Each May in Languedoc, a mountainous region in the South of France, villagers mark the start of cherry-picking season with a gift to the President – baskets of the reddest, juiciest cherries in all of the country.
The ceremony might take place more than ten thousand kilometres from Cambodia, but the management at Phnom Penh’s Sofitel credit it as an inspiration for their new daily afternoon tea menu: a red and pink themed feast of sweets and summer berries.
It’s the brainchild of Pascal Tadin, Sofitel’s new executive assistant manager and a Languedoc native who decided to channel his heritage to create a unique and opulent afternoon tea alternative.
The ambience owes something to Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Buffet tables hold an array of raspberries, strawberries and cherries, as well as Barbie pink desserts handmade by Sofitel pâtissiers. There’s no shortage of Cheshire grins at the opening. Ladies who lunch are kids in a grown-up candy shop.
There are marshmallows, purple and pink macaroons and rose-tinted meringues. Jars of chewy jelly gums. Candied apples – crunchy red caramel or pink chocolate. They’re tasty, if tough to negotiate like a lady. Raspberry mousse comes served in martini glasses and champagne flutes: a tart jelly topping complements the buttery vanilla mousse beneath, and is followed by a crumble base.
Little pots with sugar paper flowers (Japanese imports) serve as a centerpiece on the biggest table. Pretty but tasteless.
Pink and white praline truffles are much better. Bright orange and raspberry smoothies served in test tubes bring a touch of Willy Wonka to otherwise princessy proceedings. But best of all – the pink chocolate fountain, thick and glistening, it begs to smother a sugar-crusted marshmallow.
It’s an indulgent way to spend a couple of hours, but there is one glaring omission to this not-so Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Where’s the tea? Sparkling prosecco is dandy, but the palate is sticky sweet without a brew to wash down the sugar. What this set-up needs is a real emphasis on good tea, and a decent selection of sandwiches.
For those without a sweet-tooth it might be a long afternoon. And at US$25, it’s not a cheap treat. But the cost includes drink and the setting sells itself – a pianist accompanies. Last week one glamorous patron who said she despised dessert was spotted digging into one of the more tangy mousse pots – content to nibble and soak up the atmosphere, and the free-flowing bubbles.
A wonderful place to gossip away a Sunday, but equally amenable to an elegant pre-dinner tipple. Getting silly and sweetened up for an evening out is definitely on the menu.
Red and pink afternoon tea is served at the Sofitel every day from 3-5pm.
To contact the reporter on this story: Poppy McPherson at [email protected]