My family is a large brood of tea drinking women. It’s comforting, it’s tradition, it feels like home. But when I met John I had never been out for tea, afternoon tea or high tea. So when he suggested we go that first time in January 2008 I was all for it.
L’Espalier, Boston’s best restaurant for afternoon tea, was at 30 Gloucester Street then and shortly moved to it’s current location on Boylston Street in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel block. We had tea, finger sandwiches, and delicious desserts. It was elegant, romantic, and had that special element of tradition. I was in love. We’ve been back a few times since and it’s perfection every time. We’ve had afternoon tea at many other places but the tea service at L’Espalier remains my all time favorite in the world.
We went to L’Espalier on Sunday to celebrate our 1 year engage-iversary and as an early Valentine’s Day present to ourselves. It was, as always, the perfect dining experience.
When you arrive you enter the lobby and ride a small elevator up one floor to L’Espalier.
You’re greeted the second the door opens, your coat is taken, and you’re asked to take a seat in the plush salon. Here’s John enjoying the view on to Boylston:
In the salon is the cheese case. The amazing, mouthwatering, smelly cheese case.
Once you are seated for tea you receive the tea menu: 3 dining options (the cheese tasting, the full tea service with sandwiches and pastries, or just the pastries) and 8 tea options.
We ordered the cheese tasting plate, two full tea services, Linden Flower tea for me, and Early Grey tea for John.
The tea is served in individual pots with loose leaf tea steeping down the center. It’s served with honey and milk. The Linden Flower tea was delicious – soft, sweet, fragrant.
The cheese tasting comes out on a simple white plate accompanied by candied walnuts, bread, honey, and rehydrated apricots. Our cheese tasting included brie, manchego, emmantaler, raclette, smoked gouda, and bleu cheese. I cannot even begin to explain how exquisite the cheese selection is at L’Espalier. The cheeses are all savory, creamy, and perfect on the palette. The raclette was hands down my favorite with the brie as a close second. John’s favorite was the 5 year aged smoked gouda.
Next on the menu are the tea sandwiches: cucumber and cream cheese, smoked salmon, grilled ham and cheese, lobster salad in a pretzel roll, and egg salad on brioche. Thinking about this now is making my mouth water. The various breads are fresh and moist. All of the fillings were crisp, flavorful, and perfectly dressed. The pretzel roll was a unique new addition to the tea sandwich presentation. The egg salad on brioche is always my favorite though.
Last but not least is the petit fours and pastries course. Pictured here is the traditional pastry swan with espresso chantilly, chocolate decadence cake with candied white chocolate, buttermilk panna cotta over green tea crumbles, a cherry apricot scone, madelines with lemon curd, and a grapefruit and whipped cream cake with gelatin layer.
My new favorites were absolutely the madelines with lemon curd and the buttermilk panna cotta. The lemon curd was sweet and so tart, and the panna cotta was creamy and delicate.
My old standby/all time favorite dessert is the scone slathered with clotted cream and apricot jam. I have daydreams about the buttery, flaky, sweet, and savory aspects of this perfect dessert.
Despite what you may think because of the small portions, we always leave tea full. The bite sized servings are perfect, but filling over the course of your hour or so tea service. The pace of the meal is perfect too, not dull or meandering, but precisely the right amount of time to savor every bite, sip your tea, and enjoy the gorgeous dining room. Tea is pricey, I’ll be up front with you, but is worth every penny for the experience and the quality of the food. Each component of each dish is made and selected with love. The quality is superb, with each element standing out, each bite is fresh and bright. And the service is top notch, always. The staff is professional, efficient, and courteous. For each course a clean plate and new silver is set. The dining room is spotless and every effort is made to make sure you feel like royalty.
The sad part is when the tea is over, of course, but we start planning our return trip immediately. How lucky are we to have such a terrific restaurant so close to home? I can’t wait until next time!