The Walper Hotel v. Harry Ten Schilling

26 Jul

Tea is the new black. Instead of the ubiquitous Starbucks cups smug yuppies have clung to in the past ten years (skinny latte with a whisper of cinnamon and ten sweet n’ lows, please!) as evidence of their sophistication and discerning taste, this tribe now demands only the most unique and high quality loose-leaf blends! Corporate America has obliged and fitted every shopping center with a David”s Tea or Teavanna. Both these outlets offer a satisfactory hot bevy, but if you’ve had the real thing, you realize that their teas are mostly overpriced and just too strange! David’s Tea created a blend for Valentines Day that included candy lips! Gross.  It’s strange to see tea become such a phenomenon. I remember when one of the few places you could get loose leaf tea in the city was the Tea Emporium (I remember it was tucked away in Hazleton Lanes but I haven’t seen it on my most recent visits).

Cherry has described her afternoon tea ventures in previous post – she’s probably one of the few people I know who was also into tea before the hype. She just prefers it to coffee. Me? I drink tea because it’s what little old English ladies do, according to all the books I read growing up and the PBS specials I’ve watched, and if you’ve ever met me, I’m a wee bit of an anglophile.

The practice of afternoon tea has also experienced a rise in popularity. It’s suddenly the go-to treat for mothers, daughters, and grandmothers. It’s where the older generation passes on etiquette to their progeny (no clinking glasses!) and where little girls sashay around in their frilly dresses and partake in this very mature and ladylike ritual. This tiny snack, typically served between 4-6 pm, also punctuates dates with one’s girlfriends — after a long day of shopping in wide brimmed hats, too large sunglasses and carrying all sorts cumbersome bags! It’s a fairly gendered activity at least in our popular imagination.*

In this post, fair reader, we will be dissecting Afternoon Tea at two lovely getaway destinations.

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Walper Hotel, Kitchener

Menu Tea Ambiance Notes
The Walper Hotel(Kitchener, ON) Three tiers– lemon tarts, éclairs- cumcumber, salmon, and chicken salad finger sandwiches, as well as gougères-lemon cranberry and cheese scones served with clotted cream and jamsVerdict:The sandwiches were packed with flavour! The chicken salad (including fresh herbs, shallots, and roasted chicken) was the unanimous favourite. The scones were buttery and crumbled in your mouth!The desserts were only ok – they were on the sweet side. For me, it was just to warm to enjoy them. A selection of black, green, and fruit teas.We ordered: Jasmine, Darjeeling, English BreakfastI ordered the Darjeeling (a nod to afternoon teas commonwealth/ imperial roots) and found the tea lacking in any floral aroma. It was a reliable palate cleanser but nothing extraordinary. There’s nothing like an old hotel – the way your shoes clack on the hardwood floors and the booming acoustics.A grand piano playing classics hummed in the background of our conversations.The tables were a tad too big to allow for intimate conversation and there was no air-conditioning. Also, the hotel is undergoing renovations and so there was only one working bathroom on the floor. The table was decorated with a simple purple flower in an old perrier bottle. Simply elegant.They only do one sitting a day, so we arrived to see my name on a tiny card to note our reservation.Was slightly annoyed to be seated next to the hallway that lead to the bathrooms. It added to the humidity already in the room.
Harry Ten Schilling(Shakespeare/ Stratford ON) – a selection of cakes/ tarts; cheese and chutney, egg salad as well as tomato and cucumber sandwiches; scones: cheese and raisinVerdict: The cheese and chutney/ cucumber were the stand-out sandwiches. LOVED that they were served on fluffy white bread. The scones – cheese and raisin – were fluffy and still warm (though I suspect the heat source was a microwave and not fresh from the oven). The one thing I didn’t love was the rhubarb crumble. The crumbly bits were all goopy and melted into the compote. I only had the tiniest of bites.  – an overwhelming selection of teas that covered a double-sided printed page. I ordered a white tea and HoM ordered the earl grey with lavender. We even got a tiny bag of the latter to go it was so lightly floral and lovely!  – The store seems to sell vintage-finds/ crafts in the front and have a seating room in the back. The room is bright and spacious (filled with grand, dark wooded dinner tables) and the tables were set with mismatching china. Charming: each table had different ceramic milk dispenser!
– lovely background music (soundtrack to Dragonheart)
– I was worried about this place because of a pretty bad review on trip advisor. They also don’t have a great website and didn’t answer their phone (we left a message to make our reservation and tried on THREE occasions to confirm via phone). Another odd thing: we tried to convey how much we liked the experience to the owner but she was blunt and emotionless. She seemed more interested in finding out what the Walper did – she was not especially friendly. Though, our waitress was pleasant!

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Conclusion: Harry Ten Schilling wins in ambiance and simple but tasty food offerings. It feels like an old fashioned experience (with clinking fine bone china) in contrast to the Walper, which was working out kinks in a highly polished hotel tea service. Their chicken sandwich was mind-blowing – explosive flavour in a tiny package. I loved being in an old hotel and listening to live music. It’s so old world. I also loved the art work throughout the hotel (Charles Pachter, I think!). I didn’t love that the tiered cake stand was sitting on the table when I got there (with no one to explain the selection of treats) and I didn’t love the clunky white ceramic mugs. The waitstaff was pleasant but not as enamoured as we with tea service. I could see myself loving the Walper tea with a few improvements. For now, if you’re on a day trip to Stratford, make sure you stop in at Harry Ten Schilling.

*Note: I am sure burly lumberjack-type pen partake in afternoon tea. I drag Mr. HoM to tea houses all over, for example, and he brings a definite build-a-fire-type masculine energy to our excursions!

 

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