Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Afternoon tea at the Townsend Hotel

a medley of petite treats

After a lovely week of warmer weather and sunshine, spring is doing its best to hold sway, even though this week looks to be cooler and intermittently rainy.  But you know what they say . . . . showers bring spring flowers and all that.

early primroses blooming in our little courtyard

This past Sunday Steve and I took a drive over to the other side of the state to pay a visit to the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan for their afternoon tea.  As I consider how I might go about offering such an enjoyment to small groups here in Grand Rapids, I'm always up for seeing how different places manage that particular delight.

Birmingham is a northern suburb of Detroit.  Due to the pouring rain, we weren't able to stroll around the ville, but as we drove through the main business district, we sensed an upscale community with an array of interesting shops and eateries.

Upon our arrival at the hotel, the hostess introduced us to Laura Klein, the tea director.  Laura and I had communicated by email in past weeks, and it was good to finally meet her in person.

We were ushered into the tea room, a lovely muraled space with a fireplace, fireside sofas and several traditional tables which were all set for tea.  Steve and I chose a cozy spot along the wall with a nice view of the fireplace across the room.

ready and waiting for guests

There were orange cranberry scones already in place on Wedgwood's Oberon pattern china - soft autumnal colors which blended very nicely with the overall decor of the room.

Mascarpone cream and house made lemon curd were in place as accompagnements for the scones . . .

in addition to small jam jars of Dickinson and Bonne Mamam (our favorite "store bought").

The Townsend offers Harney and Sons teas, and the Earl Grey won out over the raspberry herbal for us.  Ginger, our server, was immediately at hand to pour, and she kept our cups topped off throughout our stay.

Laura stopped at our table often and was very willing to share her tea expertise, answering my questions and giving me advice and tips on how one might proceed in developing an afternoon tea concept.  Her best advice - as you start out "keep it simple"!

Once our tea had been served we started in on the scones - crisp exterior, moist interior and a noticeable orange essence, although I felt the baking powder taste was a bit too forward.  The mascarpone and lemon curd pleasantly complimented the orange-cranberry.

Soon the tea sandwiches and sweets were delivered . . . .


offering a generous and traditional assortment (with some Townsend twists) of finger sandwiches and petite sweets.

Below are salmon/egg salad/crème fraiche/caviar on wheat and beef tenderloin/citrus horseradish cream/watercress on rye . . . .


followed by chicken salad/maple walnut butter on puff pastry, hummus/cucumber/tapenade on pita and asparagus/boursin topped with quail egg on white.

My favorites were the asparagus/quail egg and the chicken salad, although the beef/citrus horseradish was pretty tasty as well.

I found the hummus/cucumber/tapenade too briny, but I must admit I'm not a huge olive/pimento fan.

The sweets medley consisted of chocolate covered strawberry, white chocolate raspberry teacup, chocolate glazed éclair and orange flavored teacake, providing a pleasant spectrum of textures and flavors.


Steve had decided ahead of time that he wouldn't partake of the traditional tea, and so he ordered an omelette with potatoes and English muffin - pretty basic Sunday noon fare and plenty to eat.

We continued chatting with Laura as we sipped our tea and took some breaks between taste testing.

For the pièce de resistance we were surprised by beautifully presented trays of petite sweets, prepared expressly for us by the hotel's pastry chef.

Lavender cupcake, fresh fruit tartlet, strawberry and mango gelées in pastry shells, green tea mousse and raspberry cream éclair  - quite a selection!

While the assortment was pleasing to the eye, when it came time to taste, I found the gelées a tad too gelatinous and the strawberry and mango flavors not as fresh and natural as I had hoped.

The fresh fruit tart was delicious and the pastry shells were not at all bad for commercially stamped out products.

It's all about learning, all the time!

Laura was kind enough to send some samples of their loose and bagged teas home with us as well as "doggie boxes" of left over treats.

Our visit was a positive and enjoyable experience.  The ambience of the tea room is just right, the staff are knowledgeable and attentive, eager to please and very willing to talk about their trade with the likes of us.  The menu is well thought out and offers an array of tastes and textures.

Try it sometime and see for yourself.

Not bad for a Sunday drive, wouldn't you say?!

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