Location: 17 E. Monroe Street, Chicago, IL, 312-937-3404
Cost: $35 per adult ($18 for children), a glass of champagne with afternoon tea is an additional $10
I haven't been to a formal afternoon tea in awhile, so decided to try Palmer House Hilton's offering. Hosted by The Lockwood Restaurant, the tea offers a steller selection of tea along with the usual three tiers of sandwiches, scones and sweets. This is a decidedly less formal affair than the tea at the Peninsula, so you'll need to decide whether you prefer the quiet atmosphere of the Peninsula's Lobby Restaurant or in the bustling confines of The Palmer House's lobby bar.
- Atmosphere: The friendly hostess seated me in the main lobby area of the hotel, where I had a good view of the reception desk as well as the lobby's magnificent ceiling. The Lockwood's bar is also located in this area, contributing to a convivial and somewhat noisy atmosphere. The location provides great people watching, but isn't particularly relaxing. I did, however, appreciate the lovely high-backed couch on which I got to sit, as well as the gleaming flatware and soft, silky napkins on the low table in front of me.
- Service: I arrived a few minutes before my companion did, but was quickly ushered to our table anyway. Our waiter arrived quickly and offered me a glass of champagne (which I declined) as well as a menu to look over. Overall, our waiter was friendly during the service, though he seemed slightly rushed as the early evening crowd came in for after-work drinks. The waiter did fail to tell us how long we should let our tea steep before pouring, resulting in a weak first cup.
- Tea: The high point of the service was the excellent tea from Rare Tea Cellar. Unfortunately, the online menu doesn't offer a full list of teas (and completely eliminates its selection of herbal infusions). My Aged Keemun was delicious and my companion's English Breakfast Tea was simply superb. You can't go wrong with Rod Markus's wonderful teas which, even after stewing in their pots for 20 minutes (see "Teaware", below), emerged with barely a hint of bitterness.
- Teaware: Like many establishments that offer afternoon tea, the Lockwood offers teaware that isn't entirely suited to careful tea preparation: The teapots are generous in size which means that plenty of tea will remain in the pot after pouring the first, second, and even third cup. Unfortunately, the Lockwood only provides a tea strainer for keeping tea leaves out of the cup. Since there is no separate infuser, the tea leaves remain in the pot with the liquor. Fortunately, the quality of the Lockwood's tea prevents the liquor from quickly becoming bitter and disagreeable due to over-infusion. Still, I'd like to see the Lockwood use teapots with removable infusers.
- Food: The quality of the tea food was uneven: The bread for the sandwiches was a tad stale and some of the fillings, such as the cucumber and watercress were remarkably bland. I did very much enjoy the egg and chicken salad sandwiches, however. The sweets, including a maple scone and a jam cookie from Sweet Miss Givings were quite tasty, but nothing out of the ordinary.
- Final Recommendation: This was a nice tea service, though the quality of its food requires a bit more attention and they need to use teaware that allows patrons to halt the infusion of their tea. Because the Lockwood serves afternoon tea in its lobby, be prepared for lots of noise and activity around you: This can be great if you are on your own and want to do some people-watching, but distracting if you are hoping for some quiet conversation with a friend.