High Tea. What is it about this event that makes us feel slightly under-dressed, intrigued, yet utterly excited all at the same time? Now, throw in the words “Secret Garden” and transport yourself to the classic novel that is all about whimsy exuding imagination and creativity. That is the complete journey we had recently at The Secret Garden Tea Company’s Winter High Tea experience over the holidays! Come along and join us on our journey!
Reservations are a must when doing the dine-in Secret Garden Winter High Tea experience. They have their regular menu for those without any food intolerances or allergies, but they also have a separate vegetarian menu and gluten-free menu. If you are wanting to bring your kids to high tea with you, they do have a separate kid’s menu as well. If you want to see what is on each menu, all are listed on their website. All the food towers are premade in advance, so be sure to include any of those preferences when you make your reservations. That way they will have it ready for you on the day of your high tea and won’t run out.
After you have checked in at the front door, you will be shown to a beautifully set table that is reminiscent of a European high tea in the tea room. Once seated, your server will ask you if you have any food intolerances, allergies, and/or preferences which is a lovely gesture. You’ll get to choose which tea you would like to have and choose which Winter High Tea menu you would like to try – regular, vegetarian, or gluten-free. Note: There is only one children’s menu from what we could tell.
Their tea menu is extensive. We each chose one tea type and from there we narrowed it down to which teas we would try. We ended up choosing two black teas (Sugar Plum and Secret Garden’s Secret), a green tea (Jasmine with Flowers), and a herbal tea (Blue Angel). The teapots come wrapped in individual koozies and since all the teapots were the same, we had to memorize three out of the four teas by smell and location on where our waitress had placed them down. You can get as many refills of hot water into the teapot(s) as you want for the duration of your stay. Each person is given a small bowl of sugar cubes and a small pot of milk. If you’re like us and you grew up on tea, you can request to have the sugar and milk served on the side, and have the tea as is.
Since our party did not have any special food restrictions, we all ordered the regular Winter High Tea menu. It was made up with the three ‘S’ food groups: sweets (top tier), scones (middle tier), and savouries (bottom tier). The sweets tier, we had: Mini English Trifle, Little Espresso Salted Chocolate Truffle Cake, Tiny Pear Turnover, and the Secret Garden Lemon Tart. For the Scones tier, there were the Petit Cranberry Scone and the Petite Chocolate Almond Scone, served with jam and Devonshire cream. And finally, for the Savouries tier had: Little Quebec Tourtière, Egg Salad on Fairy Pink Bun, Chicken Salad on Tiny Brioche Bun, and Roasted Turkey with Homemade Cranberry Relish on Mini Croissant. Because there were four people in our party, they had split all four high teas onto two towers and looked gorgeous!
We taste-tested each tea before the food arrived. Blue Angel is a distinct pink coloured tea that has a very fruity-floral taste thanks to the apples, caramel, hibiscus, and cornflower petals. The Jasmine with flowers tea (it does not have actual flowers blooming inside the pot) is a green tea and we all agreed it reminds us of the black tea we would have at dim sum. It was familiar and something that we are used to drinking straight up. Sugar Plum is their holiday black tea and it truly smells like Christmas and apple cider all rolled into one. And we couldn’t be at Secret Garden Tea Company without trying their signature Secret Garden’s Secret tea. It’s definitely vanilla and fruity! Definitely let the black teas steep for a longer period of time once it arrives at your table. The flavours of both the Sugar Plum and Secret Garden teas need some time to come out stronger so that you’re not just tasting the black tea base. We definitely chose the right teas for our Winter High Tea experience.
To get your tastebuds ready for all the food, have the Blue Angel tea. Since there are two of each savoury item per person and only one of each sweet and scone items, we collectively decided to start with half of the savouries, move up to the scones, reach to the top with the sweets and then finish off with the second half of the savouries.
The sweets, what can I say? My cousins favour more savoury foods than they do sweet. Let’s start with our least favourite dessert, and that was the espresso salted chocolate truffle cake. You can definitely taste the salt, but there was more espresso than chocolate taste and the cake itself was more fudgy/brownie than cake. Overall, we all found it too rich for our tastebuds.
It also came with a snowman made out of icing and cinnamon bark on top as decoration. The evil snowman. Rach and I refrained from eating the snowman at first, our other cousins tried it out in one bite. The icing was very hard to bite through. I, on the other hand, took apart the snowman piece by piece by hand as much as I could. Found out that the arms are made out of small pieces of cinnamon bark and took those out. The hat was the easiest to break off and melt that in your mouth. The actual snowman was really hard, so I popped it all into my teacup and let the hot tea melt it in. The snowman was the bane of our existence (not being dramatic at all).
The trifle was delicious and I had to get every last bite in the uber-cute supermini mason jar. It was definitely the sweetest dessert out of the sweets tier, but the Jasmine tea definitely helped cut through the sweetness. The lemon tart was a group favourite as it had the contrasting tart and sweet combination, but the winner for us all was the pear tart. Just the right amount of sweetness for us and the pastry was just so flaky and delicious!
The scones were a bit dry, so we were glad to have the jam and Devonshire cream to accompany them, so much so, we asked for more! The cranberry scone was delicious, especially when you slather it with jam and cream. We all did not like the chocolate almond scone at first because we felt like the cocoa made the scone taste even drier and hard to eat on its own. Our recommendation is definitely to slater on even more jam and cream, until you try it with the Secret Garden’s Secret tea!
What. A. Game. Changer.
By the time we got to the scones, the Secret Garden tea had steeped for quite a long time so the vanilla and fruity flavours of the tea had come out even stronger. It actually enhanced the chocolate flavour of the scone and made it more pronounced than the scone base itself, and that made it much tastier than when we first tried it on its own. That was when Rach became addicted to the Secret Garden tea and wouldn’t drink anything else for the rest of our time there. Both the Jasmine and Secret Garden teas became our palate cleansers between each item and each tier. So, take a sip and get ready for the sweets!
Half of us found a couple of the mini sandwiches too salty for our liking, but we definitely all loved the tourtière which reminded us of curry puffs. We each liked a different sandwich – my personal favourite was the roasted turkey with homemade cranberry relish on a mini croissant! Then cleanse your palate with the jasmine tea before going up a tier to the scones.
We definitely took a major food break and just kept drinking tea in order to make room for the repeat (and final) round of the savouries. After everything is done, digest and slip into that food coma with the Sugar Plum tea. It has been steeping this entire time and so the apple cider and Christmas-y notes of this tea really shine and add a feeling of comfort as you reach that finish line.
We are definitely a savoury group and half of us even wanted and hoped that maybe Secret Garden Tea Company will do an all-savoury high tea option in the future. But overall, we had a great time together and a great experience. It was the perfect way to spend time together over the holidays and catch up. We would definitely come back and try it again if they do a different themed high tea. If you want to experience this yourself, check them out on their website and make your reservation. But be sure to go on an empty stomach!