Family Life


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High Tea at the Empress


We’ve been visiting Victoria for years – since I was a kid – and one of the highlights of our visit was always standing on the front lawn of the Empress Hotel, in awe of its brickwork, its vines, its history. We never went for tea, but I always wanted to – my parents were on a budget, or perhaps they didn’t trust their three kids to be on their best behavior in such a fancy environment.

The Empress has always been the place to go for afternoon tea – the tradition began over a century ago in 1908, and since then the Empress has served royalty, celebrities and dignitaries against the picturesque backdrop of the inner harbor. This year, I finally had the opportunity to experience it – with my husband and 8 year old – and it was worth the wait.

I’ve done high tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs, the Shangri-La in Vancouver, and other notable venues. Each is unique, with a menu that reflects the hotel itself, and the Empress is no exception – it definitely has its own unmistakable vibe. Executive Chef and his team prepare hand-made scones, pastries and sweets daily using locally sourced ingredients; everything is served in dainty William Edwards china with a sterling silver service to complete the experience.

Although it wasn’t high season nor the weekend, the room was full – mostly with ladies of a generation that appreciates high tea, nicely dressed and sitting in groups… it seemed to be a tradition for some of them – a regular get together to catch up in a setting without the bustle and noise of a restaurant. A pianist provided subtle, relaxing background music and there were more than a few kids, in dresses and button-down collars with combed hair – in my experience, kids love the formality and theatre of a high tea. Although tea sandwiches and tiny tarts are already ideal for little fingers, the Empress has a kids’ menu, and the fruity and bubblegum teas are a popular choice.

The process started with a tea menu and service, along with a procession of nibbles; a three-tiered tray towering with finger sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, wee tarts, cookies and sweets perched on top. And it wasn’t just cucumbers on white bread with the crusts cut off; the menu included smoked salmon pinwheels with dill cream cheese, roasted bone-in ham with tarragon dijonnaise, free-range egg salad on tiny croissants, and cucumber with gingered mascarpone on butter brioche. Beyond shortbread, the sweet offerings included pistachio raspberry dacquoise, tropical fruit Lamington, Earl Grey mascarpone tea cups and Valrhona chocolate cremeux tarts. Although it doesn’t initially appear to be very much food, it was a feast – we wound up with a takeout box of tasty bites to bring back to the hotel.  

If you want to go a step beyond, for an additional $30 per person, the Royal Tea offers an additional tier of three local Salt Spring Island cheeses, a glass of tawny port and fresh honey harvested from the honeycombs in the Chef’s honey garden.

Empress Tea Service starts at 11:30am daily with the last seating at 4:45 p.m. The cost is $59.95 per person; prince and princess (children’s) tea is $29.95. For details and to reserve, visit


a man carrying two children

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