The Belle Epoque Alvear Palace Hotel, which anchors Buenos Aires’s ritzy Recoleta neighborhood, has been the standard-bearer of luxury in the city since opening its gilded doors in 1932. Its ornate interior, decorated in a regal Louis XV and XVI style, and top-notch service also place it in the ranks of Argentina’s most elite hotels.
While Porteños (locals in Buenos Aires) might not have a need to take up in the hotel’s rooms, outfitted with plush carpet and Egyptian cotton sheets and accompanied with personal butler service, many often occupy seats at one of the onsite bars or restaurants. They particularly come out to L’Orangerie for a time-old tradition in Buenos Aires: the Alvear Afternoon Tea. The mid-afternoon to early evening teatime is the city’s most elegant, and guests pause for a few hours to sip tea, converse and nibble on expertly prepared sweet and savory treats.
Argentina, much like the U.S., is a country influenced by immigrants. Their cultural impact is visible even in the Alvear, with its French architecture and décor and British practice of hosting high tea. Still, the beloved tradition takes a distinct Argentine flavor. For example, some of the plated petit fours include the key South American ingredient of dulce de leche, the gooey, caramelized sweet spread made from painstakingly heating sweetened milk.
Afternoon tea at the Alvear Palace Hotel (Monday through Saturday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m.; reservations are recommended) is a white-tablecloth, hours-long ritual in an upscale yet relaxed setting with stellar service. You can sit in the main dining room with its glittering chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling cream marble, or in the leafy, enclosed garden area. The menu includes close to 20 teas, including a special eponymous house blend composed of black leaves, almonds and notes of Mediterranean citrus and rose petals. Professional, attentive waiters wearing white gloves prepare the loose-leaf tea in silver pots and serve it in Limoges porcelain. They keep the teapots hot and filled and also welcome diners to try different flavors, as well.
While the menu includes multiple pages detailing the types of teas for selection, the majority of the teatime food is fixed and includes an assortment of tasty bites served in courses. The meal begins with warm housemade breads and scones with fresh lemon custard and berry marmalades from El Bolsón and continues with individual three-tiered platters that include smoked salmon on bagels and cucumber finger sandwiches as well as mini desserts, such as fruit tartlets. The food is so filling that it is not uncommon for guests to ask for their final dessert — an individual cake of their choosing, including cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake and more — to be boxed up to go. If you can’t manage to finish that last cake, opt to cap off the affair with champagne.
Photos Courtesy of Alvear Palace Hotel