When I was little, I loved Snow White. Growing up in the Dark Ages before VCRs and home video, I only saw her on the big screen–but she immediately became my favorite. (My mom–who was an amazing seamstress–even sewed me a dress exactly like the one the animated Snow White wore in the movie.)
In late November, when I learned the theme of the 2021 Christmas Tea at the Hotel Intercontinental Tokyo Bay was “Snow White, Awakening With Strawberries” (which is doubly clever, since strawberries are just coming into season–i.e., “awakening”–in Japan), I immediately bought tickets for the very first sitting on the very first day – December 3.
Christmas is a big deal in Japan (as a secular holiday, not a religious one). Less than 1% of the population identifies as Christian, but almost 100% of the people in Japan are happy to take any excuse to decorate with lights and sparkly objects, eat special, beautiful foods (and Western foods in particular, especially at Christmas), and give presents, so Christmas has become a beloved and widely celebrated holiday. The photo above shows the entrance to the Hotel Intercontinental Tokyo Bay last Friday. The one below shows the entrance to the holiday tea itself.
The entire area beyond the entrance was decorated in red and white, with a Snow White theme. The speakers in the rooms were even playing the full, original soundtrack to the animated Disney Film. (I can’t imagine what the licensing cost, but the hotel clearly didn’t spare any expense and wanted to do this right.)
Mirror, mirror, on the wall…what’s the tastiest dessert of all? Time will tell…
The tea was held in a large reception room on the third floor of the hotel; the hotel sits on the waterfront, and the room had beautiful views of the water and Tokyo’s famous “rainbow bridge.” As you can see, social distancing is still in effect – and masks and plastic gloves (provided by the venue) were mandatory at all times when we weren’t seated.
I lucked out and got a table right by the window, with a view of the bridge – which doesn’t show in the photo above, but which was fun to look at while I ate.
Even the placemats were themed–and the insertion of “bride” in the classic “mirror-mirror” line was helpful to explain the “fairy bridal” edge to the decorations.
The buffets were closed during the first 15 minutes of the event, so people could take photographs of the food (Snow White may be the princess, but social media is king.) While we waited, the staff also served the plated appetizer portion of the tea.
This tea had two buffets: the savories and the sweets. The savory table included house-made truffle fries, pasta carbonara, seared pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables, vegetarian minestrone soup, beef curry, and steamed white rice.
As expected, the true star of the show was the dessert buffet–all three tables of it–which featured more than a dozen different strawberry and apple-themed sweets.
The first table, from left to right: vanilla cream cake with strawberries, strawberry mousse cake with white chocolate cards, strawberry custard tart, strawberry cheesecake, and apple mousse cakes.
The little desserts above were billed as “non-poison apples” – apple mousse topped with an apple glaze, with a thin layer of shortcake underneath. Almost too beautiful to eat
Table 2: Snow White’s Castle, home to baby caramel macarons and chocolate-covered almonds. These were the only desserts that didn’t lean heavily apple or strawberry, and made for delicious palate-cleansers.
Table 3, from left to right: yogurt cups with strawberry coulis, strawberry panna cotta, baby strawberry shortcake cups, “the apple cake Snow White Made” (topped with strawberries and a pistachio whipped cream – this was my favorite dessert of the day), and strawberry custard-cream tarts.
Table 3 from the other side. The strawberries in the yogurt cups were all perfectly centered. The amount of attention paid to the details of these themed teas is mind-blowing. Also, once service begins, the staff replenishes the desserts on the tables constantly throughout the event, ensuring that there’s enough of everything for everyone–no matter how many trips you make to the buffet.
The drink options included Oolong Tea, Iced Tea, “Non-poison apple juice,” six varieties of hot tea and three hot coffee options, as well as iced coffee. There were also themed mocktails available for an extra fee, but with so many great options already included, I didn’t indulge.
Chocolate fountains seem to be a staple at themed teas in Japan – I’ve only been to two, but both of them had one, and many of the others I’ve seen advertised do too. The options here were strawberries, fruit-flavored marshmallows, and bananas.
At the 90-minute mark, the staff served warm, “non-poison apple gratin”: fresh sliced apples, cooked in a light, vanilla custard sauce, topped with streusel crunch and then with a tiny scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. This came at the perfect time. A few minutes longer, and I’d have been too stuffed to enjoy it!
I’m now firmly hooked on Japan’s themed teas. Part of me wonders how it’s taken me this long to get started–but I’m already looking forward to the next one (which I haven’t scheduled yet, but when I do, I guarantee I’ll post about it here).
Have you been to a themed tea, in Japan or elsewhere? Would you like to go?