Tea at the Drake Hotel

Menu from Palm Court at the Drake Hotel, Chicago.

Menu from Palm Court at the Drake Hotel, Chicago.

The breathtaking figure skating from the women’s short program last night put me in mind of the elegant Drake Hotel, a simply stunning edifice with a rarefied atmosphere. On my trip to Chicago last year, I was lucky enough to have tea at the Drake not once, but twice. On my first visit, I forgot to take photos until after tea had been consumed, which played a large role in urging me to return so that I could try my hand at documenting the scrumptious atmosphere.

The style of the mirrored ceiling is reminiscent of a medieval forest cottage. I can just see a thatched roof and shuttered windows!

The style of the mirrored ceiling is reminiscent of a medieval forest cottage. I can just see a thatched roof and shuttered windows!

The tea room at the Drake is enormous in size, with a high, airy, mirrored ceiling! A wooden crosshatch is affixed to the mirror, blocking some of the reflected scene from below, so you don’t get the full picture from the mirror’s reflection. It adds a bit of mystery to the room.

Ride that fish, baby!

Ride that fish, baby!

A fountain with a cherub was perched right next to the table on my first visit, and I was most entertained by the view I had of the cherub’s bottom. There’s nothing like cherub ass to make you feel like quality folks. I felt a bit odd documenting the cherub’s bottom for posterity. I’m sure that in choosing the fountain pieces, the hotel decorator was just being cheeky.

If this had been the chocolate fountain from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I would have taken a dip, health regulations or no health regulations.

If this had been the chocolate fountain from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I would have taken a dip, health regulations or no health regulations.

There was a live harpist playing during tea both times – she appears on scheduled days and times to play for tea drinkers – and lucky me, she was situated right next to the table on my first visit! A microphone attached to her harp magnified the sounds she played, and sadly, this proved painfully loud for me. I made sure to sit far away from her on my second visit. Happily, the tea I chose for both visits was good enough to fortify me against the harpist’s clanging. It was called pear caramel, and it was so good that I asked the kind and patient server if I could buy some from the hotel. He did me one better: He gave me the name of the supplier! As soon as I returned home, I made a beeline for the Interwebs and ordered some of that delicious tea for myself. Hats off to that guy! I hope he gets a huge raise, and goes and buys his own hotel.

The Palm Court tea menu.

The Palm Court tea menu.

The Palm Court comestibles menu.

The Palm Court comestibles menu.

The Palm Court children's comestibles menu.

The Palm Court children’s comestibles menu.

I can barely restrain myself! Hee! Hee!

I can barely restrain myself! Hee! Hee!

The tea spread before being summarily attacked.

The tea spread before being summarily attacked.

Princess Diana famously had tea at the Drake during her 1996 visit to Chicago, and so I was expecting the dainties served during tea to be of surpassing excellence. Either the Drake has been in a slow decline since then, or they pulled out all the stops for Di and Di alone, because I found the finger foods to be inconsistent in their quality. The cucumber and tomato sandwich was fine, but it was no better than that which you’d make at home.

Hello, cucumber sandwich that cost more to purchase here than two gallons of milk!

Hello, cucumber sandwich that cost more to purchase here than two gallons of milk!

The macaroons were gorgeous, though they neglected to provide any chocolate ones and I was forced to flag down our server and demand my fair share of chocolate macaroons! (I was actually very polite, and he was very accommodating. I tipped him exceedingly well because he’d been so nice.)

Three chocolate macaroons. They're tiny, yet they pack quite the kick!

Three chocolate macaroons. They’re tiny, yet they pack quite the kick!

The turkey roll was quite dry, and I found it difficult to choke down.

Poor turkey roll. It did not make my heart sing.

Poor turkey roll. It did not make my heart sing, though I know it wanted to.

I was expecting the scones to blow my socks off – after all, scones are meant to be the stars of afternoon tea! – but they were less tender and flavourful than scones I’ve made myself. However, the lemon curd, which was made in-house (I asked!), was superb. It was more tart than I would have liked, but that is purely a matter of personal preference. The strawberry preserves were bought from an outside vendor, not made in-house (again, I asked!), which was disappointing.

The scones, fronted by their associated condiments - strawberry preserves, Devonshire cream, and lemon curd - just prior to the massacre. The strawberry preserves contributed to the bloody feeling of the melee.

The scones, fronted by their associated condiments (left to right) – strawberry preserves, Devonshire cream, and lemon curd – just prior to the massacre. The strawberry preserves contributed to the bloody feeling of the melee.

A dissected scone, smeared with lemon curd, strawberry jam, and Devonshire cream. I have a thing about dissecting my food!

A dissected scone, smeared with lemon curd, strawberry jam, and Devonshire cream. I have a thing about dissecting my food!

The gingerbread madeleines were fantastic, very moist and bursting with spicy flavour, and I thoroughly enjoyed these. They went surprisingly well with lemon curd!

Ah, the beautiful madeleine. It reminded me how glorious gingerbread can be!

Ah, the beautiful madeleine. It reminded me how glorious gingerbread can be!

There was a swan made of cream puffs stuffed with almond pastry cream, but it was bland and doughy.

A tiny cream puff swan. What an adorable creature! I dove in - head first!

A tiny cream puff swan. What an adorable creature! I dove in – head first!

The almond pastry cream itself was well made, but I have to confess to a die-hard hatred of almond flavouring. I like almonds themselves, but anything almond-flavoured is absolutely not for me!

The best of the best was the opera cake.

Just prior to... forking.

Just prior to… forking.

Expertly made and consisting of layers of delicate sponge cake, coffee-flavoured Swiss meringue buttercream, and chocolate ganache, it was purely sublime. This is funny, because the sponge cake for opera cake is traditionally flavoured with almond, which I have just confessed to hating, yet the almond flavouring in the opera cake was very mild to start with and was quickly silenced by the chocolate ganache and coffee Swiss meringue buttercream. The opera cake and that fantastic pear caramel tea remain the highlight of both my visits to the Drake.

Opera cake at its most beautiful - that is, pierced by my eager fork.

Opera cake at its most beautiful – that is, pierced by my eager fork.

I am forced to conclude that the thrill of a visit to the Drake Hotel for tea rests largely on the exciting premises and not on the comestibles. The opera cake and the madeleines made a good showing here, and the tea selection really is varied and of high quality, but the rest of what I was offered fell below my admittedly high expectations. This is the Drake, after all; arriving with high expectations is only to be, well, expected. Nonetheless, I consider it one of my favourite parts of my visit to Chicago. It’s a majestic place, cloaked in the heavy air of exclusivity that comes from the constant traffic of people with lots and lots of money.

Chandeliers adorning the anteroom to Palm Court.

Chandeliers adorning the anteroom to Palm Court.

I say go to the Drake for tea, if you can, and make a beeline for that fabulous opera cake. 😉 Be sure to check out the chandeliers, too.

This was the striking and, to my mind, mildly bizarre chandelier that hung almost directly overhead in Palm Court.

This was the striking and, to my mind, mildly bizarre chandelier that hung almost directly overhead in Palm Court.

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2 thoughts on “Tea at the Drake Hotel

  1. Pingback: Chicago | KitchEnchanted

  2. Pingback: The Cheesecake Factory in Chicago | KitchEnchanted

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