In search of respite on a particularly hectic day, I brought my guest here for her first ever high tea experience. I choose “Secret Garden” as I haven’t been in in a while and I have yet to sample their high tea offerings. Seating occurs daily at 12pm, 2:15pm, and 4:30pm. Calling ahead, I made the reservations that were strongly suggested by their website. Though strolling in at 4:30pm there were plenty of empty tables and only three occupied by families and friends. I guess the calling ahead meant it gave the kitchen time to prepare our set menu. I did come mere minutes after our tea was steeped.
Located across the street from a school meant that mothers brought their children in for an after school snack and stayed as treat for themselves. As was this case today, it was a little rowdier than I expected, as their small children enjoyed running around the space.
Designed like a cottage on the outside, it was as cozy inside. The exterior, a solid blue-ish grey coat of paint, gold foiled letters, and a teapot shaped sign advertising their business. Inside the room was set with displays units, cabinets, and shelves. Endless possibilities to display and store their tea and tea related accessories. Behind cabinet-ed glass as a look but don’t touch arrangement: tea cups and saucers in a variety of pastel colours and floral patterns lay.
Deeper into the room past the hostess booth and tables set up were goods for sale. Everything you would need to host your very own tea party. A wall of loses leafs in bags and others in sealed canisters for you to take home. Tea bags, tea pots, tea tumblers, tea sets, tea towels, and larger than practical tea cups. Their teapot theme even transitioned into tea pot shaped handles on cupboards and knobs in the washroom. I applaud them on their consistency.
Before the kitchen is their working counter. Where tea is steeped and coffee is brewed. Its background a shelf of pots, creamers, cups, and sugar bowls; again more for show than for use. The black board above advertised their long list of teas available in chalk. The server working behind the bar was kind enough to offer her own exit so that I got a good picture of their set up.
Refrigerated behind glass on glass shelves were pastries, cookies, and cakes available for eating in or taking out. A batch pre made for the day in bite sized collections. Eclairs, carrot cake, nanaimo bars, strawberry shortcake, wildberry tarts, white chocolate oolong muffins, cheese scones, bon bons, chocolate cake, sugar cookies shaped and iced like dresses, and many other one of a kind treats.
The restaurant is divided into two halves, one dressed as a salon and the other half a cafe. We sat in the former for a more formal tea-ing experience by the window. Here each table is clothed and set atop with glass. Ours a deep green speckled with a patterned of white winged insects. Each place setting was set with folded napkins, metal cutlery, and dish ware in a bright white rimmed with gold. Shame the cups on display weren’t the ones being used. Such a tea cup would have elevated our service and warranted gentle sips with pinkies up.
Around the room are shelves positioned up high and out of reach. On them a collection of trinkets and bobbles. Rusted metal boxes, porcelain figurines, empty tins of tea, mantle clocks, and children’s play blocks. A few looked precious, others probably held memories. Memories belonging to faces in the black and white portraits framed and hanging. A mother and father, and children smiling. With the fireplace centring the room it could have all very well served as their living room.
We indulged in their premiere high tea service. “A beautiful assortment of mini sandwiches, Secret Garden sweets, tea cakes and mini scones served with jam, Devon cream and one of their Secret Garden Teas.” All presented on their traditional three tiered tray for that extra wow factor. This they called their “ultimate tea experience” at $27.95 per person.
The meal being set we were offered no menu and given no options besides our choice of tea. Though were asked of dietary restrictions and they were able to accommodate with a shared service for a vegetarian and another of an omnivore.
High tea is as much about the experience as it is about the food. Meant as a break in the day it takes you away in little bites of perfection. A sandwich or cake is never more gratifying then when nibbled on in dainty portions. The smaller servings automatically has you taking smaller bites, and in turn savouring each one. You take a pause to chew and another to taste each fresh ingredient. You appreciate what you have more because there is so little if it, and as a result you also never grow tired of the taste. Such a course leaves you wanting more, and has you longing for the next time that you will be back. I have never been able to finish everything offered at any high tea service. Looking at the food you think it cannot be enough. But between sips of tea and chatting with your guest you somehow find yourself getting full and skipping right to dessert.
We both choose rooibos teas. Rooibos is a caffeine free and naturally sweet herbal tea, similar to black tea. It is enjoyed for its high in antioxidant properties and flavonoids, along with its vitamins and minerals. “Provence”, a fruity and floral rooibos with a hint of lavender. And the “Secret Garden Rooibos”, a blend of their “creamy caramel” and “Queen of hearts” rooibos. Caramel, almond, and lemon are in this earthy mix. Each tea came it its own pot with their own branded tea cozy to keep things warm. Throughout our meal we were checked in on and more hot water was added to our pots as needed.
Given the brief run through of the savoury and sweet line up we were given, and it’s rotation on a day to day bases; I can only piece together what we had by what I tasted and what they have listed on their website menu. As promised and as expected the presentation on their three tiered rack was stunning. Who wouldn’t want to take a picture of something so pretty and so special. A feast of tiny things made to make anyone feel like a giant.
The savouries came with a division between a veggie and meat friendly two bite sandwiches. Each flavour with two portions. Roasted vegetables on a croissant with zucchini, tomato, and kale. Grilled Brie and tomato on a croissant. Egg Salad on whole wheat bread, made with a blend of eggs, mayo, green onions and lettuce. Chicken Pesto on a cheese scone, made with fresh chicken breast, a basil pesto, mayo, and crisp lettuce. Roast beef and grainy Dijon mustard on a croissant with lettuce and mayo.
The middle layer was a slow transition from salty to sweet. A mild cranberry loaf specked with juicy fruit and a sugar topped soft and chewy scone taken with their house made raspberry jam and Devon cream.
And our three courses ended in desserts that were not too sweet, ones that did not take anything away our featured teas. A zesty and tart lemon tart, a tropical black sesame and luscious coconut cake, and a smooth and nutty berry and date slice, topped with a delicately frosted candied flower. They were all as delicious to our taste buds as they were to our eyes.
I am a sucker for things shaped like other things, so I have to pick up a heart shaped cheese scone and a star shaped sweet apple scone to go. The cheese one has made it on to “Vancouver Magazine’s” 101 tastes to try for 2009. Each scone was light and crumbly they stayed fresh days after I took them home. So large I nibbled on them across a few snacking opportunities.
The following pictures are from my last visit to “Secret Garden” over a year ago. It is good to see that they have remained consistent on their branding and continue to serve beautiful dishes crafted with care today.
“Secret Garden Fresh tomato Soup”.
“Secret Garden Quiche, Every day we make little quiches just for you! Accompanied by a beautiful side salad”
“Mini high tea, Enjoy three miniature sweets, one miniature scone, raspberry jam, devon cream and one of our Secret Garden Teas”. $12.95 Per Person. Sweets dependent on daily availability.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Located in a lovely area with abundant parking, this is an easy destination for a get together with friends , or as an afternoon snack stop by yourself. They offer everything you imagine tea to be: a peaceful setting, based on the other patrons seated; a warm friendly environment cultivated by inviting and accommodating staff; and delectable nibbles, each deserving of its own feature. And if you think high tea will not enough food for you they also offer a heartier breakfast and a more fulsome lunch. From soups and salads, to stews and pot pies. Don’t deny your cravings.
SECRET TEA GARDEN
5559 West Boulevard, Vancouver BC