Back at it again, LumDimSum is determined to help City Weekend uncover Beijing's Best Afternoon Tea. I've already hit up afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton, Park Hyatt and Sofitel Beijing Hotel to see how each one compares to the others and although some fare better than others, so far none have stood out as mind-blowingly spectacular. And I really don't want to settle for anything less than that.
So next up we have Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center, a Beijing "old school hotel" has been around for ages and passed the test of time. From what I hear, before Beijing was swimming in choice for upscale establishments, the Kempinski was one of the biggest players around back in the day (we're talking over 10 years ago). It's no longer a destination people rave about, but it's still part of a massive convention center, shopping mall and with its prime location in one of Beijing's most important diplomatic business quarters (and close proximity to the US embassy), the Kempinski still has the leverage to hold its own against Beijing's other 5-star hotels.
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Kempinski's Rendez-vous Bar & Lounge offers a "Weekend High Tea Buffet" from 2:30PM-6:00PM for RMB138 per person + 15% service charge
While Kempinski calls this "High Tea", they actually mean "Afternoon Tea" as British High Tea is traditionally more of a working class meal to be enjoyed at the end of the work day (after 5pm) and serving heavy meat, fish and potato dishes like steak and kidney pie whereas "Afternoon Tea" involves things like manners, lace and dainty food to be enjoyed as an elite social gathering.
That being said, there is something inherently wrong about inserting the word "buffet" alongside "high tea". British high-tea is a time-honored tradition, and that should automatically repel any association with a "free-for-all buffet" where people pile their plates to the brim and a venue undeniably makes the conscious choice to sacrifice quality for quantity. I can imagine how appalling this must be to Brits who might actually want to reminisce in classic British custom.
Fortunately for Kempinski, we are in Beijing and "fusion" is trendy here so there is really no point in being a stickler for respecting and upholding classic traditions in such a cosmopolitan city. I realize that makes me sound stuffy and conservative, but in the same way that I prefer not to drink tea out of tea bags, I prefer to enjoy British high tea in an authentic fashion (I admit I've been watching too much Downton Abbey).
Kempinski's buffet was not as crass as you might suspect a "British High Tea Buffet" to be, but it's just not the same without being served the multi-layered silver trays of dainty snacks. As my fellow British foodie friend eloquently explained, "Afternoon tea should be enjoyed as an occasion rather than this drive-thru style." I couldn't have said it better myself.
Tea was served in porcelain white tea sets to be enjoyed on comfy, plush sofas in the Rendez-vous Lounge. Once again, my British counterpart automatically went for the classic English Breakfast Tea while I chose something a little less conventional.
As you can see from the photos below, the selection was plentiful, but nothing was traditionally British and maybe that's not a bad thing bearing in mind this is a Swiss luxury hotel chain with a prominent German bakery. Before I get into details I ought to give due credit to Kempinski's awesome Kempi Deli who supplies an abundance of freshly baked bread, cakes, pastries and sandwiches on a daily basis.
You can probably get a good sense of the items on display through the close-up shots that everything was pretty mediocre. None of the hot items were hot (even the quiche and scones under the warming tray) and similar to the afternoon tea at Sofitel Wanda Beijing, the quality of the desserts were much more superior to the savory snacks. The best ones were the Smoked Trout Baguette and Mini Prosciutto Sandwiches, but the bread was much too thick and filling.
The best desserts were definitely the chocolate mousse, fruit tarts and the Belgium Ivory Chocolate Fondue with mini cake and fruit skewers to dip. The scones were not authentic as it was served with orange whipped cream rather than separate sauce dishes of jam and clotted cream.
In spite of all the loungers in Rendez-vous Bar & Lounge and the wide selection on display, there was hardly anyone going up to the buffet.
Observing the other guests around me, it was clear that this is a purely functional venue. Rather than a lounge for people to relax and sip on tea, they were all meeting here for work-related meetings to drink coffee and discuss business.
Perhaps that is why this "high tea" is served as a buffet (less effort) and why it seems more like an after-thought rather than the main attraction.
To be perfectly honest, it seemed like the lounge's clientele paid more notice to the live pianist performance than the high tea buffet.
I can imagine that the experience would be much more enhanced if the lounge provided outdoor seating in the hotel courtyard that is bordered by surrounding gardens.