Lynette’s birthday in August meant another tea party for us. We headed to the Butchart Gardens, which is well-known for its spectacular flowers and less well-known for its afternoon tea, which is really quite excellent. Not only do you get a lovely afternoon tea experience, you also get to browse around the Gardens and quite literally smell the roses.
Like the Empress Hotel, the setting at the Butchart Gardens is super impressive – maybe even more so. I’ve been to the Gardens several times but it never gets old, partly because the flowers change with the seasons and partly because it’s just such a lovely place. Case in point: afternoon tea is served in The Dining Room Restaurant in what used to be the Butchart family home, and this is the scene outside the window:
We sat in the conservatory area of the restaurant, surrounded by orchids, ferns, primulas, and begonias, and ordered our teas. I chose the Bachelor Button blend, which is black and sencha teas blended with bergamot, rhubarb, and cornflowers. The colour and flavour were both light and delicate, but I quite liked it.
The first “course” of our tea was a berry trifle: layers of vanilla custard, berry compote, sponge cake, and whipped cream. It was rich and creamy but somehow still light and not too sweet, and just made me look forward to the rest of the tea even more.
Then came our three-tiered tea tray full of goodies, and because we were celebrating a birthday, we decided to go all-out and also ordered a flight of local wines to go with our tea. This included apple cider from Sea Cider, blackberry port-style wine from Rocky Creek, and sparkling wine from I can’t remember where, each of which was paired with a different “course” of the tea. The whole presentation of the tea was really impressive and drew lots of looks from other restaurant patrons (although it might also have been because I kept jumping out of my chair to take pictures!).
The apple cider went with the bottom tier of warm savories and sandwiches. There were tiny sausage rolls served with mustard and mini vegetable quiches, along with the classic smoked salmon pinwheel, egg salad, and cucumber ginger sandwiches. My favorite was the maple glazed ham salad on a teensy cheese scone.
The candied ginger scone with strawberry jam and cream paired with the sparkling wine was tasty, but I found the scone to be very sweet and a little bit underwhelming.
Finally, the desserts were paired with the blackberry wine, which is practically dessert on its own. There was raspberry-almond Battenburg cake, orange poppyseed loaf, layered chocolate-brandy Napoleon, “French macarons”, and Irish cream truffles in two tiny white boxes. The only qualm I had with the desserts – which were very good – was that the macarons were actually just meringues sandwiched together with ganache. Still yummy, just not macarons.
Not only was the setting gorgeous, but the food was really delicious and the service was efficient, relaxed, and welcoming. We both agreed that it was better than the Empress and as good as the White Heather, just a little fancier. We spent a good hour and a half slowly sipping and eating and enjoying ourselves, and then went out to walk through the Gardens.
All told, admission to the Gardens plus afternoon tea costs about sixty dollars: tea is $32.50 per person, and summer admission to the Gardens is $30.80 for an adult. In total, this is comparable to the Empress Hotel but what you get for the price plus the nicer experience is worth every penny, in my opinion. The only downside (if it could even be considered one) is that you must pay to get into the Gardens to have tea there – but that’s just a wonderful excuse to see an incredible show garden. The Butchart Gardens also offer a high tea with an expanded selection of warm savory items throughout the winter months (still $32.50 per person) when admission to the Gardens is a bit lower. Our wine flights added twelve dollars to the price, which made it more of a splurge but still fairly reasonable for three local wines on top of everything else were were getting.
Overall, based on food, experience, and price, I’m giving the Butchart Gardens’ afternoon tea five teaspoons out of five. It combines the fanciness of the Empress Hotel (without the “catering to the tourists” vibe) and the quality of the White Heather Tea Room. I highly recommend checking it out!