The perfect way to while away a Tokyo afternoon.
The Palace Hotel Tokyo is 290-room establishment that sits regally on the border of the Tokyo Imperial Palace gardens. Since its opening in 1961, the hotel has been a stalwart embodiment of omotenashi, the Japanese spirit of hospitality and service. In addition to its proud pedigree, elegantly appointed rooms and numerous awards and accolades, the hotel is also a favourite among locals for its famous signature afternoon tea service – a grand affair complete with 48 varieties of tea served by staff in traditional kimono.
After a pleasant eight-minute stroll from Tokyo Station, you’ll reach the hotel, and you are immediately greeted by its grand high ceilings and gracefully restrained design. The Palace Lounge, where you’ll sit for tea, is a beautiful sun-soaked space with glass windows offering a scenic view of the palace moat just outside.
The hotel’s tea menu is fairly extensive, but I was there to try one thing: the Winter Afternoon Tea set, a three-tier lacquered box of elegant tea-time delights served alongside your choice of tea or coffee. (A glass of champagne is available for an extra ¥1800/RM64.) You can refill and change your tea or coffee at any time, although grabbing a server’s attention to do so while they’re occupied in such a vast space might be a bit of a challenge, as we learned.
Armed with a pot of seasonal ginger-houjicha tea, we made our way through the trays, starting with the hot glass of rich hot chocolate. Our server happily informed us there’s no particular order you have to eat this in, but – being myself – I decided to move in an anti-clockwise fashion, starting with the savoury tray and moving to the two sweet trays.
Next up was the savoury selection of Zuwai crab pudding, a gently quivering chawanmushi-esque concoction of egg custard and fresh snow crab meat. The semi-dried tomato and vegetable cake salé and quiché lorraine were glorious punches of flavour. Finally the inarizushi, a tender sphere of sushi rice wrapped in marinated beancurd skin, was so delicious it made me long to visit the hotel’s sushi bar.
On the next tray was a glass of mandarin orange compote and fruit jelly, which proved to be a refreshing palate cleanser in the transition from savoury to sweet. This was followed by a beautifully buttery cinnamon apple crumble, as well as a choux cream puff.
Moving on to the heavier desserts, the caramel and walnut scone was a hearty pastry that perfectly showed off the flavours of winter. With its roasted chestnut-like flavour, it went perfectly with tea. Then, two slices of maple and citrus fruit cake, before ending with a beautiful piece of wagashi – a traditional Japanese confectionery that captures the essence of the season in both appearance and taste. In this case, we were served a translucent dumpling shaped to look like a white rabbit, filled with bracingly sweet egg yolk and bean paste. Tea, as hot and as strong as you can take it, is necessary.
If you have a leisurely afternoon to spare, afternoon tea at the Palace Hotel is an unrivaled experience. The luxurious delicacies and setting will restore you after a morning of sightseeing, or fortify you before a stroll around the palace grounds. Just be sure to make a reservation and allocate at least two hours from start to finish as service can feel a little slow on a busy day.
The Palace Hotel Tokyo’s Winter Afternoon Tea Set is available from 1 December to 28 February at ¥3900/RM139 per set. Seatings are from 1 pm – 4:30 pm on weekdays and 2 pm – 4.30 pm on weekends. For more information and reservations, visit The Palace Hotel Tokyo website.