Tea, scones, cake and lashings of strawberry jam. How spiffing!
Traditionally, afternoon tea was taken as a ‘pick-me-up meal’ by British nobility during the 19th century, consisting of a few light snacks and, of course, a big pot of tea. Not much has changed with Dubai’s modern version: you still get plenty of delicious hot buttered scones and finger-sized sandwiches, alongside a staggering range of teas, although (this being Dubai) there’s often a glass of bubbly thrown in as well. The main difference today, of course, is that we tend to spend most of our afternoons at work, rather than sitting around chatting about polo.
So why bother? Well, in Dubai, afternoon tea is fast becoming an institution; our city’s top hotels all put on lavish spreads, vying for the accolade of best afternoon tea in town. But is it worth taking an hour out of a weekend mall trawl for a cup of tea? There’s only one way to find out – The Time Out Afternoon Tea Test! Let’s get started…
Al Samadi Café & Sweet Shop
This unique Franco-Lebanese café, specialising in both French and Arabic sweets, has a decent-enough outside seating area, with a handful of tables located on the pavement at Burj Boulevard. Yet it’s the interior that wins points for combining features of the finest cafés of Paris or Beirut – you can’t fail to be impressed by the magnificent display of traditional Arabic sweets and pastries. There are also eight different types of tea on offer, from Darjeeling and Earl Grey to the intriguing Moroccan Nights. Given the setting, we were expecting prices to be high, but the sweets (at Dhs12 a portion or Dhs21 for a sample tray) proved to be surprisingly good value and sinfully tasty. It’s not ideal for those looking to watch their figure, but those with a sweet tooth will be in heaven.
Spiffing rating: 8/10
Prices start at Dhs21. Open daily 7.30am-midnight. Burj Boulevard, Downtown Burj Khalifa, www.alsamadicafes.com (04 432 9520).
The quiet and peaceful Raffles Salon is tucked away behind the hotel lobby, overlooking the main entrance – perfect for premium licence-plate spotting. With 20 bottomless tea blends from luxury label Tchaba, including one inspired by the emirates, you’ll certainly be spoilt for choice. If, however, you’d prefer a cup of coffee, there are several varieties of that too (including iced options). The three types of scones, meanwhile, are buttery and fresh, and the sandwiches inventive (the egg and cress variety is particularly cracking). The other dessert options are varied – we loved the bitter chocolate cookie/tart hybrid, but found the various sweet loaves underwhelming. That said, we finished everything on our plate.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a bank balance that simply reads ‘no more worries in life’, you’ll be in good company at Al Qasr among its wealth of moneyed guests. Still, you don’t need to be a Russian oligarch to enjoy the novelty of tea on the balcony of Al Fayrooz Lounge – for Dhs140, you’re plied with delicate choux pastries, soft scones, delicate sandwiches and elaborate variations thereof, alongside a pot of tea. It’s really too much for one person, but we’re not complaining. Aside from the dainty trays of sweet and savoury delights, there are few nicer places to spend an afternoon in Dubai: seagulls circle the nearby Burj Al Arab, there’s a distant murmur of children frolicking in the hotel pool, and you can watch the sun slowly sink into the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf.
Spiffing rating: 10/10
Dhs140 per person. Daily 3pm-6pm. Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 8888).
Park Hyatt Dubai
Our tea-time experience got off to a shaky start: on arriving, we were asked if we’d made a reservation as afternoon tea takes about 20 minutes to prepare, which was irksome because we’d called beforehand, only to be told we didn’t need to make a booking. However, this was soon forgotten when our piping-hot drinks were poured and we were presented with three-layered tray of goodies, including traditional scones and clotted cream, delicious pastries and finger sandwiches (the Scottish smoked-salmon roll was particularly good). The tea selection is pretty impressive, to say the least – there are 13 types on offer, ranging from traditional favourites such as Earl Grey, Darjeeling and Assam breakfast to Moroccan mint, yellow gold oolong, lemon verbana and Japanese sencha. Overall, an elegant yet relaxed affair.
Spiffing rating: 8/10
Dhs115 for two. Daily 3pm-7pm. Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222).
Afternoon tea at The Palace is served at Al Bayt: we recommend sitting on the balcony so you can take in the sweeping views of the pool and the Dubai Fountain. The setting is how modern-day afternoon tea should be, but sadly it all goes downhill from there – we found the sandwich fillings stingy and the cakes pretty dry. The staff didn’t give too much away when it came to the selection of teas, but after asking several times we were curtly told that we could have English breakfast, Earl Grey or green tea. Most disappointing of all was that only one pot of tea (two cups) was available for the Dhs120 price tag – a little stingy, considering that afternoon tea is meant to be a decadent affair.
Spiffing rating: 5/10
Dhs120 per person. Daily 2pm-6pm. The Palace, Downtown Burj Khalifa (04 428 7888).
InterContinental Dubai Festival City
Vista’s terrace at the InterCon is the perfect place to settle in the afternoon sunshine, with comfy seating and sweeping views of the creek. The tea selection, meanwhile, consists of the usual suspects: English breakfast, Earl Grey, and some interesting fusions. Sadly, the service is a little slow – we had to stand and beckon the waitress to our table every time we wanted something, and our tea eventually arrived 10 minutes after the food. The mini burgers, fruit and small selection of pastries were served on an impressive-looking tiered silver tray, though the presentation far exceeded the quality of the food itself.
Spiffing rating: 4/10
Dhs100 for two. Daily 1pm-6pm. InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1111).
The Lobby Lounge overlooks the Ritz-Carlton’s beautifully manicured gardens and the turquoise sea that lies beyond. However, aside from the faultless setting, we found service painfully slow, despite having booked in advance. Upon arrival we were informed that the kitchen had run out of scones (a cardinal sin for afternoon tea) and we’d have to wait an hour for them to be prepared. Things got better, however, with the arrival of the tea set – beautiful ornate crockery, a handsomely sized teapot, and a multi-tiered tray packed with scones, sandwiches and chocolate-coated strawberries. As for the tea itself, we opted for Earl Grey, though had the choice of Darjeeling, Emirates Spice, masala chai, mysterious medina, and ‘temptation’ (whatever that is). However, taste didn’t match appearance: the tea wasn’t piping hot, the sandwiches were a little insipid, and the jams could have been of better quality. The scones, however, were very good. We’re guessing we caught the Ritz on an off day, but we nevertheless left slightly disappointed.
Spiffing rating: 6.5/10
Dhs125 per person; Dhs265 with a glass of bubbly. Daily 2pm-6pm. Lobby Lounge, The Ritz-Carlton, The Walk at JBR (04 318 6715).
One & Only Royal Mirage
While the One&Only’s interior can feel quietly austere (in the way that über-five-star hotels sometimes do), the hotel’s Samovar Lounge boasts a beautifully relaxing balcony terrace with a sumptuous setup overlooking the hotel gardens – perfect for a late afternoon feed. Serving 16 types of tea, from Sri Lankan Ceylon to soothing chamomile, there’s something for every mood, plus knowledgeable staff on hand to recommend different varieties (though if you fancy a glass of something stronger, there are also plenty of options to choose from). We chose a refreshing peppermint brew (a supposed digestion aid), which was the perfect decision after our generous helping of open and closed sandwiches, scones and macaroons. Tucking in, we smothered delicious, hot miniature scones in clotted cream and strawberry jam, but gave up on the overly buttery and unappetisingly stale finger sandwiches after a few experimental nibbles.
Spiffing rating: 6/10
Dhs90 per person. Daily 3pm-6pm. One&Only Royal Mirage, Al Sufouh Road (04 399 9999).
It’s hard to imagine anything remotely peaceful or relaxing existing within Mall of the Emirates, what with hordes of frenzied candy-chewing kids running around and frantic fashion fans scrambling for Chanel and Dior. But lo and behold, the Kempinski’s Aspen Lounge, spacious and oozing class, somehow manages to provide a peaceful retreat. The elegant venue is pretty on the eye, kitted out with some fine art, with a pianist doing a grand job of teleporting guests somewhere far from the mall setting. Service is attentive without being intrusive and the menu, most importantly, offers a fair variety. Though technically not quite an afternoon tea, (how about calling it a casual afternoon tea?), the Dhs85 tea buffet here is an absolute bargain, giving guests a three-hour window in which to sip through some delightful, genuinely healthy tea, gorgeous pastries and cute, well-crafted desserts.
Spiffing rating: 8/10
Dhs85 per person. Fri-Sat 2pm-6pm. Kempinski Hotel, Mall of the Emirates, Barsha (04 409 5999).
Burj Al Arab
There’s something special about waving your reservation under the Burj gatemaster’s nose, crossing the drawbridge (okay, bridge) and passing through the swivelling door. Once seated in the Sahn Eddar lounge, we were further calmed by the scenic view over Jumeirah Beach Hotel, the Madinat and beyond, and the civilised chatter of couples and families around us. The set food menu was followed by one page of coffee choices and three for tea, divided into black, green and herbal from Morocco, China, India and beyond. As we waited for our silver three-tier tray to be filled with crustless goodies, our waitress brought two flutes of bubbly (additional glasses can be purchased separately). On arrival, the food looked impressive: square sandwiches with multicoloured (and at times ever-so-slightly stale) bread, followed by scones, cakes and chocolates, then more cakes, and more chocolates… Did we feel spoiled? When the pianist played ‘Happy Birthday’ to mark our special occasion, definitely.
Spiffing rating: 8/10
Dhs395 per person. Daily 8am-11.30pm. Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah (04 301 7600).
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GILBERTO SOFFIATTI Dec 27, 2014 04:41 pm
looking for an alternative to the much-too-expensive burj al arab tea
claire Feb 19, 2011 06:21 pm
We went there this weekend with a big expectation, but we were so disappointed about the quality, the service. Most of all, we were angry because the server didn't want refii the bevarage! We couldn't finish all pastry with only one beverage. Last time, we went the other hotel for afternoon tea, the price was half of that but quality& service were much better. We are agree with a beautiful view but we were annoyed by many birds too.