Maybe because I’m British, maybe because it’s a Hong Kong institution, but most likely due to pure indulgent gluttony, I found myself craving the delicious refined extravagance of afternoon tea. Afternoon tea seems to be more prevalent in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the world and I wanted in! However, I can’t eat gluten; since bread is the key ingredient of any proper afternoon tea, this tends to be a bit of a problem – result being I hadn’t had an afternoon tea in five years! And so I found myself at the afternoon tea at the Four Seasons Hong Kong, whose pastry chef is passionate about catering to dietary requirements and willingly whips up special sets to suit all sorts of allergies and intolerances.
The key with dietary restrictions is to let the chef know in advance. Whether it’s gluten, dairy, eggs or chocolate that you can’t eat, Gregoire Michaud and his team will lovingly labour over a personally created tea to cater for your sensitive tums. Claire, their PR director, came with me so I could get some perspective on the normal tea set too.
When the feast arrived, I audibly squealed; whilst this was mildly embarrassing, it has to be understood that I haven’t eaten scones in five years! Visually my tea only had subtle deviations from Claire’s. We both started with our quintessentially British sandwiches. My gluten free bread was springy and delicious rather than dry and cardboard, as is often the case. Claire’s more exciting looking savouries included a salmon roll, egg mayonnaise mini baguette and mini foie gras burger, whilst my version contained clever variations such as fig and parma ham on a gluten free cracker, egg mayonnaise encased in a hollowed-out potato and toasted gluten free bread for the foie gras. Each of the little savoury masterpieces not only looked beautiful but tasted exceptional. Who knew such little morsels could pack such a powerful punch!
As I lowered the gluten-free raisin scone (each scone takes three whole days to make!) onto my plate, I was barely able to hide my excitement. Whilst Claire daintily spread her accompaniments atop her perfectly split scone, mine broke into about six separate pieces. I ignored this slight obstacle and smothered my sextet with oodles of cream and jam. It was love at first bite. Not only in taste but texture – its denseness filled my mouth and the sweetness of the jam infused my taste buds. It was every bit as good as I had hoped and I honestly believe that even the biggest bread lover would enjoy the gluten free version as much as the real thing. Creating good gluten free bread isn’t easy. Creating good gluten free scones I had thought impossible. But Gregoire is a culinary genius.
Finally, we were faced with the peak of our teatime mountain – the sweets. Again, Claire’s and my dishes were essentially the same but with slight tweaks. A chocolate biscuit base for the red wine poached pear agar was omitted for my set; it filled my mouth with subtly spiced flavours transporting me back to Christmas. Next up the spiced pineapple baba – a shot glass full of pure sweet but subtle indulgence. The green apple pie looked intriguing and had an interesting texture, but as soon as it burst in my mouth, its sweet appley goodness had me sold. I saved the best till last… the red velvet macaron, which had the perfect consistency.
Two hours after arriving, I sat back triumphant. No morsel of food remained on the stand, no inkling of extra space could be found in my stomach. I sat back in my comfy armchair in the sunshine-filled Lounge and surveyed the view of the harbour. I have loved Hong Kong since I moved here but now, knowing I could get my gluten free fix at my favourite hotel, I was convinced I would never leave.
Afternoon tea in Hong Kong is a must. The Four Seasons’ offering is in my opinion, unsurpassable in the attention to detail that goes into each creation, the flavours and quality, the view, the exemplary service and the fantastic range of teas on offer. Top that all off with a pastry chef who loves welcoming more fussy eaters such as myself and you can see why the Four Seasons Afternoon Tea deserves a place in Hong Kong’s afternoon tea hall of fame.
The Four Seasons afternoon tea for two people costs $450 and is available from 3-5.30pm daily
The Lounge Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central
3196 8820 www.fourseasons.com/hongkong/