Celebrate a special woman with afternoon tea in Monaco
Did you know that afternoon tea gave new freedoms to Victorian women and even started a fashion revolution? We celebrate 8 March with a fine teatime and some historical context!
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we take you inside the Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo for one of the Riviera’s most fabulous teatimes, starting with a quick dive into the history of this delectable afternoon pick-me-up and the little-known social effects of one woman’s afternoon slump.
A bit like the English version of ‘tiramisu’ (which translates to pick-me-up), afternoon tea is a tradition of sharing little sandwiches and cakes with fine, loose-leaf tea. It quickly rose to popularity as a remedy to the afternoon lull between lunch and the increasingly late dinner due to the rise of indoor lighting. The British Museum credits Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, for creating the now world-famous afternoon treat. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Miss Russell disliked the ‘sinking feeling’ that came with the late afternoon and ordered a tray of tea, bread & butter and cake. What the Duchess didn’t know, was that she had initiated a revolution of sorts.
'A radical feminist act'
Food historian, Tasha Marks, believes that afternoon tea should be considered ‘a radical feminist act’. In her article, “The tea-rific history of Victorian afternoon tea”, she writes:
“While coffee occupied a more masculine external world in 19th-century London, the interior realms of tea were a more feminine affair. Afternoon tea allowed women to entertain mixed company at home without their husbands and was therefore liberating, both socially and practically.”
Giving space for social meetings in a more intimate space between women also allowed for more informal dresses, reducing the need for shape-restricting corset boning, and popularising loose, flowing fabrics. But these new social gatherings had even more important consequences… Marks explains: “Free from some of the Victorian era's performative and literal corsetry, afternoon tea was a place where women took centre stage and were able to exchange ideas, opinions and a healthy dose of gossip.”
In today's world, teatime is a gourmet treat--an afternoon pause with zero effect on the social and political lives of women. After popular series like "Bridgerton", we can even have a good laugh at the level of gossip and romantic plotting at these highly dramatised tea parties, but we should not underestimate the powerfully liberating effect they had on Victorian women's lives.
Le French touch
Here on the French Riviera, there are only a handful of luxury hotels that serve exceptional afternoon tea. What makes these options even more delectable is that it’s a French afternoon tea -- a classic English tradition with a French touch. The tiered selection of sweet and savoury goodies acts as a vitrine for the prowess of the hotel’s talented chefs. Move over cucumber sandwiches, the savoury selections will feature seasonal produce, gourmet tartines or a special creation of the head chef. For sweets, the prized pastry chef creates each tart, cake or petit-four as a masterpiece of patisserie française.
Teatime at the Hotel Metropole
For a delectable afternoon tea, Bon Vivant takes you to the Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo, itself a 19th-century bastion of luxury. The stone walls, checkered floors and soft, velvet seating give an old-world charm that is hard to find these days. This winter, the lobby bar is decorated in a lush garden environment, as if you were sitting in a bright conservatory. Designed by Perrine Guyonnet, the hotel's artistic director, as "the place to be" for a cozy and cocooning experience. With a multi-layer centrepiece of bright green plants, sparkling crystal chandeliers and a tromp-l’oeil wall mural, you feel transported to an era of winter conservatory gardens, the perfect backdrop to afternoon tea.
Teatime is designed in tandem with Head Chef, Christopher Cussac, and their Pastry Chef, Patrick Mesiano, the Metropole teatime begins with a small plate of fine chocolates while you choose your tea. The selection features black teas from Yunnan, China and Assam, India; green teas from Japan, Taiwan and China. Notable are the Thé de Monaco, inspired by the traditional Monaco fougasse, a black tea scented with orange flower, anise and almond; their signature Thé du Hammam is a mix of green tea, red fruits, green dates, orange blossoms and rose petals. Fans of Lapsang Souchon will enjoy the Thé Smoking, with buds and leaves of both black and white teas, creating a delicate yet intense smokey flavour.
If tea is not your thing, don’t worry—you can order a coffee drink or try their snazzy hot chocolate, with a choice of cinnamon, 3-spice (nutmeg, black pepper & ginger), or pistachio whip cream.
When the server arrives with the double platform of goodies, yet another decision presents itself: start with the savoury or the sweet? Whether you are team dessert-first or a traditionalist, your taste buds are in for a treat.
The bottom shelf displays the savoury goodies: Vitello tonnato mini-sub, squid ink bagel with hummus, and the truly stunning croissant brioche with smoked salmon. The latter is both crunchy and flaky, a great compliment to the soft salmon and cream cheese.
The top shelf displays the pastries which are each a work of art. From the ‘Mont Blanc’ cone of cream and creme de marron, to the chocolate puff pastry domed with a chocolate shell of salted caramel that drips down the centre when cut in two (it’s divine), to the hazelnut cookie topped with gooey praline, each offers a unique flavour. For us, the highlight is definitely the mango and passion fruit pavlova, a miniature flavour explosion that is soothed by the light crunch of its meringue shell. As if this wasn't enough, an extra plate is served with a decadent chocolate hazelnut cake and the most lovely orange flower brioche, a true Monegasque treat.
The only thing that can make this teatime more special is choosing the sparkling version served with a coupe de champagne.
Treat a special woman in your life to this fabulous teatime, enjoying a decadent moment together and giving a nod to the liberating roots of this afternoon ritual.
Don't miss out
The Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo teatime is only served until 26 March, so make sure to book soon! The signature Teatime is 57€ and the Sparkling Teatime (with Champagne) is 75€.
Visit the Metropole website for bookings.