To quote singing legend Andy Williams, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.”
For me, it’s about spending quality time with friends and family, watching cheesy but oh-so-fabulous Hallmark Christmas movies, adorning my condo (and pugs) with festive decor and, overindulging in glorious sweet treats! Oh how I love holiday baking!
To start my holiday season off with a yuletide bang, the newly renovated Fairmont Empress, in Victoria, BC., invited me to its grand property for a “merry” getaway. My focus…the world-renowned Afternoon Tea.
Now Victoria may seem like an out-of-the-way destination for a quick jaunt, being that it is on an island, but it really is easily accessible. Yes, there is B.C. Ferries (approximately 1.5 hour crossing), but for super-speedy transit across the Strait of Georgia, choose to fly with Harbour Air, or my go-to, Helijet, which takes a mere 30 minutes Vancouver Harbour to Victoria Harbour.
As you can imagine, the iconic Grande Dame was all dolled up for the holidays. With the completion of the 60 million dollar restoration in June of 2017, the Fairmont Empress wanted to show off its revived good looks. Check out this timelapse of the lobby remodeling.
There were Christmas trees at almost every turn in the gigantic hotel — this is my favourite.
After a quick stroll around quaint Victoria, I enjoyed a little downtime in my massive room with wonderful window seat and view (weird coincidence: I stayed in this exact room, 728, four years prior. Only difference now is that it is even more stylish and comfy!).
That night I dined in the new restaurant Q at the Empress and sampled out-of-this world dishes, crafted for us by Sous Chef Kem Hookham. I filled my cavernous stomach with forkfuls of Confit Turkey Agnolotti, Chargrilled Aspen Ridge Rib Eye served with seasonal mushrooms and pomme anna, and Duck Proscuitto with huckleberry gel, walnut bread, watercress, blue cheese. Excellent, every one of them.
And if you have a deep appreciation for bread, like I do, I urge you to taste the house-made Farrow and Flax Bread slathered with Empress honey whipped butter. Oh it’s good. Real good.
Considering I ate so much, I slept like I had never slept before, waking at the hour of 10 a.m! I felt refreshed and happily cuddled in my bed until much later.
Then it was time to primp myself for…afternoon tea.
From now until January 2, 2018, Afternoon Tea novices and aficionados can experience the decadent festive tea event at the Fairmont. I, along with a wonderful group of Victoria-based media, was treated to the Festive Champagne Afternoon Tea, a traditional Afternoon Tea with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne (LOVE!) paired with famous seasonal offerings and classic desserts.
Being the kind of gal who lives for sweet treats, I was rather disappointed to have to share the three layers of festive fare. Share?! In all seriousness, I don’t think my indulgence partner and I could even finish all the goodies between us.
I have to admit that I tend to forgo the savory offerings, so I went for the sugar kill, starting with the perfect raisin scone, which I generously layered with strawberry preserve (with fresh lavender from the rooftop herb garden) and clotted cream. As my Empress loose leaf tea steeped (one of 21 teas to choose from), I bit into the flavourful white chocolate eggnog delice – layers of lamington sponge, raspberry jam, topped with white chocolate eggnog cremeux, followed by a divine peppermint and candied ginger macaron. Heaven!
Now I’m starting to feel full.
Next, I snapped the luscious white chocolate casing of the cassis champagne chocolate cup and allowed the cassis champagne mousse to tickle my tastebuds. Don’t like Christmas fruit cake? You’ll probably enjoy this one as it isn’t like the one grandma forces you to eat. Soaked in rum and brandy, this mini fruit cake is topped with marzipan and fondant and tastes rather delightful.
Before I popped, I finished off with the zesty almond florentine – citrus almond cookies, coated with a layer of dark chocolate. Yum.
Tea was, sadly, over and it was time for me to jet back to my normal life. Boo. But not before packing up leftover goodies for later that night! Yes, I did eat them. And I was kindly presented with a special slice of The Empress Torte, developed in France by Executive Pastry Chef AJ Thalakkat, to take with me. That too was enjoyed that night.
What a magnificent trip. And one I hope you’ll experience this season!
Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones.
For more information on The Fairmont Empress Hotel, visit www.fairmont.com