimmon dish is the fruit sliced thin like carpaccio and topped with kohlrabi and a sesame praline, then drizzled in a mint and orange blossom vinaigrette. I was surprised by how satisfying this was, and how much it ate like a fulsome dish. Everything came together for a complimentary collection of flavours and textures, with the candied granola being the standout. Tangy and sweet, crunchy and refreshing, and altogether one worth trying, during your next visit.
Something just as light and refreshing, yet satisfying is the new “Burrata” dish. Fresh Burrata from California, topped with Northern Divine caviar; sitting on top of a creamy pea purée, with a fresh pea shoot salad. You eat the cheese like a spread, smeared on top of crispy crostini. The greens add some pepperiness, the purée some sweetness, and the caviar a certain level of elevation that I expect from the setting. Wonderfully simple, yet indulgent.
We also ordered their seafood platter. It is available in three sizes. Small, medium, large; each incrementally giving you more food, although not more variety. So I advise ordering the small version, like we did; and supplementing it with appetizers like we had above. The result, a beautifully fresh collection of kusshi oysters, poached prawns; and halibut carpaccio with a house made carrot kimchi. All served with fresno oil, mignonette, and a cocktail sauce flavoured with gin for dipping. I wouldn’t recommend pairing the kimchi with the gentle white fish, the former was overpowering, and you want to taste the natural flavour of the halibut. In fact, I am not m sure why one is put over the other. I did like the substitution of carrots for cabbage in this spicy fermented mix. This change gave a dish I tend to avoid, a new texture profile I actually like. (I am not a fan of the texture of wilted greens).
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I honestly wish that the property was closer to a skytrain station, so I could and would frequent it more often. And with continuous updates to their menu like so, they are giving me multiple reasons to take the commute. Highly recommended for a good time. Don’t deny your cravings.
H TASTING LOUNGE
1601 Bayshore Drive, Vancouver BC, V6G 2V4