The Man behind one of the best afternoon teas in Toronto "When I was a kid, all I ever wanted for my birthday were kitchen tools. Christmas money was spent at culinary supply stores. I didn't long for a new rugby uniform or a high-speed bicycle, I wanted the best chopping knives possible," says London-based pastry chef Nicholas Patterson of the Shangri-La Hotel, At the Shard, London. And on an indulgent Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago, I got to reap the rewards of his life-long dedication to cooking. Chef Patterson was flown in from London to put his stamp on the daily High Tea at the Shangri-La Toronto. And for good reason. The self-effacing pastry chief was named the UK Pastry Chef of the Year at the Craft Guild of Chefs’ awards in 2008, and he has also worked as the head pastry chef at the renowned Claridge’s Hotel where he nabbed the Tea Guild’s ‘Best London Afternoon Tea’ in 2006 and 2011. The hard-working chap has also refined his pastry skills in Paris and Tokyo. What sweets can you expect in afternoon tea at the Hotel Shangri-La Toronto: • a melt-in-your mouth treat called “Temptation”, which includes layers of chocolate ganache, raspberry compote, chocolate sponge and soft chocolate cream • the “Coco," a coconut dacquoise biscuit wedded with kalamansi lime curd and topped off with ginger and coriander infused pineapple • “Café au Lait,” a surprising concoction of vanilla mascarpone cream, coffee cream brulee , white chocolate and coffee sponge. My favourite moment: digging into the bottom tier, the finger sandwiches: • lobster and chive with curried mayonnaise on a cute little brioche • roasted chicken with a grainy mustard mayonnaise • egg and water cress with Serrano ham on brown • the requisite cucumber and cream cheese on white bread with a slice of apple. • and, of course, the traditional smoked salmon and cream cheese.
(Photos courtesy of Shangri-La Toronto)What I liked best (after inhaling the finger sandwiches): lingering, simply lingering. How often do we stop and just take tea to talk, no iPhones, no e-readers, no texting. Just sit back, enjoy the ambiance, nosh away to your heart's delight, and enjoy a fabulous cup of tea. It's what afternoons are meant for. The crowd? Definitely not, as my neighbour suggested, the blue-rinse set. The patrons booked for afternoon tea on the day of my visit cut through all demographics, from funky couples to family groups. The price: $39 per person, $25 per child. A fair price considering the setting and ambiance. Word of warning: consider skipping lunch beforehand. These bite-size finger treats are guaranteed to leave you sated. And don't be shy about asking the Shangri-La staff to pack the leftovers. (That chamomile scone did the trick the following morning for breakfast.) My tip: Valentine's Day is coming. Afternoon Tea at the Shangri-La, in front of the fireplace, followed by a cocktail, spells r-o-m-a-n-t-i-c for me. You can book your reservation easily through Open Table. There, are you hungry now?