Tamarindel rated this place
and said Edit

I was excited when I learned that the Empress offered a gluten-free afternoon tea upon request. I’m going into detail here because I could find very little info about the gluten-free menu when booking this. You can view the regular menu online, but the dietary-needs offerings are a mystery, perhaps to give the chef flexibility since they don’t seem to keep these items in stock. Also I was on the fence about whether the price could possibly be justified when I made the reservation (the prices I normally see for tea service are around $40-60, and this was $90-100), but it also made me curious. What if it was so expensive because the chef was just that good?

The treats are served on a three-tiered tray, and the bottom & middle tray offerings (the scone tray & the sandwich tray) follow the regular menu. The scone was baked with golden raisins, had perfect texture, & was delightful with the clotted cream & preserves. It raised my expectations for the rest of the tea! Unfortunately, the sandwich layer suffered by comparison because though the sandwich fillings were nicely seasoned, the bread was dry & flavorless. Admittedly, baking good gluten-free bread is a challenge. But it’s not impossible, and I think this bread was chosen more for appearance (it had a tidy, close-knit structure) than taste.

The dessert layer is where the gluten-free menu entirely broke from the regular menu. This is what I found most baffling because the regular menu promises a macaron (which are made from ground almonds, not wheat), a madeleine & a jaconde (traditionally made from ground almonds; modern recipes sometimes use wheat or a mixture), a cremeux, & a yuzu-pearl tart. These items are so light on wheat anyway that it seems like it would have been easy to adapt them to be gluten-free, if they even NEEDED adaptation — I think the macaron and the cremeux were probably gluten-free already.

But instead the gluten-free menu had 3 kinds of cake, a jelly, and a blackberry/blueberry puree in a chocolate shell. I think the jelly was also blackberry, as it had that same fruity punch. The shell dessert was sensational & tied with the scone for my favorite thing. There was an orange cake that was a bit dry but had good flavor, and something I’m going to guess was blueberry cake (solely because of the blueberry perched on it), but it didn’t taste like anything & was so dry I couldn’t finish it. Also a beautiful ganache cake dusted with what looked like powdered raspberries. So while most of the desserts were good, they were on the dense side, and they leaned so heavily on the chocolate berry flavor profile (except the citrus cake) that it came off as pretty one-note. Especially compared to the variety of flavor & texture (pistachio, banana, pear, cream, bergamot, rosewater) promised in the regular menu.

As far as I could tell, the teas on offer were all from the Metropolitan Tea Company. They had a rolled oolong and a pu-erh (for an $18 up-charge), but I stuck to flavored teas since in my experience, that’s what Metropolitan does best. The teas turned out nicely, and the waiter paid attention to the steep times & brought out a sand timer to monitor them.

Overall, I have to say there was nothing in the menu that justified the steep price. Everything at the Empress is expensive, but I could have gotten their 8 oz smoked sterling silver tenderloin and probably thrown in a glass of wine for the same price as the tea service.

But it was still a memorable experience, and I loved the architecture, the atmosphere, the live piano player, and the excellent staff. I appreciate the effort they put into creating a special afternoon for everyone, and only went into exhaustive detail here because when you’re dining out with dietary restrictions, it’s so hard to know what you’re getting yourself into. Hope this review helps some fellow gluten-challenged people!



Happiness Is:
green tea
black tea
lots and lots of oolong!
vanilla things

Not Really My Style:
spices (except for ginger. ginger rocks)
chai (because, you know, the spices)
rooibos (I don’t get it. Everyone seems psyched for it. Not me).
those smoky teas, like lapsang souchong, though once in a while I’ll need something really strong and then I like them.





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