An elegant tea in the Canadian Rockies

S. Amjad Hussain, right, with friend Hidayat Ullah at Lake Louise.
S. Amjad Hussain, right, with friend Hidayat Ullah at Lake Louise.

LAKE LOUISE, Alberta, Can. — While camping in the Canadian Rockies recently, I visited Lake Louise. It is a beautiful turquoise lake hemmed in by snow-clad mountains. The air is crisp and sweet and the scene exudes calm and tranquility that is rarely found elsewhere. Lake Louise has been called the gem of the Rockies.

On one side of the lake sits the majestic Fairmont Hotel — chateau Fairmont –— that completes the picture perfect story-book scene.

The carefully and artistically appointed chateau is widely known for its amenities and excellent service, such as the traditional English afternoon tea served in the dining room that overlooks the lake.

I was traveling with my college friend Hidayat Ullah, who is quite familiar with the Canadian Rockies because of his previous photographic excursions into those mountains.With considerable expectation we arrived at the hotel a few minutes after the tea service had ended. The hostess, Jasmine Snider, informed us that the dining room was closed and that it would reopen for tea next morning. Hidayat, my resourceful friend, lamented to the hostess how disappointed he was because he had persuaded his friend from Ohio to come to Lake Louise to experience the exquisite English tea. She consulted her manager and they decided to make a rare exception and we were seated by a large arched window overlooking a breathtaking view of the lake.

The phrase English High Tea is a misnomer. High tea, in strict sense, means dinner or meat tea but through the passage of time the label has been attached to afternoon tea. Now the phrase is associated with any tea that follows the traditional offerings of sandwiches and sweets.

The service started with fresh fruit cocktail sweetened with a touch of Cointreau and a glass of Nino Franco Prosecco.

A tea cart was wheeled in. Set on the table were 19 glass jars with a variety of teas, ranging from the well-known and recognizable breakfast teas to more rare and exotic teas from around the world. There were Herb and Fruit Tisanes, Estate teas, organic brands specially packaged for Chateau Fairmont and an array of Fairmont Health and Wellness teas. The only missing item was a tea cozy, a tea pot cover resembling the hats worn by Queens' guards at the Buckingham Palace, that helps steep the tea and keeps it hot.

As we sipped our tea, the initial course of dainty finger sandwiches were brought in. Arranged and presented artfully on a platter, they included smoked salmon and cucumber, turkey and cranberry cream cheese, Brie cheese and apple chutney, egg salad croissant and carrot and almond salad pin.

Next, we were served buttermilk scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves. Scones constitute an essential part of English tea and there is a proper way to eat them. I learned that lesson in the House of Lords in London, a bastion of courtesy, good manners, and all things English.

About 15 years ago my late wife Dottie and I were the guests of Lord Nazir Ahmad on one of our visits to London. After showing us around the House of Lords, the courtly peer invited us to tea in the dining room. As the bearer brought a tray full of goodies, our host reached over and picked up a scone. Slowly and deliberately he sliced the scone in two halves as if he were slicing a bun. He picked up one half, applied a liberal coat of clotted cream and topped it with strawberry preserve.

Then he held the sliced half between his thumb and finger and started nibbling on his. We followed suit. I think he was afraid that we would start making a sandwich out of the scone. Had he not showed us the proper way, we would have. A social faux paux in an English pub can be overlooked, but a serious one in the House of Lords?

Lake Louise Scones were fresh and delicate. The clotted cream and strawberry preserve did their magic in bringing out the flavor, and each morsel was a delight.

Homemade pastries and sweets and confectionery were part of the last course. It comprised an assortment of coffee glazed mini éclairs, meringues lime tartlets, raspberry pera cake, cherry crumble bar, and pistachio-spice cookie. Another round of tea followed.

It is rare to find a combination of a beautiful setting, elegantly appointed dining room, exquisite china and silverware, and a tea service to match. Add to that the charming and extremely efficient and friendly hostesses and you have an experience that leaves a wonderful aftertaste for a long time.

Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon and a columnist for The Blade.

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