Eastern & Oriental Hotel
10 Lebuh Farquhar
The E&O’s 1885 fine dining restaurant – named for the year the hotel was founded – lays on a High Tea in the afternoons, available from 1430 until 1700. Its publicity describes it as “Traditional English Afternoon Tea” served in an “elegant setting”. The notice displayed outside the restaurant harks back to the days when the 7th Duchess of Bedford, complaining of a “sinking feeling” in the afternoons, invented afternoon tea as a means of keeping her going until dinner. Could it do the same for us?
We were ushered to our table and presented with a menu of teas – Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Prince of Wales, Earl Grey, Jasmine… Camomile? Peppermint? Hmm. Plus finger sandwiches, plain and fruit scones and a collection of fancy cakes and pastries. All for RM38++ (RM43.70 inclusive – about £6.80 as of June 2008) per person.
Tea arrived and was poured – and looked woefully weak. I commented on this, but the waiter didn’t seem to notice and carried on pouring anyway. As soon as he’d gone we lifted our teapot lids and poured the tea back in, noticing as we did so that the “tea” was actually tea bags.
A waitress promptly appeared at the table to enquire what was wrong. We explained that the tea was too weak. She offered additional bags, which we politely declined – the tea simply hadn’t had a chance to brew. (It does actually say on the menu how long each of the varieties of tea takes to brew. Maybe the waiter hadn’t read the menu. Then again, the menu also rhapsodises about the glories of each of the teas, without mentioning that they’re only teabags.)
I said to the waitress that we use real tea leaves at home – teabags just contain dust and fannings. The waitress apologised and said that they used to use tea leaves, but they were out of stock just then. This seemed a bit silly to us – couldn’t they have just bought in a small supply to tide them over until their main bulk order arrived? (Or had they simply permanently abandoned proper tea in favour of bags?)
Then the sandwiches and scones appeared. The scones – two mini-scones each of plain and fruit – were fine, and came with whipped cream (not, thankfully, the brilliant white artificial muck) and some rather nice strawberry jam. Sadly, the sandwiches didn’t match up. The roast beef sandwiches were passable, with whole grain mustard, though one of them seemed to consist of more dill pickle than beef. The smoked salmon sandwiches looked as if they were made from off-cuts with the unattractive brown bits round the edges, and came with slices of raw onion inside. Onion?? Not so great. But at least they were edible – once you’d picked the onion out. Unlike the cucumber sandwiches, which were the worst either of us has ever had anywhere. Wafer-thin flaccid cucumber, soaked in lashings of some kind of sweet mayonnaise-based dressing, and even the slight pressure involved in picking up the sandwich (which had had part of the crusts inexpertly trimmed off, leaving about half of them still attached) resulted in the bread compressing to an unappealing thin soggy pulp.
The assortment of ten bite-sized fancy pastries and cakes was beautifully presented, but by the time we were approaching the end of the sandwiches (what we could manage of them) and scones, we didn’t want to prolong our visit and were keen to leave. However, it seemed a waste to leave the cakes behind, especially since we’d paid a substantial amount of money for them. So we asked if we could have them packed to take with us. The waiter looked rather taken aback, but said OK and disappeared… only for another waiter to appear five minutes later and tell us furtively that they weren’t allowed to let us take food out with us. I asked why – after all, we’d paid for the food and it was ours to do what we wanted with it. The waiter went away, then paused for a second or two, turned around, came back and whispered to us that it would be OK after all. They eventually came back to us packaged in a neat little cardboard cake box.
Overall rating: 1 out of 5
For something that’s billed as a special occasion, this was poor enough even when you don’t take value for money into account. The service was friendly enough, but not very good; the tea was weak and uninspiring (hardly surprising if it comes in bags); the sandwiches were poor at best; and the whole palaver with the cakes was unnecessary. We wouldn’t go back, and we wouldn’t recommend it to others either. Far better to wait until the evening and visit the truly excellent buffet at Sarkies Corner instead.