Afternoon Tea: Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel

Afternoon tea at The Plaza Hotel is $48 a person. $68 with a glass of champagne. And what is afternoon tea without champagne?

The Plaza Hotel is a bit old and worn at the edges, but I love The Palm Court, otherwise known as the Afternoon Tea room. High ceilings, plush seats, gold (and beautiful Birkin bags) everywhere you turn. You can’t help but relax upon entering, an afternoon at the tea table. Perfectly steeped pots and even better conversation. It verges on gaudy as you can imagine, but lands on just the right side of classic.

Things we could have done without:
– lipstick stains (either that or it was leftover sundried tomatoes) on the champagne glass
– fruit flies hovering over the raspberries and savory tea sandwiches
– one BIG mosquito buzzing at our table the entire meal
– a takeaway container with a completely broken cover

But let’s forget the bad and focus on the good – company makes up for everything and I had a pretty wonderful Monday afternoon with Lisa.

What will you have to drink? It was the Golden Monkey (pictured) for myself and Madame Butterfly Jasmine ($8 supplement) for Lisa. They offer two ‘Plaza Signature Blends‘ on the menu. An Assam-based blend called the Breakfast Tea, and an another citrus black tea blend called Afternoon Tea. I’m wary of blends if I don’t know from who/how they’re sourcing the teas which is why we opted for more orthodox numbers. A great choice, the jasmine so clean and pure and the golden monkey brewing up a deep golden shade with a lingering flavor that just gives and gives. Every pot is steeped to order – tea leaves removed before serving to avoid an over-steeped cup. Not sure if you are charged extra if you finish that pot and request another steep. Do they throw away the tea leaves after one steep? I surely hope not.

Meet The Classic afternoon tea for two.

The Plaza serves four versions of afternoon tea:

The Classic ($48): as the name implies, the classic afternoon tea, the best option.
The New Yorker: ($48) everything with an NYC twist. Think mini cannoli, cheesecake, black & white cookies. The usual tea sandwiches replaced with combinations of prosciutto, mozzarella, and pesto; Roquefort, shaved red grapes, and watercress.
Chocolate Tea ($58): all sweet and centered around chocolate fondue. A bit of an overkill. I like afternoon tea to have a balance between sweet and savory.
Eloise Tea ($28/child, $48/adult): the kids menu. Grilled cheese sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly, chocolate cupcakes and ‘pink pink jello’. Oh my indeed.

Start from the bottom tier and daintily devour your way up. Those are Cucumber, Radish, and Basil triangles at 2 o’clock. The thicker than normal cut of white bread was sliced in half lengthwise and smothered in pesto. Seriously nice touch. Go clockwise and get that Truffled Quail Egg Salad nestled into a buttery herb tart shell next. It’s fragrant and decidedly creamy, indulgent. But perhaps not as indulgent as the Sturgeon Caviar topped Maine Lobster. And then start toning things down with the Roast Beef and Horseradish and finally Smoked Salmon and Endive tucked in the back. Five sandwiches in total. Everyone of them pretty close to perfect in terms of flavor profile, freshness and balance of ingredients. This was actually my favorite part of the tea. I love, and I mean absolutely love tea sandwiches. One day I’ll be an expert tea sandwich maker. You have my word on that!

Scones are served warm, two per person, Vanilla and Golden Raisin. They’re more delicate than most scones with a wispy, butter-rich crumb. More akin to a biscuit than a classic English scone. On the side, little bowls of Double Devonshire Cream, Lemon Curd, and Apricot Preserves. We asked for seconds of the accompaniments. I’m anything but dainty when it comes to smothering on that Devonshire cream.

Odds are you’ll start to get full around this point. I never actually finish all the sweets at the top tier no matter where I’m taking tea. It’s simply…too much all at once. Better to take extras home and enjoy it later. It’s difficult to appreciate sweets on a full belly, regardless how good they may be. Sweets clockwise from 7 o’clock: Pâté de Fruit, Sacher Torte, Lemon Tea Cake, Hazelnut Napoleon, Macarons, and Bonbons.

Off this tier, I ate the adorable raspberry-topped Sacher Torte (pictured above), a moist and lemon rich tea cake. The menu calls it a tea cake, but it’s essentially a financier heavy on the lemon. Pâté de Fruit was an apricot number, intense and a great contrast to the Hazelnut Napoleon, complete with a feuillantine base.

The tea room was never completely full, but always calm and steady with people coming in and out. I couldn’t help but wonder, who were these people? Who takes off Monday afternoon to have tea at the The Plaza?

We spotted tourists – those were the ones that ordered The New Yorker tea set. There were girls, arriving in sets of two with shopping bags from Dior and Chloé. The girls that don’t work. Then there were moms with one or two kids. The kids order the Eloise Tea while mom certainly had more than one glass of champagne. There were families who you could tell lived nearby but not in NYC. Connecticut most likely. In for the day. Or in for a long weekend. As for us? It was an indulgence, a truly fun treat. An everyday affair? Surely not. I don’t think I’d be able to appreciate it as much at that point ;)

Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel
Fifth Avenue at Central Park South
New York, NY 10019

(212) 759-3000
  • anonymous
    September 13, 2011

    I love to people watch as much as the next person… but you sounded kind of judgemental when you were deciding who takes a Monday afternoon to have tea. What about entrepreneurs… such as yourself & myself? I know a ton of mothers who are entrepreneurs who spend the afternoon with their kids… and work around nap times. I myself would certainly take time for afternoon tea… and might even enter with a few shopping bags… would that mean I am not working? Those girls could have made the same assumption about you… if they cared. What about people who work in the medical industry? Surely they are entitled to a Monday off if they've worked all weekend. I wasn't there so I don't know what you saw… perhaps they are what you say. And I noticed that you didn't mention the men. I don't know… I love your blog… but something about your analysis of people just rubbed me the wrong way. It was very shallow-minded.

  • Kathy YL Chan
    September 13, 2011

    Hi Stephanie! Thanks for the honest comment – I appreciate it. I didn't mean to come off as shallow minded, and apologize for leaving you with that impression! I dine out often for lunch and there was visually speaking, a fairly big distinction between the people I usually see at a typical nice NYC restaurant for lunch and the ones I saw at the Plaza. I also left out another group of young girls in teased hair, thigh skimming skirts and nighttime heels, each paired with a significantly older man ;)

  • anonymous
    September 13, 2011

    Ah… well that explains it then. Dude's gotta be the dad! :) In all seriousness… thanks for explaining. I really do love your blog!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    September 13, 2011

    @ Stephanie: bwhahha, if my parents ever caught me dressed like that, I'd be sent back to Hawai'i and locked up forever!! :)

  • K and S
    September 14, 2011

    this is definitely a special occasion kinda thing :)

  • Kathy YL Chan
    September 14, 2011

    @kat: For sure!! I'm so excited to re-visit all the afternoon tea places when I'm back (whenever that will be!!) in Hawai'i ^_^

  • carol
    January 9, 2015

    Tea was wonderful My daughter loved the tropical fruit tea
    Do you know where I can purchase it?

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