Tea time has, in my experience, always been seen as perhaps the most delicious and awaited quasi-meal of the day, placed as it is, far enough from lunch to bring on hunger pangs and sufficiently distant from dinner so one’s appetite isn’t affected. Growing up in a variety of cultures, I’ve experienced different spreads for tea time; the spontaneous chai-pakoda time when there’s a sudden shower, sending the cooks in the house rushing into the kitchen to rustle up batters of every sort to coat and deep fry all manner of vegetables, accompanied by piping hot, sweet and usually strong tea. Then there were the Army Officer’s Mess teas, which were usually a simple affair of tea accompanied by pakodas, biscuits, buttered bread and perhaps some badly toasted bread with standard issue, sugary jam.
The most elaborate tea I’ve seen in a home however was a tea we were treated to was in Cannanore (Kannur) in 1993, about twenty one years ago. Vinny, my mother, remembers the occasion, “If I remember correctly there was chicken stew with freshly baked bread, two types of cakes (a fruit cake and a sponge), a selection of biscuits, spicy fried mussels, Pal Payasam (rice kheer) banana Halwa, banana chips, tapioca chips, jackfruit chips, fried mutton with fried potatoes, and more freshly baked bread… that’s all I remember of a table laden to capacity as it always is when one visits people at Cannanore or Tellicherry.”
The Indian tradition, as expected, came from the British, where the custom of tea in the afternoon underwent a process of socio-economic evolution, to become the elaborate affair it ultimately transformed into, slowly changing till it all but disappeared from most homes, replaced by a simple cup of tea and perhaps a piece of buttered toast or a pastry.
Which brings me to “The Tea Rhapsody” hosted by Qube at the Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri. Quite different from most high teas I’ve seen in the city, The Tea Rhapsody chooses not to go with the tiered stands, instead piling up the three available buffet counters at Qube with Indian and western, sweets and savories… which is where things started going wrong.
Two of the three tables were crammed with sweets and pastries and one with savories. The fondant-wrapped, mehndi-inspired cakes were dry and inedible, the Indian sweets appeared halwai inspired and evoked no desire, the scones were bitter and cold to boot, the few available pakodas barely warm and mostly soggy and the samosas had unacceptably thick crusts and inferior to their roadside counterparts. I might go so far as to say everything except the excellent sandwiches were outsourced – they just didn’t cut it. And for the price charged, INR 1700/900 per person (adults/children below 12 years), a dismal mismatch between expectations and delivery.
The Leela Palace, Chanakyapuri needs to realise internally perceived brand equity does not affect the external perception of value or the quality of food. Given it probably has a well-qualified team of professionals within it’s very expensive walls, the property would do well to put them to work to actually deliver a product of value than make a tired attempt at influencing perceptions.
I suggest avoiding The Tea Rhapsody, unless you have plenty of money and no taste.
Ed: The cover picture is not from this property or promotion.