There are three things I feel are necessary when it comes to afternoon tea, and the beautiful Laurel Court restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel San Francisco atop Nob Hill excels at each. The first is the tea itself. It should be very high quality. It should be loose leaf, not served in tea bags! The service should be attentive and never rushed, because tea is meant to be leisurely and relaxed. Finally there should be abundant food. Although the meal is named after a beverage, it often features three separate courses of food. Generally served on tiered trays, there are finger sandwiches, scones with cream and finally pastries, often petit fours.
The Laurel Court is a posh room under three domes, decorated with painted murals, columns, and surrounded by cozy loveseats. The room was restored in 2000, and it's a treat just to spend time there, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Because afternoon tea is a bit of a luxury (at the Laurel Court it is $36) the food should be a lavish spread -- and at the Laurel Court, it certainly is. In addition to tea of your choice, you will enjoy a little rolled smoked salmon and chive cream cheese pinwheel on rye bread, Dungeness crab and mango salad on a corn muffin, an open-faced cucumber and goat cheese sandwich with sundried tomato tapenade on black walnut bread and, perhaps my favorite, five-spice beef tenderloin and lady apple slaw on black olive baguette. All the sandwiches are fresh and delicious.
A scone with currants is served with cream, lemon curd and a quince pear compote. If you need a smidgen more of anything the waiters are there in an instant to oblige. By the time you get to the petit fours you might only be able to nibble on one or two and need to take the rest home. The chocolate and hazelnut French macaron is particularly good. The little cheesecake and chocolate cup of coffee mousse are both a bit rich, and the madeleines are perfect for dunking in tea. I also recommend the mini fruit tarts which are as tasty as they are pretty. My advice? Go with someone you want to catch up with and enjoy!
--Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy
Photo credit: Amy Sherman