Few nations take tea as seriously as we do in the UK. We drink an estimated 60 billion cups of the stuff every single year – that’s about 1,000 cups per person per year! Tea may have first originated in China, but India is where it found its home. From Assam to Darjeeling, green tea to white tea, Nilgiris to Munnar, we consume it all. Tea became such an important part of the culture of the UK that an entire cuisine and ceremony was developed around it in the form of High Tea – the time between lunch and dinner.
Today, if you visit any stately home or five star hotel in the UK like the Dorchester, Claridges, Waldorf or Ritz, the afternoon is dominated by people enjoying High Tea. It’s so popular that in many places, you have to book a table months in advance and it can cost as much as £60 per person. My parents in particular love their High Tea outings, so much so that me and my siblings booked them in to the Claridges hotel High Tea for their wedding anniversary.
High Tea hasn’t really taken off in India, or at least in Chennai where the 5pm filter coffee and fried bajji is the staple evening snack for most office workers. Still, with the rise of charming cafes like Amethyst and Chamiers Cafe springing up across the city, it seems that there is a market for something more refined than the roadside bread omlette (as delicious as they can be!).
It’s perhaps with this in mind that the Hilton Chennai decided to launch their own High Tea at their Est restaurant in the lobby of the hotel. With its luxurious ambiance, the Hilton can offer that little extra level of sophistication that the other standalone cafes cannot, and that makes it the ideal venue for High Tea. It’s so refined, in fact, that when the Hilton invited us to try it out, I felt compelled to put a shirt and shoes on to really look the part of a gentleman enjoying a spot of tea with his beautifully dressed wife.
As I sat with the Hilton chefs, I took it upon myself to explain why it is sacrilegious to put sugar in your tea. You just can’t take the British out of me. Tea has it’s own unique flavour, and bitter as it may be to your palette, if you’re going to add sugar to it then you might as well drink a soft drink. Indeed, it took years before I could wean my wife off putting sugar in her tea, and now she’s a 100% convert – the tea stands alone, without the need to sweeten it. Milk is another contentious point. Do not put milk in anything other than an all day tea like Twinings Everyday Tea. Right now I’m wondering how much the chef appreciated my lecture on the etiquette of tea. Oops!
The High Tea at Hilton Chennai combines a range of small sweet and savoury edibles along with a comprehensive tea menu. On the savoury side, there are the daintiest cut cucumber sandwiches with an Indian twist of mustard and tumeric bread which makes it yellow. Of course, no High Tea is complete without freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jam and the Hilton doesn’t disappoint. Other dishes include crab and spinach quiches, salmon on crostini bread and cheese and caramelised onions. All of them were so good we ordered seconds!
For the sweet tooth, beetroot infused red velvet cakes, delightful honey nut crunches and battenberg cakes are available. Don’t be shy about ordering for more if you really like them!
The tea menu has green tea, Darjeeling tea, hibiscus tea, chamomile tea, silver white needle tea and good old fashioned English breakfast tea. Here’s a top tip though: don’t drink chamomile tea if you’re already feeling sleepy, it’s the perfect late night tea guaranteed to send you into a deep slumber.
And so it was that this weekend it was I who was telling my parents about the High Tea that I had enjoyed. The best part? When I told them that it’s just 650 rupees per person – about 15% of the cost of a High Tea in the UK at a similar kind of hotel. I’m not saying that this alone convinced them to come out and visit us but after the call they sent us a message to say they had booked tickets to Chennai for March 🙂
High Tea at Hilton Chennai is the perfect place to catch up with friends, or you can take the approach my siblings and I took and gift the experience to your loved ones. While we were there we saw whole families turn up to enjoy the cakes and tea, so it can even be a family outing on a Sunday afternoon.
About The High Tea
The Hilton Chennai High Tea festival is running until the end of January at the Est cafe in the main lobby. High Tea is served between 2:30pm and 6:30pm everyday. You get 12 sweet and savoury items but you can always order more if you fancy it. You can try out all the teas if you wish, which you definitely should – just remember that to really enjoy it you shouldn’t add any sugar! The cost is Rs 599 plus tax per person.
For reservations call: 044-2225-5555