Lately, I’ve been writing about our late summer trip to Québec City. You can’t think of Québec without also thinking of the Château Frontenac, the huge hotel that dominates the skyline. It was designed by American architect Bruce Price at the end of the 19th century. It was one of a series of hotels built to look like European châteaux by the Canadian Pacific Railway in order to encourage rail tourism by the wealthy. It has been expanded on over the years. The hotel was named after Louis de Buade, Count of Frontenac, a 17th century governor of New France. It was the site of a 1943 war conference between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King. A decade later, it was used as the location for a Hitchcock film, I Confess.
The hotel was sold to the Fairmont group in 2001 and was re-baptized Fairmont Le Château Frontenac. The iconic building was sold again in 2011 and a multi-million dollar roof replacement project got underway. The work was still in progress when we visited.
Over the years, going out for afternoon tea has been a special treat for our family and we thought that tea at the Château Frontenac would be a great way to mark our time in Québec. I must confess to being a little disappointed. The Café de la Terrace had a wonderful view overlooking the Terrace de Dufferin. It was, however, in need of renovation, although probably not as much as the roof. The banquettes were a little shabby and worn.
I couldn’t fault the quality of the service, however. Our waiter was most attentive throughout our tea time. He started off by having us inhale the fragrance of a dozen canisters of tea and talked about the attributes of each. The weather was cool and damp while we were in Québec, so I opted for hot chocolate to warm myself up. That was my mistake. The chocolate wasn’t very good and it wasn’t hot, but my husband and daughter were pleased with their tea selections.
The tiered plate was layered with sandwiches below and then scones and, finally, tiny cakes and other sweet morsels above. The presentation was very attractive, but the flavor and freshness wasn’t always of the highest quality. The paté reminded me of Underwood’s Deviled Ham (yuck!) from lunch boxes of old. I felt like that the sandwiches had been prepared well in advance and left to dry out. The scones were quite delicious, but mascarpone cheese is not Devon cream! The bite-sized cakes were prettier than they were flavorful.
Frankly, I just didn’t think this high tea was worth $37 CDN a person. I’ve had far nicer teas for a much more reasonable price. It may be one of the most beautiful hotels out there, but I think they’re resting on their laurels a bit. This expression in French is “se reposer sur ses lauriers” (suh rep-o-zay soor say lor-e-ay). I had been really looking forward to a special event at this landmark property, and I’m sorry to give it such a tepid review. Perhaps after the renovations, I should check it out again.