Satisfaction Guaranteed: Thin, Diner-Style Patties & “Special Sauce”

There’s no denying it, whether a “sometimes” or “all-the-time” burger eater, we all love a good hamburger when the moment is right. Hamburgers can be found in countries around the world and are probably the most popular food on the planet. Toasty buns, savoury meat patty, melted cheese, dressed to your liking…comfort food doesn’t get much more comfortable. Despite the fact that I am surrounded by today’s delicious new burger joints and gourmet burger options, I tend to gravitate back towards the classic. I’m a sucker for a simple, thin, charbroiled patty on a fluffy toasted bun. There is no school like the old school, after all.

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In a burger mood one night, I experimented with trying to create a simple diner-style hamburger sandwich at home. The results were incredibly DELISH! I was always so busy adding ingredients to my ground burger-meat, that I never thought to keep it simple and use…JUST MEAT when making burgers. These thin beef patties turned out surprisingly juicy and flavourful.

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The first time around I served the patties on toasted Italian bread, for a perfect “burger sammie”. We were hooked, and these became a “quick dinner” staple at home. As word got out that my burgers were addictively yummy, I decided to have a weekend “burger party”. I was lucky enough to have a wonderfully talented friend bake homemade burger buns! (As you can see in the photos, they were perfectly baked. He even added a sprinkling of sesame seeds. A+!)

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This is my take on America’s “favourite” sandwich. For the finishing touch I mixed together a “special sauce” for my burgers, a homemade version of McDonald’s Big Mac Sauce. It’s burger-sauce-crack and will add the perfect creamy, pickle-y tang to your sandwich. I dressed my burgers with simple toppings, but you can use any dressings you like! Play it up or keep it simple. These burger sammies are perfect for lunch, dinner, a meal with friends or a late night bite! They are really quick to make, and the patties freeze well too! Continue reading

Oyster Fest Niagara!

We took a little drive down to Niagara on Sunday for Oyster Fest Niagara! The event started at two, but we couldn’t make it until later on. I would have liked to have seen the shucking competition. 😦 After a bit less than an hour of driving in the GORGEOUS weather, we finally arrived at Dillon’s Small Batch Distillery in Beamsville, Ontario. Stepping out of the car onto a gravel road and taking a big breath of way-fresher-than-Toronto air instantly put a smile on my face. The sun was shining and, even though my hair was all tangled from the drive (windows down, sunroof open), I was happy.

But of course I got even happier after taking a few steps closer. With a plate of freshly shucked oysters in one hand, and a spicy caesar in the other, I stood taking in the sights and sounds around me. Talking, laughing, slurping, munching, drinking and dancing to the sound of the funkiest funk.

When I found out about the oyster festival, I got a little (a lot) excited. Continue reading

Ceili Cottage: My Kind Of Pub

I think I’ve fallen in love again…with Ceili Cottage. It’s my favourite pub in the city, located in Leslieville on Queen Street. Actually, it’s the only pub I’ve ever loved. This Irish local, owned by world champion oyster shucker Patrick McMurray (also the owner of Starfish Oyster Bed & Grill), exudes Irish authenticity, from the food, to the drinks, to the decor, to the live music. I love restaurants with personality. If you take the time to look around inside, you’ll start to notice all the little details. Almost everything in this place has something to do with oysters or Celtic culture, including photos, awards, shucking tools, books, and boardgames. The building, once an old garage , consists of two rooms: the cottage room and the bar room. The patio out front is also REALLY GREAT (with oyster shells embedded into the concrete floor). Definitely a good summertime spot to visit if you’re looking to enjoy good food, drinks, and the gorgeous Toronto weather. They’ve got a great selection of beers to choose from…it wouldn’t be a good pub without good beer, right? They have twelve taps offering a mixed selection of beers from Ireland, Ontario, and Quebec.

“Ceili (pronounced Kay-lee) is an Irish word for a social get-together of music and dance. With that come the food and drink. Our “Irish Local” is a place for friends and families in the neighbourhood to convene for conversation and good “craic” (Irish for good fun).”
I took that bit from the Ceili Cottage website, because I thought it was pretty wonderful. You can find a full menu and more info by clicking on the link.

They serve amazing oysters, which is another reason I absolutely love this place (you must know by now that I’m an oyster lover). Their selection usually includes an oyster from the east coast and Clarenbridge Bay oysters from Ireland. I don’t get the chance to eat Irish oysters very often so this excites me. If you’re an oyster lover, this is your kind of pub.

If you’re lucky you’ll walk in on a flute and fiddle session, which adds some wonderfully lively Irish folk-sound to the experience. Continue reading

Shucking Up A Storm!

You may think it’s a waste of time and money to take an oyster shucking class, and that your pry-it-open-with-a-screwdriver, smash-it-with-a-hammer, or stab-yourself-in-the-hand methods are working just fine, but I’d say learning the proper way is totally worth it.

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Last weekend I took an oyster shucking class at Oyster Boy. It was so much fun. Eating oysters can be quite an expensive hobby. If you’re an oyster lover like me, I’m sure you already know this. Shucking your own oysters is a great skill to have. You can save money by buying your oysters at the market or from a wholesaler and shucking them yourself. But, I’m a believer in doing things the right way, which is why I wanted to learn to shuck from the experts. Impress your friends with gorgeously shucked oysters, that aren’t full of grit/sand.

The classes at Oyster Boy happen every weekend (Saturday and Sunday from 11:00-1:00). Each class holds 8-12 people and each shucker receives Continue reading

St. Lawrence Market: This Weekend’s Seafood Haul…And Resulting Feast

So it’s been established that I should not be allowed to roam St. Lawrence Market unsupervised. It’s like giving a kindergarten kid a hundred bucks and sending them to the candy store… a bit too much of a good time.

For those of you who don’t know the St. Lawrence Market, it’s the largest indoor market in Toronto and consists of two buildings. The North Market is home to weekly farmer’s markets and antique markets, while the South Market is a two-floor food market filled with fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, seafood, pasta, wine, restaurants, bakeries, cafes, florists, and even kitchen ware (everything you could think of). For those of you who do know the market, you can probably understand why I lose control when I’m there. It’s like a food lover’s dream come true.

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Saturday afternoon I decided to head over to the market just to “check it out”. Continue reading

This Kitten Is Now On Facebook And Twitter!

This Hungry Kitten is finally on Facebook and Twitter! Like and share! Follow and tweet!

I’ve also given the blog a makeover and hope you like the changes. I’d love to hear suggestions.

Came across this gem today, and it made me smile. 🙂

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Thanks for reading! xx

Matzah & Meatballs

Another day, another sheet of Matzah. I’ve been having fun trying to live without bread, pasta, noodles, and rice. Who needs spaghetti? Today I did matzah and meatballs. It was yummy! Use a bit more sauce and let it soak into the matzah. It’ll be saucy and moist…not so dry. 🙂

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For The Love Of Oysters

If you even mention the word oyster, my face lights up. There are not many things in this world that fascinate me as oysters do. I adore them. For any true oyster lover out there, you know how I feel. There’s a tension, a sense of excitement, in the fact that we love these creatures and we can’t stop loving. It’s a strange kind of love, that cannot be explained. Oysters are not just a delicious food, they are a fascinating species! And most people know nothing about them! They date back to prehistoric times, they were around with the dinosaurs. Archaeologists have found large shell piles of oysters and other shellfish that date back to neolithic times. They were efficient at doing what they do, and have been doing it ever since. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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I’ve loved oysters since as far back as I can remember. While other kids could be cheered up by candy or ice cream, my mother would come into my room with a smile and say, “Sorry I got so angry…I picked up some oysters, want to do hot pot tonight?”. I would pretend I was still mad, but was actually so happy inside. Oysters make my day. Up until a couple of years ago, my experiences with oysters only went as far as eating cooked oysters and came mostly from my Asian side of the family. We would have sizzling plates of oysters with green onions, ginger and garlic, oysters at our Chinese hot pot dinners, Chinese deep fried breaded oysters, and the occasional oysters and chips on our road trips to the east coast of Canada. This was enough to keep me happy, but unbeknownst to me I had only uncovered the tip of the oyster iceberg.

hkoystercooked Delicious cooked oyster in Hong Kong, bought fresh at the market and cooked at the seafood restaurant next door. (Sam Shing, Hong Kong.)

Two summers ago, at Oysterfest in Toronto, I had my first raw oyster. It was love at first…slurp. For all the squeamish eaters that have never tried a raw oyster, PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER! JUST DO IT ALREADY! I’ve heard all the excuses (my friends know who they are) not to eat them. “They are slimy.” “They are gooey.” “They look like dino boogers.” Raw oysters may not be your cup of tea, but you’ll never know until you try one for yourself. I’ve converted quite a few of my non-oyster-eating friends over this past year. Find an oyster bar near you, bring some friends for back up, and be ready to have your mind blown! (Do it now! Before you change your mind!)

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My first dozen oysters. 🙂

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It’s hard to describe the flavour of an oyster, but there is definitely something that sets these creatures apart from all other shellfish. The French poet Léon-Paul Fargue said eating an oyster was “like kissing the sea on the lips.” An oyster takes me to the seashore in a mouthful. They taste of the ocean, like the smell of the sea breeze at low tide. They are more than just a tasty treat, an oyster excites both the palate and the mind. Rowan Jacobsen described it perfectly in an article I read when he said, “The proliferating category of oyster adjectives—cucumber, citrus, melon, copper, smoke—is useful, but doesn’t cut to the core. At some level, it’s not about taste or smell at all. Because an oyster, like a lover, first captures you by bewitching your mind.”

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Pick up the half shell, tilt your head back and let the oyster slip into your mouth, along with the liquid that it’s resting in. The oyster’s “liquor” is seawater, and is part of what makes it so delicious. I’ve been told by shuckers how insulting it is to see people dumping the liquid out before they eat their oysters. Shuckers work so hard to keep that in there for you! Oyster etiquette rule #1: Don’t do that. The fresher the oyster the more sea-filled flavour is captured within its shell. The initial saltiness you will taste can range from really salty, to mildly salty or unnoticeable. This is why oysters are usually served with lemon or a mignonette. The acid in the lemon juice or vinegar sort of cancels out the salt. Oysters are like miniature water filters. They feed on the plankton, algae, and other particles floating around them. An adult oyster can filter up to 5 litres of seawater every hour. That’s a lot for such a tiny little thing! That’s why the condition of the water in which the oysters are growing plays such an important role in the survival of the oyster and its flavour/texture. They are what they eat! The tastes of different oysters change with the climates, salinity of the waters, and what they feed on in different places around the world.

One question I’ve been asked a lot is, “Do you just swallow them whole, or do you have to chew them?”. Chew them! (I mean, you don’t HAVE to.) Chewing is where the real body and finish of the oyster comes through. You get to really experience its texture and sweetness. You taste its cool, buttery, salty, seaweedy, flavour. With some oysters you can go through a series of flavours. Some oysters have a flavour that lingers even after you’ve swallowed it, just like wine or whiskey. This is referred to as its finish. Some don’t have much of a finish, and the flavour disappears almost immediately. Flavour is also very dependant on season. A species will taste very different from one season to the next. Oysters fatten up right before the cold winter months. All the stored glycogen makes them extra sweet. Farmers know exactly when to harvest their crop. To farm oysters, farmers actually manipulate the oysters’ environments, moving them from slow moving waters, to waters with more current, waters with higher algae levels, to warmer or colder waters. This all has to do with feeding cycles, seasons, spawning… There’s so much to know about oysters! They’re just such amazing creatures!

Oysters are also good for you! Like most shellfish, they are low in calories and saturated fats. They are full of protein and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Like fish, they can improve your health by providing essential minerals and vitamins such as zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and vitamins A, B6, C, folate, riboflavin, thiamin, pantothenic acid, and a huge amount of vitamin B 12.

Apart from being one of my favourite treats, oysters provide me with this never-ending amount of learning. There’s way more for you to find out about these shelled beauties than you know. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great shuckers, farmers, and other individuals involved in the oyster world, and they never run out of stories and fun facts to tell me. Did you know you can tell an oyster’s age by counting the ridges/rings on its shell? Each ring takes about a year to grow (one ring = one year)! An oyster can change its sex from male to female several times in a year. Their reproductive organs contain both eggs and sperm, and so they are technically capable of fertilizing their own eggs. Once the female oyster has been fertilized, she will release millions of eggs into the water. Within six hours these larvae develop. They move around the waters for two or three more weeks before settling into an oyster bed or reef where they will mature within about a year. I took a shucking class a few months ago. It was great! We learned TONS about oysters, learned to shuck, how to handle, and how to store oysters. Best of all, we each got 16 oysters and a shucking knife to take home with us. Learn to shuck! Then you can enjoy your oysters in the comfort of your own home, and save a bit of money! 🙂 But make sure you learn the right way. Shucking can be dangerous. You’re prying a rock-like shell open with a knife. I’ve heard some nasty shucking stories. (Shucking knives stabbing deep enough to hit bone.) Watch the hand that’s holding the oyster!

If you’re looking to do a great shucking class in Toronto (Canada), go to Oyster Boy on Queen Street W. It’s the best oyster bar in the city, and pretty much my second home.
http://www.oysterboy.ca/#shuck-u

Hopefully I’ll have more oyster posts in the near future and I can go through some of my favourite varieties and recipes! Here’s a fun gallery of oyster photos! I have so many.

Happy shucking! And if you haven’t tried a raw oyster yet, hesitate no more! Hurry on and try one today! xx

The Seafood Spree Continues: Diana’s Oyster Bar & Grill

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Continuing the seafood spree that is my life, I decided to finally head to Scarborough and try Diana’s Oyster Bar & Grill. I’ve only had oysters in a couple places in Toronto. I’ve always remained loyal to Oyster Boy (Queen St. West, Toronto), that place is like my second home. However, I love trying new things and I had heard so many wonderful things about Diana’s that I just had to go and see for myself what all the fuss was about (sorry, Oyster Boy).

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Before the restaurant, Diana’s Seafood was a seafood store only (one of the best fishmongers in Toronto), selling all types of fresh seafood and oysters. I haven’t been to the store yet, but I definitely will go soon. The store is shaped like a ship, with the bow facing the street, it has the big swinging doors, and its walls are lined with portholes shaped windows. How fitting! I’ll hopefully find time to go this weekend. They’re having a special on sea urchin! (YUMMY! That got me super excited.) In late 2011, Diana’s took over the property next door and opened a restaurant. Customers can now enjoy their fresh seafood without having to wait to get home and prepare it themselves.

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We went on a Saturday, later in the evening. It was an anniversary celebration, and what better way to celebrate then to indulge in dozens of oysters and delish seafood dishes. 🙂

The first thing I noticed was all the huge selection of oysters they had behind the bar, all on ice with name tags. I love trying new varieties of oysters. I try as many new ones as I can. The raw bar had about 14 different types of oysters along with fresh Cherry Stone clams and sea scallops. I was so excited to try them all! Apart from the Malpeques and Kumamotos, I hadn’t tried any of the other oysters they were serving. Boy was I in for a treat!

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The restaurant was small, clean, well lit, and simply decorated.

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We started with some really good bread (plus a bit of olive oil and balsamic). The bread was warm, light, and with just a touch of toasty crispness. I’ve made it a rule to keep bread eating before meals to a minimum, but it was hard. This bread was great.

I’ve learned to order strategically when going to restaurants now. My eyes are definitely bigger than my stomach. It’s hard when I want to try everything! I start by looking through the whole menu. I try to stay away from entrees, unless they sound absolutely wondrous and too hard to pass up. We sometimes share an entree between two people and then order an assortment of appetizers. At oyster bars, we always start with the usual two dozen oysters. I was really looking forward to the fresh clams and scallops, but to my dismay, they had just run out of the sea scallops. Bummer.

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A delicious assortment of oysters arrived at our table and I was bouncing up and down in my seat for joy. We asked for the shucker’s recommendation and I let the waitress know I wanted to try new varieties and which not to include. We had a mix of Lucky Lime, Shigoku, European Flat, Fanny Bay, Virginica, and South Lake oysters as well as some Cherry Stone clams. Each oyster had its own distinct flavour and texture. They were SO GOOD. Diana’s serves them with housemade seafood sauce, mignonette, and a scotch bonnet hot sauce (it’s hot, and so good) along with lemon and freshly grated horseradish.

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Cherry Stone clams. They have a mild briny taste are a bit chewier than oysters. These were amazing, but I still love my oysters better.

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European flats. These were sweet and meaty, with a weird metallic finish. I’ve never had oysters with such a strong aftertaste. I think it’s a hate it or love it kind of taste. I thought they were delicious.

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The Virginica oysters were really delicious. They were plump, meaty, salty, and similar to a Malpeque.

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The Shingokus have very deep shells, like little oyster buckets. They were sweet with a light clean salty taste. I almost found they reminded in the slightest bit of Kumamotos (which are a lot more buttery and rich). These are also much larger than Kumamotos.

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Dressed Shigokus. We always do a cheers, it’s our thing.

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Fanny Bay oysters.

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Fanny Bay.

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European Flats.

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Clammy goodness.

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Doing what I do best.

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Our waitress brought us an extra few Virginicas. 🙂

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The oysters were the best part. I really enjoyed the variety and their freshness. I was so satisfied. Our other dishes began to arrive…

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We ordered the lobster bisque. I love lobster but don’t do bisque very often. Diana’s bisque was really good. It was rich, not too creamy, lots of flavour and lobster. I scraped my bowl clean. (Bad manners, I know.)

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The steamed Gallo mussels were steamed in a white wine sauce (there was also a spicy marinera option). They were quite tasty, but the mussels were a bit overcooked. I must confess, after my recent trip to Halifax, I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied with mussels anywhere else ever again. I had the BEST mussels I’ve ever eaten at The Five Fisherman Restaurant & Grill. They were fresh local mussels from Halifax and were cooked in white wine to PERFECTION. Absolutely divine. The biggest , juiciest, most plump mussels I’ve ever seen. My pre-Five-Fisherman-mussel-experience self would probably say these mussels would have been terrific, had they been cooked just a little less.

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One thing on the menu that caught my eye was the sea urchin bruschetta. I haven’t always been a sea urchin lover, but I’ve grown to really enjoy its flavour and texture. The thing with sea urchin is that it has to be super fresh to taste great. I could eat a whole tub of fresh urchin. Fresh, raw seafood tastes so good on its own. You can really appreciate its true flavour this way.The bruschetta was yummy and so beautifully plated, although I think I personally prefer a fresh sea urchin sashimi. Really creative dish though, and delicious nonetheless.

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Full and so satisfied, I couldn’t even imagine eating dessert. Part of me was dying for a takeout order of creme brulee, but they said it would be too hard to pack it up. (I didn’t need it anyway.) We ordered a cappucino and latte instead, and sat happily discussing how great the oysters were. We were the last customers there and got to enjoy our hot drinks in peace. What a great evening.

Check out their website for menus & raw bar selection:
http://dianasoysterbar.com/

If you’d like to visit the Diana’s fish market for really great, fresh seafood, they list their products and specials on their website:
http://www.dianasseafood.com/

Tea Party For Two: The Windsor Arms Tea Room

I started off my week with a marvelous belated birthday treat! Afternoon tea with one of my best girls at one of my favourite buildings in the city, the Windsor Arms Hotel.

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The hotel is beautiful. It dates back to 1927, when it was first built. However, it was rebuilt in the late 90’s, keeping some of the old features and incorporating a 1920’s French style, along with some modern touches. Something about the building makes me happy. Its high ceilings in the main lobby and courtyard, dark mahogany hallways, and the warm textures of drapes, rugs, and other decor relaxes me. I love the bookshelves in the walls of the elevator. It’s a fun building to explore. There’s an old-world tranquility to the hotel, with a modern feel.

It was my first afternoon tea experience, and hers too. We didn’t really know what to expect. The french-styled lobby tea room was clean, bright, had mirrored walls and small tables, was full of pretty tea cups, and had a collection of ornate hats on a stand in one corner. (You can give a $5 donation to wear a fancy hat. Proceeds go to the Look Good Feel Good program.) After being seated at a cute little table, we sat staring at our menus for a while, enjoying the new environment and analyzing all the objects on our table. I was part in awe, like a little girl in a life-sized dollhouse ready to serve tea to her dollies, and part confused and slightly embarrassed because I didn’t know where to begin.

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Our waiter explained to us that we didn’t have to worry about food, our “most important decision was to choose our tea”. There was a wide selection of loose leaf teas to choose from (http://www.windsorarmshotel.com/tearoom/our_teas). It was so hard to decide. White? Black? Chai? Fruit blends? I am the worst decision maker. I finally decided on the Earl Grey with Blue Flowers, with organic lavender flowers. She opted for the Chai Arms, a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger, pepper, and organic black tea. I was so happy with my decision. It was delightful. I love the scent of lavender, and when my pot arrived I was instantly engulfed in the wonderful aroma. I decided not to add cream or sugar to my tea, it was so good on it’s own. We sat chatting and sipping, and of course happily taking pictures (how could we resist?).

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Next, our tower of scones, sandwiches, quiche, and sweets arrived.

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We started with the goat cheese and caramelized shallot quiche tart which was pretty tasty. We also had a selection of raisin and plain scones. They were warm, fluffy, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with housemade jams and Devonshire cream. Yum.

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Our selection of pinwheel sandwiches included smoked salmon and wasabi sour cream with salmon caviar, cucumber with sundried tomato paste and dill cream cheese, and grilled chicken, granny smith apple citrus mayonnaise with Greek yogurt and chives.

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By this time we were stuffed with scones, sammies, and tea. There was still cake to eat. We had a selection of pretty little petits fours including chocolate cakes, a white chocolate cake, and a raspberry cheesecake.

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We finished off with a sparkling raspberry sorbet, which was quite sweet, but I love sorbet (or anything frozen and yummy) so I enjoyed it.

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I was quite happy with the Tea Room at the Windsor Arms, although it was my first time having afternoon tea so I don’t have much to compare it to. I thought the scones were delicious, possibly the best I’ve ever had, however the sandwiches and tarts didn’t seem as fresh as they could have been. I sort of got the sense that everything had been prepared ahead of time and pre-plated. I’ve actually read quite a few bad reviews about the food at the Windsor Arms Hotel. The hotel has a long standing reputation as a luxurious destination for tea, Sunday brunch, or a hotel stay (the rooms are gorgeous!). It’s so upsetting to me that the current staff don’t seem to want to keep this tradition alive! For the price you pay, and the posh surroundings, I would definitely expect the food to be equally spectacular. The tea was wonderful and I loved the elegant, traditional atmosphere. It’s a lovely way to spend the afternoon, maybe catch up with an old friend, chit chat over hot tea and a light meal. (I say light meal, but I was surprisingly full when I left.)

I loved my first tea party. Can’t wait to do it again! 🙂

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Check out the Tea Room website for menus, hours, and more details if you’re interested: http://www.windsorarmshotel.com/tearoom