Top 10 afternoon tea experiences in Dubai
Dubai; There’s something pretty special about an afternoon or high tea experience as it’s often referred to. Whenever I travel to cities with a colonial history I always find myself searching out afternoon tea. Must be the Brit half of me. My favourite to date has to be The Peninsula in Hong Kong where I queued for two hours on my birthday a few years ago (only walk-ins were allowed), which happened to coincide with Easter Sunday. I never queue, don’t believe in it – that’s the Cypriot and I guess diva half of moi. And all, just so I could partake in my obsession with this decadent tea feast. By the time I was seated at around 6ish, it was only fair that Mr Laurent Perrier should also join me. A close second is the Mount Nelson in Cape Town with its intimate buffet spread of sweet and savoury delights and quaint garden seating. To quote Henry James, an American-born writer and Anglophile from the 19th century, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
The concept of afternoon tea dates back to Great Britain in the 1830’s, widely credited to one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope 7th, the Duchess of Bedford, to appease her mid-afternoon hunger pans at around 5pm. Naturally London knows how to lay out an afternoon tea spread – some recent FooDiva recommendations here. The sweet and savoury delicacies vary from establishment to establishment but it’s usually a three-tiered stand affair and fluffy, crumbly scones always feature – if not then it ain’t the real deal! Here’s an interesting post from My Custard Pie on what makes a perfect scone with some UK recommendations.
On that subject, there’s a long-standing argument on the etiquette of scone assembly – once the scone is sliced just on that perfectly formed crack, what goes next? Clotted cream (in Dubai it’s mostly locally made cream) or jam, usually strawberry or raspberry. Well if you follow the Devonshire way it’s clotted cream first followed by jam, and in Cornwall the opposite. I guess am a Devonshire kind of gal-cum-diva. What are you?
On our Dubai doorstep, we’re spoilt for choice with pretty much every hotel and cafe knocking up afternoon tea – a great way to entertain visiting friends. So here’s FooDiva’s round-up of Dubai’s top ten afternoon tea experiences in alphabetical order. By no means is this list conclusive but I had to draw the line somewhere.
- Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah, Al Fayrooz – the beauty of this spot is the al fresco balcony setting, in cooler climes of course. Grab a wicker armchair and gaze out to sea whilst indulging in a tiered afternoon tea stand. Or if you’re indoors, a classical pianist entertains. A differentiator here is the unlimited refills of open and closed sandwiches. AED 165 or AED 250 with a glass of champagne. The Entertainer guide has two for the price of one vouchers.
- Burj Khalifa, Atmosphere Lounge – rather than fork out the fee to the observatory tower, I always recommend visitors have a spot of high tea instead and this one’s literally sky high in the world’s tallest tower (for now) – to the tune of a harpist. AED 320 or AED 380 with a glass of champagne. A pricey option.
- Desert Palm Dubai – a spot of polo with your tea? With the new polo season set to begin early next month, a high tea in this desert retreat makes for an entertaining day out. If you book the experience through Lime & Tonic, AED 140 will also get you a guided tour of the stables, or AED 235 with a glass of champagne, Taittinger I believe. If you’ve not yet registered with Lime & Tonic, this link will give you an AED 50 credit.
- Grosvenor House Tower 2, Rhodes in Residence – afternoon tea a la Gary Rhodes. Well he lives in the same tower so you could easily bump into him. FooDiva’s review here. Three tiered afternoon tea stand with a choice of tea or coffee (AED 150), or upgrade to a glass of champers with Gosset (AED 250) and Taittinger Rosé (AED 275).
- Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Sultan Lounge – an Ottoman inspired afternoon tea that culminates with an orange blossom financier and a spray of ‘edible’ cardamom perfume from London-based French celeb patissier Eric Lanlard. Aside from plain scones, a Turkish coffee with date infused scone is also served, along with a choice of cinnamon cream, lemon and rose petal jam, and locally made cream. AED 155 for a three-tiered stand with tea and coffee and AED 255 with a glass of champagne. A traditional English tea is also available for the same price.
- One & Only Royal Mirage, Arabian Court, Samovar Lounge – this spot has to be one of the most gorgeous and inviting tea rooms in Dubai, plus a three tiered high tea stand will only set you back AED 95, but with a glass of champagne it jumps to AED 245 per person. The tea served here is from the historic German tea house Ronnefeldt who has coincidentally just introduced a collection of eleven new ‘Couture’ teas.
- Park Hyatt Dubai, The Lounge – here high tea is served in the lounge overlooking the creek and many a yacht in the marina. A three tiered stand that serves two peeps is priced at AED 180 – damn good value for one of Dubai’s most luxurious (yet under-stated) resorts. AED 260 for two if you’d like a glass of sparkling wine thrown in. If you happen to have a Time Out voucher from an issue earlier this year, you’ll get two stands for the price of one.
- The Palace Downtown, Al Bayt – with full views of Burj Khalifa and the magical fountains, aside from the traditional English afternoon tea (AED 120), an Arabian option (AED 150) is also served with ataif (velvet pancakes) with chocolate, rose petal cheesecake, basbousa (semolina cake), mammoul cookies, camel milk pistachio crème brulee, cardamom scones with local ‘clotted’ cream along with date and apricot jams, plus date cake and lemon cake. A violinist and a harpist provide a musical interlude.
- TWG Tea – the dedicated tea salon and boutique in Dubai Mall with a staggering 450 teas offers three afternoon tea options, all with scones, from a very reasonable AED 42 up to AED 80. Here’s an earlier review.
- Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa – strictly speaking the last venue is Al Ain, but it’s only a 45 minute drive or so from Dubai. Buffet style with open-faced sandwiches, scones and teeny sweet pastries. Grab a pew outside and spot the odd oryx and gazelle as you gaze across the desert. If you mention FooDiva, you’ll get a special price of AED 120 per head (normally AED 160). You do have to book ahead so the security gate can let you in.
Plus here are a few other favourites from FooDiva’s Facebook and Twitter interaction – Bloomsbury’s at Dubai Mall, Burj Al Arab, Raffles and The Ritz-Carlton Dubai JBR. Oh and Rivington Grill at Madinat Jumeirah will start serving a traditional Devonshire tea on its terrace once the weather cools down.
Are you as obsessed as I am with afternoon tea? Any other firm favourites? And pray tell, how do you prefer your scones?
P.S – whilst on the subject of all things sweet, is the cupcake fad finally over? You may be interested in my interview for The National with the chief baking officer of cupcake champion Magnolia Bakery about their foray into savoury.
P.P.S – on a slightly different note, I tried and tasted Fairmont Dubai’s new dine in the dark concept, Noire – here are FooDiva’s impressions.