With a major $140 million renovation project planned for Montreal’s preeminent downtown hotel, there are plenty of reasons to spend some time at Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth before it closes for 11 months in mid-June.*

Presently, the history of the hotel is being celebrated one decade per month. In February, the 60s were featured while March is reserved for the 70s. There is an exhibition in the lobby, a Wall of Fame highlighting staff members’ most marking moments, special items on the menus, cocktails from the different eras and more.

For years I have wanted to dine at Le Montréalais Bistro-Bar, a favourite of the downtown crowd for its tantalizing menu featuring sunny Mediterranean cuisine, popular Sunday Brunch and refined Afternoon Tea service. In fact, it is the latter that particularly appealed to my family after having first experienced it less than two years ago when in London, England.

The tea experience at Le Montréalais restaurant takes on a festive ambiance! The Royal Delight Afternoon Tea costs $35, including a flute of Orpailleur Brut sparkling white wine. It is $25 each minus that feature. Tea Service takes place Monday to Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

According to legend, one of Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope (1783-1857), known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the creator of afternoon tea-time. Because the noon meal had become skimpier, the Duchesse suffered from a “sinking feeling” at about four o’clock in the afternoon. At first the Duchess had her servants sneak her a pot of tea and a few breadstuffs. Adopting the European tea service format, she invited friends to join her for an additional afternoon meal at five o’clock in her rooms at Belvoir Castle. The menu centered around small cakes, bread and butter sandwiches, assorted sweets, and, of course, tea. This summer practice proved so popular, the Duchess continued it when she returned to London, sending cards to her friends asking them to join her for “tea and a walk in the fields.” The practice of inviting friends to come for tea in the afternoon was quickly picked up by other social hostesses.

Tea service starts by being seated in the very comfortable Le Montréalais dining room. Maitre `D Jacques Marmoud showed us to a comfortable second floor table. There is a nice variety of tea choices available. To assist us in the selection, our server Veronique brought over a large tray with about a dozen options. By sharing the scent of each one our party narrowed down the choice to Buckingham Palace (a favorite tea with medium body, delicate Earl Grey, jasmine notes, and a bright golden coppery color), Vanilla Chai (an invigorating and subtle, lightly spiced Indian tea enhanced with Madagascar vanilla and a candied cardamom finish) and the Fairmont Earl Grey Organic (a very aromatic bergamot Earl Grey; a classic blend that is piquant and refreshing, stemming from the long leaf, high grown Ceylon tea).

After enjoying our glasses of sparkling wine, the tea arrived in fine bone china teapots. This was followed by the traditional three level cookie stand containing the absolutely delicious finger sandwiches (turkey, smoked salmon and cucumber), to die for fresh scones (with Devonshire cream and assorted jams) and dessert (a macaron, a chocolate mousse and a custard cream pastry). This is not a service offered in too many places in Montreal. It represents a truly “fun” dining experience.

For children aged 12 and younger, there is a choice of herbal tea or hot chocolate. For Tea Service, reservations are recommended by calling 514-954-2261.

*Please note the Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth closed for renovations on June 19, 2016. It will reopen in June 2017.

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