Shoes Optional during afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria BC

 In Canada, Food

The Walkingon clan takes on afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress

I was nervous. OK, a little more than nervous. We were headed to a fancy afternoon tea with a 2 year old. You would be nervous too. Fragile china, sharp flatware, tiered plates; it was enough to give any mother a mild heart attack. I’d like to send my son to college one day, not spend it replacing teacups.

Apparently broken dishes were not what I should have been worried about. It was the wardrobe. I had broken out Dek’s Christmas sweater early. I figured what better time to dress him up than afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria BC. Nothing could call for proper attire more. We were all dressed smart casual, meaning cute pants, boots and a top for me, no logos on Mike’s shirt and a sweater for Dek. Yeah, we dress up real nice.

The elegance of the Fairmont Empress was seen both inside and out

Dek decided that he really didn’t need shoes though. I mean really, what was I thinking? He was seated on a squishy chair and then snuggled up next to me on the couch. We don’t wear shoes on the furniture at home, why in the world would we at a proper tea. Silly mommy. As most parents quickly figure out, some battles just aren’t worth fighting. Both shoes came off and we settled into a lovely hour-long tea.

If you have never had afternoon tea let me break it down for you. The best part is that someone serves you. They take care of you. They pour you tea! Do you know the last time someone poured me tea! Probably 11 years ago when I was working in a tea shop in Savannah during college. As a tired mom and pregnant lady it sure was nice to have someone take care of me for a change. The tea could have been horrible and I probably still would have been in heaven, but thankfully the tea warm and delicious.

No dishes dropped and no hot tea spilled on the toddler makes for a great afternoon

Our meal started out with chocolate covered strawberries. Really what more could I have needed to start a meal than dessert? Of course Dek decided that was the only thing that could possibly make him happy. Mike peeled all of the chocolate off his strawberries and handed them to Dek. Then Dek moved onto my plate. I love strawberries dipped in chocolate! But to keep the peaceful, serene mindset I was settling into, I sacrificed my strawberries for the greater good.

The lovely gentleman serving us noticed how quickly Dek was devouring all of our sweets. He brought another plate over so Mike and I could sneak a try too. The man was a genius and the strawberries got our meal started on the right foot.

Next up was our tea. We went with the house specialty, the Empress Blend. This was an intriguing mix of Assam, Kenyan black and green teas, and Kemum. A little cream and sugar added in (again by our server, not me!) and I was warming up just fine while slowly melting into the sofa.

Dek caught stealing my strawberries. I focus on my tea sandwiches and dessert instead.

A 3-tiered masterpiece of finger sandwiches, scones with fresh clotted cream and jam, and sweets found it’s way to the middle of our table. This is where I messed up. I knew that proper tea etiquette called for starting at the bottom and working your way up. Well no one told me just how full I would be by the time we reach the top dessert plate. I should have worked my way down! What was I thinking? Always start with the sweets and leave the savories in case you run out of room. The tragedy of those forgotten sweets will be forever etched in my mind.

This is not to say that the finger sandwiches were not exactly what I was craving. Dek devoured a smoked salmon pinwheel and nibbled on a mango and curried chicken sandwich. I worked my way through two egg salad crescents and my personal favorite, a cucumber sandwich. Whoever thought of cucumbers and horseradish on a piece of bread was a culinary god.

Dek snuggles up with a movie while I settle in with a final cup of tea

Dek went after a very large scone next, making quite a mess of the floor beneath him. Mike and I tried to discreetly pick up the larger chunk. By this point Dek was also starting to lose it. We had been up since 6am to catch the Victoria Clipper and it was well past noon by now. Naptime had come and gone. It was time to pull out the big guns, my iPhone loaded with Cars 2. Dek snuggled into my side on the couch and zoned out. I got to go back to my scone and strawberry jam, serene mindset back in place.

Mike, being the leveling husband that he is, insisted that I eat the one full scone that was left since I was eating for two. He would nibble on the half Dek had left him. Looking back, I think this was a clever ploy on Mike’s part to get to the desserts faster than me. He gobbled up the cheese cake (I don’t like it anyway), one chestnut chocolate truffle, a Christmas cake (looked like fruit cake), ginger cookie and what I think was a minced meat tart. Don’t quote me on that one though.

Two sad treats remain after a very filling afternoon tea

Belly’s full and a content toddler warming my side, I sipped my tea and looked around the magnificent room we were in. It really is astonishing that they let small children in there. Our hostess didn’t even bat an eye when we showed up. It was in our reservation that Dek was coming, but still, you expect a little frowning or something at the very least. Nope, she chatted away with Dek when she brought us to our table. She gave us a happy wave as we left to check out the Christmas tree display at the hotel. Our server never once questioned our sanity for bringing a kid to his beloved tearoom. He also never commented on Dek’s lack of shoes. Everyone was accommodating and ready to help. Anytime a public venue welcomes my child and I with open arms I am a happy mama.

High ceilings, plush seating and a quiet atmosphere created a most enjoyable afternoon with my family

On our next visit, and there will be another visit, I am hoping to bring a few girlfriends up with us. My plan is to leave the daddies at the hotel pool with the kids while the moms’ get some much-needed pampering and girl time. It’s not that I dread taking Dek back; I just recognize a happy mama spot when I see one. I’d like to share that low-stress, warm comfort with my friends. I also won’t have to worry about a 3-year-old Dek and a 7-month-old Baby Walkingon being properly dressed and behaved at all. That happy, warm feeling might just stick with me for a few more weeks the more I think of this plan. Who’s in?

After a long walk post afternoon tea, head back over to the Fairmont Empress to see it all lit up for the holidays. Even better than the view during the day I think.

Know Before You Go:

  •  Fairmont Empress, 721 Government Street, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8W1W5
  • Reservations: tel 250 389 2727 or email: emp.diningres@fairmont.com.
    • It is highly recommended that you make a tea time reservation in advance. If you take the Victoria Clipper up from Seattle, you can make a reservation on the boat.
    • If you have a food allergy, please let the tearoom when you make your reservation so they can accommodate your meal
  • Prices: Adult range from  US$49-67, depending on the season. Children 12 and under are 50% off the price of a paying adult. Toddlers and babies who are not eating can sit for free and nibble on mom and dad’s food.
  • Plan on about an hour for an afternoon tea, more if you don’t have children in tow. You can sit and savor a little longer.
  • Dress Code: casual elegant. No flip flops, beach wear, baseball hats, cut off shorts, etc. Clean jeans (no rips or tears) and sneakers are OK.
  • Children are welcome at afternoon tea. Bring toys to entertain them though. No matter where you go, little bodies have trouble sitting still for very long.
  • Children 12 and under can enjoy Prince and Princess Tea. The menu is tailored to tinier palettes.
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Showing 7 comments
  • Lisa

    Dek looks very handsome – who needs shoes anyway? We’ve stayed at a number of Fairmonts and have found that they are always very family-friendly. I haven’t had my kids to the Empress yet but my husband and I had tea there years ago and it looks like it is still as wonderful – glad you enjoyed your afternoon.

    • Let’s fix that right now. I’ll meet you at the Empress next December, 1st weekend of the month. We will have tea and then head out to the lights of Butchart Gardens. We didn’t stay at the Empress, but I would love to one day.

  • Jessica

    Good for you for doing something so scary! I’ll meet you there next, I’ll just have to figure out what to do about the distance between here and there.

  • Mom

    Are East Coast Mommies invited? Or how about dainty young cousins? Maybe a date in 5 years? Nobody has served me tea since you took care of me in Savannah! It all sounds so wonderfully delicious and relaxing.

  • Carrie

    Lovely photos and write-up. I really love trying out different places for Afternoon Tea and The Empress looks like a great place to try out the next time I’m in BC. Thanks for sharing!

  • tripstylert

    Glad you had a great time. The Empress has been doing tea since something like 1908, and it shows. Some of the tea servers have been there as long as 40 years. – A well-oiled machine.

    • I was reading about some of the tenured servers. That’s insane! Maybe next year we can meet up there and just have a girls tea. No infants or toddlers allowed 😉

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