31 October 2013
Aaaahh ... Afternoon tea on a sunny terrace overlooking the Pacific. What a treat! While in southern California recently, a friend ran me up the coast to Santa Barbara where the scenic drive led us to El Encanto on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. Afternoon tea is served seven days a week either in The Lounge or on The Terrace.
Growing up with tea as I did and being a frequent giver, as well as attender, of afternoon teas, I have some pretty high standards. Having had tea from coast to coast and in three countries, I want a certain ambience, elegance, proper service, delicious and pretty food, and properly prepared tea. Most venues get a few things right, but few can deliver on all counts. El Encanto is one of the few.
Of course, expansive ocean views along with the hotel's "casual elegance" vibe and beautiful hand-painted tea china mean they've got the ambience part down. All the staff I encountered on the property were friendly, efficient and enthusiastic. Our server brought out a wooden case of sample tins of the various loose teas so our noses could help us with our tea choices.
With executive chef Patrice Martineau bringing his experience on three continents, including two years at The Savoy in London, the food did not disappoint. Unlike so many, he knows the difference between the more formal and lighter afternoon tea and high tea, so there are no inappropriate departures (such as soup or salad) from the traditional afternoon tea menu.
The sandwiches, adorned with edible flowers, were as delightful to eat as they were to look at. I had been rather alarmed when I saw that the tea included just three sandwiches, but these sandwiches were more substantial than usual. I'm not a fan of smoked salmon, so the chef made a lovely ham sandwich in its stead. The open-faced cucumber sandwich was a thing of beauty. And the savory egg salad with snipped chives and French cornichons was outstanding.
The scones, served with clotted cream and house-made jam, were excellent. Though I don't usually eat the pastries at afternoon tea, I couldn't resist trying just a few bites from the jewel-box assortment of diminutive desserts. Superb! Oh, nearly forgot to mention the perfect, not overly sweet Bellini, a nod to Orient-Express, I presume.
For reservations, call El Encanto at 805-845-5800. El Encanto is 97 miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and 90 miles from Burbank Bob Hope Airport (BUR).
For tea at home, see: How to Make a Proper Cup of Tea and Tea and Scones. Look under Teatime on my Recipes index page for other teatime recipes.
Disclosure: Though I attended the afternoon tea as a guest of El Encanto, I assure you that does not alter my opinions or influence my review.