The website coffeetea.about.com states that Afternoon Tea or Low Tea is the actual dainty classy practice that originated in the UK while High Tea was historically a hearty working-class filler. As you can see from this inappropriate nomenclature, matters of giving suitable names to serious affairs can hardly be left to the British who , in this instance, have bungled up it up royally. So His Highness UPN (a.k.a EarnesTaster) has deemed that I will ,with full legitimacy, call my experience a "High Tea". We experienced this at the 5 star Langham hotel's Winery.
Ambience - is the main reason that brought us here. I wanted my house's drawing room to look like this, but for that I will have to draw like Picasso. A magnificent chandelier graces the central part of the ceiling, a well-appointed huge liquor repository occupies a glinting multi-hued wall at the back, while snugly set tables and chairs are laid out in this luxurious space. It is a place mainly suited for drinks and chat (and angrezi chaat!) so the tables assume petite dimensions so as to not create a gulf between the patrons (of the same group) but the inter-table distance should have been wider. All said,it is a superb place to which you may bring your sweetheart, and it also suited towards a business meeting particularly if your trading partner is reminiscent of Demi Moore from 'Disclosure'.
Tea - Though I'm by default a coffee drinker, I will any day appreciate a nice cup of tea. The menu had about 20 or so varieties of tea some of which were so select that the Auckland Langham was the only hotel in the world that procured these varieties from their exclusive makers. Sri Lankan Tea dominates in NZ, but this menu also sported the Darjeeling variety and exotic versions like one scented with orange blossoms and whatnot. There were three of us, and we were at fault in not choosing different pots of tea and taking turns in having at least a cup of each. All of us ended up having the same Langham Special blend - it had a mild flavour,thus lent itself to multiple cups of absent-minded quaffing and was well suited to lubricating long leisurely chats. Its qualities do not admirably sustain on the addition of milk or sugar - I will have to concentrate more next time in endeavouring to better describe the taste profile of this tea.
Food - The snacks were brought and presented to us in a 3-tier Curate stand. The 1st level carried what would prove to be the high-point of my high tea - freshly baked date scones. I can think of some rather racy analogies when I try to describe their pillowy inviting goodness but in the gentemanly spirit of this genteel rendezvous, I will control my carnal thought-streams and simply report that they amply gratified my desire that evening. Countless date scones all over the country are like forgettable dates but this one was a affair to remember. Soft, warm and yielding like a dream to the bite, with the crust providing just a polite hint of textural contrast, and delicately scented with the sweet of the desert, it beat out the actual deserts in providing.bang for buck. Anointing them with smoothly dulcet cream (which was provided) enhanced their enticement.
Salmon Cone - A wafer cone was filled with salmon pate, crowned with glinting caviar. It looks better than it performs. It was served with a silver synthetic holder at the base and if that had carried a fine print -it would have said "Inspired by Thomas Keller". I felt that this smooth salmon pate is texturally not a good idea, and the whole thing came across as fish-flavoured baby food served in a cone. The vegetarian version brought later carried the substitution of hummus and it was not tasted by me. My altruism also extended in proferring to my family the green tea macaroons.
The second tier carried the "savouries". Even to a Indian like me who can adjust his palette towards appreciating the subtler spectrum of supposedly savoury specimens, an English Tea should not be expected to provide the true impact of the said category. Finger sandwiches, like an ascetic butler, communicated its point only in whispers and for variety, a small jar carried little paddles of bacon that covered brunoised slaw. As for wicked samosas and spanking masale puri, I will look elsewhere.
The top tray carried some intensely flavoured sweets, some of which were smartly hedged with cheese slices to give a dual richness. There was a small bomb of choco cream (its detonation was muffled, but at least it went off) and a shot glass of silky banana custard topped with pistachio cream.
Service - is often conspicuous by its absence, and it frequently makes a silent case to be awarded a "Fail". Service in deluxe restaurants in NZ often falls short of European and American standards of vigilant concern but The Winery, High Tea or otherwise, takes the cake. When the staff would come to the table, they did a reasonable job of acting worthy of the place.But waiting aeons and repeated craning of my neck to catch their attention, in order to ask for sugar (there is no other way to put it) was in vain. Giving tips is not a strong cultural practice in NZ, but if it was, they should give me tips for being so vigilant in monitoring the staff. This joint is pitched on the The Langham's website as the perfect meeting place, and the staff might say to their defence that they are only trying to ensure privacy, but I'd say that both in relationships and in restaurant service there is such a thing as giving too much space (and time).
The snacks are replenished on request. Tariffs - NZ $ 45 per person for the pot of tea complete with the array of nibbles.
Will I go again to this place? You betcha! (probably I will somehow finagle and bring along my own butler) It is said that form is temporary, class is permanent (this would often be said when Tendulkar would be dismissed, by displaying a puzzling lapse in defence) In The Winery's case, I will be generous enough to say that the fleeting 'form' may apply to their truant service, and be perfectly objective in conceding that permanent 'class' refers to their splendid ambience.