Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Afternoon Tea at the Four Seasons Marunouchi

Can you believe how quickly February is flying by?  If you asked, I would always say that February is my least favorite month.  It's the bitter end of winter dragging out, and it always makes me think of gray skies and and the sun setting too early.  But honestly, it's really not such a bad month, it's so short it really doesn't last too long.  And the days are definitely starting to lengthen, when I head home from writing it's only twilight instead of pitch black now.  It's also the only month I've ever known it to snow in Tokyo (not that my experience is very vast), which is fun in the short term.

Raku and I saved our third afternoon tea until February because December was already filled with too much indulgence and January was necessary just to get us back to our regular lifestyle (of both more disciplined writing and eating!)  It's been really fun going to tea once every season though.  I enjoy seeing how the menus reflect what's in season and figuring out which place might be best for each time of year.

This time we selected the Four Seasons because it seemed particularly good for a winter afternoon. They have a creative menu full of comfort foods that aren't the typical afternoon tea fare, like mini-burgers and churros, and they're the only place I know of that offers hot chocolate along with tea.  We'd also heard that they're especially good at the savory foods, instead of the sweet.  I could eat sweets all day long, but Raku has a savory-tooth so this seemed like a tea that would be perfect for her!  We had very high hopes, and maybe that was part of the problem (or maybe we are quickly becoming spoiled snobs,) but we both agreed that this was the most disappointing tea we've been too so far.

Like the Chinzanso all of the food came out at once instead of in courses like the Mandarin Oriental, but instead of the traditional tiered plates it was spread out across the table, which was lovely to look at, but on a more practical level felt a little cramped.  Each of us selected a tea, which is served by the pot. The first pot was slightly larger with about three generous cups in it, and each successive pot (basically a coffee press) had two large cups.  I think the Mandarin has ruined us forever by allowing us to order by the cup, because by the last cup it's definitely over brewed.  I have a higher tolerance for overly-strong tea than Raku, but I have to agree with her that it's frustrating.  The tea selection was a little disappointing as well.  To be fair they did have deliciously rich hot chocolate, and a good coffee selection, but the teas were very standard and not much interested me.  I had pots of darjeeling, rooibos, and lapsang souchong and Raku had earl grey, cherry, and jasmine teas.  I've found that I usually end up enjoying the unusual choices that Raku makes the most, but this time there weren't any crazy teas to pick.  Raku really liked her cherry tea, it was very mild - more cherry scented than flavored, and I liked the smoky lapsang souchong the best.

The food was gorgeous and with so much in front of us we didn't know where to begin, but finally decided to eat the hot food first.  The mini wagyu burger was yummy, but not super special, the snow crab and bechamel quiche was unremarkable, but the pao de queijo tasted very authentic.  Pao de queijos are delicious little bites of bread made from tapioca flour and parmesan cheese.  The tapioca flour gives them a wonderful chewy texture, and these tasted very similar to the ones made by the Brazilian grandmother of the family I used to nanny for.

We had half of dessert next, a green tea and white chocolate cake, a brownie, and a kumquat tart. Neither Raku nor I are crazy about green tea desserts, but this was one of the better ones I've tasted, the brownie was good but surprising - I think there was a lot of orange zest in it, and the kumquat tart was our favorite.  Can you see that the crust is actually a super tiny waffle shell?  The scones came next: vanilla and double chocolate chip.  They were both good, but the chocolate was a bit much (maybe because I was also drinking hot chocolate at the time?).  The vanilla were so buttery they almost tasted like shortbread!

After all that sugar we switched to the "appetizers", a veggie wrap, veggie chips, carrot mousse, and a fruits tomato, mozzarella, and olive skewer.  Speaking of which, have you ever heard of fruits tomatoes?  I thought that was just a silly translation, but Raku explained they're a special type of extra sweet tomato, probably a Japan-only sort of thing.  I've never liked raw tomatoes, but Raku enjoyed both mine and hers, and the mozzarella and olives were great.  The vegetable chips were fun and tasty too.  The carrot mousse was delicious - our favorite from this round for sure.  The veggie wraps were the weakest offereing.  I thought mine was really bland, a disappointment since fresh vegetables are such a rarity here, Raku, on the other hand, thought hers was unpleasantly fishy.

We wrapped up with the second half of dessert, milk tea panna cotta and cinnamon churros with strawberry cream.  Both were good, but sort of unremarkable.  The panna cotta probably would have been better colder, so it might have been a mistake to save it for last.  The churros were nice, but probably more fun to eat than they were delicious.

In general we liked the atmosphere of this place the least.  I will say that the flowers were absolutely gorgeous, they had really nice arrangements of orchids with pussy willow that I really enjoyed, but the view out the windows is mostly of the train tracks around Tokyo station, which is sad because the view from the sitting area is so much nicer.  The service was good, but felt a little awkward and forced.  This is the first place where we've been spoken to in English.  I didn't expect that I would feel this way, but it sort of made every interaction seem a more taxing, like the servers were working extra hard to interact with me.  We probably would have all been more relaxed if it had just been in Japanese.  (As a note, I've always received an English menu and none of these places would be any trouble for a person who only spoke English.)

Four Seasons Marunouchi Afternoon Tea
Hours: M-F 2:00-5:00, S-S 2:30-5:00
Phone: 03-5222-7222
Address: 1-11-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Read about other Afternoon Teas:
The Kahala Resort Honolulu
The Aman Tokyo
The Palace Hotel Tokyo
The Metropole Hanoi
The Ritz Carlton Tokyo
Tokyo Shangri-La
The Peninsula Hotel
The Mandarin Oriental (second time)
The Park Hyatt Shinjuku
Hotel Chinzanso
The Mandarin Oriental

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