Saturday, August 18, 2012

Afternoon Tea at Ekki Bar & Grill

In my Nagoya post I lamented about not knowing a place serving afternoon tea in Yokohama, and that I never go up to Tokyo in the afternoon to be around for afternoon tea. Well, I fixed that ^.^

I googled around found a fervent afternoon tea fan who's hell bent on visiting every venue in Tokyo that serves afternoon tea and documented each occasion on her blog. She gushed about her tea sessions at the Four Seasons Hotel Marunouchi in Tokyo, that their Ekki Bar & Grill served her some of the best afternoon tea in Tokyo, and in all the Four Seasons Hotels she'd been to around the world too for that matter. Okay, she sold me, so I booked a 3PM reservation this past Saturday and hubby gamely went along.

Going a bit off topic here, but the first time I went on the Four Seasons Hotel Marunouchi's website I started giggling uncontrollably - the hotel refers to itself as a "boutique hotel" on its very front page. Seriously? Is the Four Seasons anywhere a boutique hotel? Pffft, don't make me laugh! Oh wait, they already did.

Left: the entrance to the Four Seasons Hotel Marunouchi, Tokyo
Right: hallway outside Ekki Bar & Grill on the 7th floor

Prior to coming, I already knew this was not a traditional afternoon tea venue so there would be no 3-tiered stands. I checked out their tea menu too so I also knew what to expect. What I didn't expect was that the whole place was filled with women and there was only one other couple besides us ^.^' Of course, right? What was I thinking? We didn't get a window table and ours was right smack in the middle of the room. The table setting was nice, and each guest had their own mini jar of strawberry preserves. The very first drink they served us was this chilled reddish "something" in a nice stem glass and we couldn't tell if it was supposed to be tea or what. The server said something about it being fruity, but one sip of it almost made me gag. It smelled and tasted uncannily like a watered down and unsweetened - wait for it - cough syrup. Yes, cough syrup. Bleargh. Yuck. I didn't touch it at all after that. I figured if I wanted to drink cough syrup I didn't need to come to the Four Seasons Hotel.

Each table also had its own plate of 3 different kinds of honey (top - himawari/sunflower, left - acacia flower, right - sakuranbo/cherry fruit) in tiny squarish cups that you can pour out of one corner. My favorites were himawari and acacia, as they were lighter. The sakuranbo was way too sweet for me, as do most honeys. The white and brown sugar cubes were arranged in checker pattern. Cute huh?

We went for the premium afternoon tea set, with hubby ordering an extra glass of champagne. We were there, after all, so why the hell not, right? And all afternoon teas come with unlimited drinks, so you can order as many tea pots, coffees, or hot chocolates you can slurp up (or not...).

The extras that came with the premium afternoon tea set were seasonal smoothie (ours was guava) and truffle popcorn. I thought the guava smooth was just okay. It had a strange floury taste, perhaps from the yogurt they used. Same with the truffle popcorn, which was decent but was too buttery and not as crunchy as I'd like, in addition to also having that odd floury taste. May be it was the powdered butter or the truffle powder? Hubby loved it though, whereas I much prefer the sweet, salty, and crunchy kettle corn.

Our first two pots of tea were Darjeeling and Earl Grey. They both were light and fragrant, but the portion was too big in my opinion. The tea cup was already generously sized, and each pot had about 3 servings, so after the third pot of tea, English Breakfast, we were both, umm...tea-d out and couldn't try any other tea or drinks. So if you ask me I would much rather have smaller cups and tea pots, like those at the Fortnum & Mason in Nagoya, where each pot had less than 2 servings. I don't know about you, but I value smaller portions and bigger varieties over huge portions but limited choices. Also, we had to ask for milk, and even then, the server clarified whether we were requesting the milk for drinking or for our tea. Huh?

Anyway, the small bites came out 15 minutes before the scones. There were 2 trays of savories and 2 trays of sweets in addition to 2 kinds of scones, brown sugar vanilla and pineapple. Too bad the scones were heavier and doughy in taste and weren't as buttery and fluffy as those at Fortnum and Mason's. And they were only slightly warm when they were brought out. 

The savories for the premium tea set included (left picture) mini wagyu beef burgers with a sizable foie gras patty in each, crabmeat and asparagus quiches, bruschetta with artichoke and tomatoes, (right picture) foie gras cream puffs, and grilled vegetables sandwiches. 

The mini burger was good. The meat was tender, done just right, not too rare or overdone, but I didn't enjoy the foie gras. I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either, not for any ethical reason, I simply didn't like the taste of it. May be I have no taste for delicate foods, but I honestly just don't see what's so great about foie gras. Same with truffles and [black] caviars (though I love me some fresh ikura, tobiko, and spicy mentaiko), I had both and didn't like either. Sometimes it makes me wonder if the rarity, rather than the taste, of these foods that bumped them into high demand and high status. And if that's the case, muahahaha - y'all go start a bidding war over your foie gras, truffles, and caviars now and leave all the yummy stuff to moi! xD

My savories plate ^.^ I liked the quiche as well as the grilled veggies sandwich much better. They both were flavorful and left me wanting more. The tomatoes in the bruschetta were too tart, and the foie gras cream puff was only okay, again because I didn't enjoy the taste of the foie gras. Hubby loved his savories though, especially the mini wagyu foie gras burger, so he got to eat half of mine too. It worked out just right in the end.

The sweets included (left picture) raspberry roll cakes, blueberry crumble bars, mango cheesecakes, (right picture) churros with a grapefruit mousse dipping, and yuzu jelly with chunks of fresh orange and grapefruit.

My sweets plate :) The raspberry roll cake was dry and flavorless. The blueberry crumble bar was good, but nothing special. The mango cheesecake was good, but was more like a mango cream pie as I couldn't taste the cheesecake at all. And the churros, well, were churros, a tad odd for afternoon tea but whatever. Out of all the sweets I have to say I enjoyed the yuzu jelly the most. The yuzu flavor was brisk and crisp with just the right balance of tartness and sweetness. And the jelly was perfect, and jellies are hard to do well. It wasn't chewy or jiggly but instead melted in my mouth like a watery gel. 

Overall, the afternoon tea at the Four Seasons Hotel Marunouchi was an enjoyable experience, but it wasn't top notch by any means, at least not in my opinion, as neither the variety or the taste impressed me much. Would I go again? No. Would I recommend you trying it? Yes, at least for the experience. Who knows, you might enjoy more the food more than I do, in which case it would be a win-win situation.

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