(Don't worry, I haven't abandoned the Japan posts. Just interrupting that broadcast for a moment).
I'm not going to fluff around with the history and tradition of afternoon tea in Hong Kong - there are enough posts on the web and in printed media about that. And most of them would have mentioned tea at the Mandarin Oriental's Clipper Lounge as a Hong Kong institution (the other being The Peninsula).
Year after year I promised myself that I will go to the MO for afternoon tea. One year I came close - then chose to grab a cake set from the MO's cake shop instead. It was foolish, yes - but I was only 17 and relatively penniless.
So, driven by the fear of missing out yet again on going to the MO for another year, I went ahead and made a booking.
Then changed it.
My MO afternoon tea experience somehow ended up starting 2 weeks before actually tasting anything. It was a good start. Unfortunately it didn't last.
Service was brisk, but only attentive at times. We were shown our seats and given menus; but no water. When it did come after 2 requests, the glasses were, to put it bluntly, filthy; marred by water stains, and sticky patches of what I hope was detergent and not something else. Being a cold day they did thoughtfully provide warm water rather than cold - something which deserves a little credit.
For our table of three we were recommended the Mandarin Afternoon Tea set for two (which comes with 2 drinks - tea, coffee or hot chocolate), and order an additional drink; that an additional tea set for one could always be ordered should the set for two be insufficient. It was good advice to heed - sharing the set for two amongst three was quite enough.
Tier 1: Sandwiches (L to R)
Smoked Chicken, Waldorf; smoked salmon, sour cream, chive; egg salad, chive; York ham, mustard; cucumber, cream cheese, herb.
The sandwiches were dainty and looked promising, until one of the party picked up the smoked chicken, waldorf only to discover a long piece of hair attached to the bottom. Despite the offending sandwich being taken away and replaced, it left the rest of us slightly concerned about the hygiene of the remaining sandwiches...
Taste-wise, it was as dainty and delicate as it looks. Nothing much can go wrong with quality ingredients and fresh bread.
Tier 2: Warm (L to R)
Bacon, onion quiche; spinach, feta puff; sausage roll; madeline.
Having only tasted the spinach, feta puff and the sausage roll I can only comment on half of what was on that plate. The sausage was nice, but nothing too amazing; unfortunately I found the puff pastry a bit damp and therefore not the crisp and buttery and flaky sort with which I'm accustomed. Maybe that was intentional; I don't know. The spinach and feta puff was better; pastry had more crispness, but again lackluster. Nothing wrong with the taste, but it wasn't anything that made one's eyes bright up. Actually, I'd be much happier with a Shanghai radish puff (蘿蔔絲酥餅)...
Tier 3: Pastries (L to R)
Opera cake; cupcake; blueberry tart; mandarin cheesecake
The pastries, like pretty much everything else presented on plates, were so dainty (read: small) they were pretty much impossible to divide and share. I ended up tasting the cheesecake and the cupcake. The cupcake was moist, but slightly sticky - it may have been the ultra humid weather (over 95% relative humidity) at play. Nothing too amazing though, I've produced similar tasting cupcakes from my own kitchen. The cheesecake was much better, and closer to the standard I had anticipated. Creamy, flavoursome, rich but not overly heavy, I savoured every bite. I'm told the blueberry tart was quite good too, nice tart pastry, fresh cream and fresher blueberries. The opera cake apparently was a bit heavy on the rum and branded "WTH" by the taster.
Scones: classic and raisin. Served with clotted cream and MO's house rose petal jam.
To be honest, none of the party are big fans of rose-flavoured food. We weren't asked anything about the jam when we ordered, and it was only later that we found out that a blueberry option was available. It left another blot on the experience.
But the scones were good. Understatedly buttery, they were light and perfectly crumbly. Whether they're the city's best, I'm not sure. What I do know is that I will return just for the scones. And the tea.
It wasn't the perfect afternoon tea I had hoped for, but one can only have so much.
Afternoon tea service starts Monday to Saturday at 3pm (3:30pm on Sundays) and is available at the Clipper Lounge and Cafe Causette. The Mandarin Afternoon Tea set for two is $448 including 2 drinks. A 10% service charge is applicable.
The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hong Kong