As the proverbial Ugly American, we had no clue as to what constitutes a proper high tea experience. So we found ourselves some English ladies (well, one actually only went to school in England, and the other, frankly, is no lady) and headed to the Phoenician on a late summer afternoon. We were surprised to hear that reservations are required -- who knew there'd be a run on hot drinks in August? -- but luckily a table opened up and we settled gingerly on a plump white couch in the airy lobby of the Phoenician.
And then we immediately made a spectacle of ourselves, ordering herbal berry tea and spilling it all over the lovely linens. Our Brits assured us that English Breakfast is the only way to go (which confused us, since it was closer to dinner time) and we got a long lecture about how the tea has to be warmed just so, and you must use whole milk, not cream.
We made a mess, but the Phoenician held up nicely, with a three-course presentation fit for a king. (Or, in this case, three wanna-be queens.) First came finger sandwiches. We preferred the lightly spiced curry egg salad with watercress and daikon sprouts and the poached chicken salad with lemon and thyme on pumpernickel. But the classic cucumber sandwiches weren't bad, either.
Next arrived buttermilk and cranberry scones. Our friends told us that scone should be pronounced "skawn" (rhymes with pawn) and although they scoffed at the notion of dried cranberries, both scarfed their scones, dabbing them with lemon curd, fresh strawberry preserves and Devonshire cream, so rich we could all feel our arteries clogging.
And then, the pastries. The selection was broad, and our lovely waiter would have happily put one of each on our plate. We managed to down a chocolate-covered strawberry and something called a fruit tartlet.
By the time we stumbled out of the Phoenician, brimming with tea and stuffed with enough carbs to fuel a kindergarten class, we understood the meaning of high tea -- it was definitely the high point of the day. And our lady friends agreed.