Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Review of St Regis Singapore's Afternoon Tea Experience - Good Where It Matters

Back during Singapore's Winter of Discontent, during which daytime temperatures reached as high as 22 degrees, I took a break from the daily rat race and visited the St Regis Singapore for afternoon tea.


I hadn't returned to the St Regis in quite a few years.  A first visit for a 2009 staycation impressed me greatly; luxurious fittings, generous room sizes (even by Asian luxury hotel standards) and a sophisticated city spa stick in my memory.  A visit in 2012 was rather less impressive, with the furniture showing significant wear.  Even a wine tasting at the downstairs bar, advertised as a free Starwood Platinum benefit, featured pretty ordinary and overly young wines.  In short, the shine and gloss was rapidly wearing off this once-monumental edifice to luxury, which was incredibly disappointing to us as long-time and militantly partisan Starwood loyalists.

Fast forward to January 2018, and I'm not sure I can honestly report anything more positive.  10 years since its opening in 2008, the reception and lobby are looking distinctly worn, and what was once sophisticated understatement now merely looks underwhelming.  

Afternoon tea at the St Regis takes place in the incredibly high-ceilinged, incredibly well- and naturally lit Brasserie Les Saveurs.  In the best manner of marketeers aiming to deceive unworldly yet aspirational consumers, the menu harkens to Mrs Caroline Astor's affection for the afternoon tea ritual back at the original St Regis in New York.  It puzzles me how so many gormless bloggers are wont to repeat this trite rubbish even now that there are 61 St Regis hotels in the world (with sixteen of them in China alone!), and the staff at each of them are probably as familiar with Mrs Astor's legacy and memories as my palate is familiar with the taste of Château Latour (I've never tried one).


To be fair, the menu reads sensationally well.  In addition to the traditional three-tiered stand of finger foods and a special tea blend designed by TWG (still, in my opinion, a poor rip-off of Mariage Frères) for the St Regis, an actual buffet awaits the delectation of guests, featuring treats such as sushi and sashimi, cheeses and assorted bread rolls, and an entire smorgasbord of desserts.

Now the bad news.  The scones are awful,  cold, stodgy and about as refined as a stream of crude oil exploding from some Iraqi pipeline.  The pâte de fruits wasn't bad, a focaccia with mozzarella was pleasant, as was the chocolate praline, but the rest of the items are eminently forgettable.  L and I leave them nibbled on but mostly untouched.

Lobster Vol-au-Vent
Then one of the waiters places before each of us a vol-au-vent of lobster and vegetables in a seafood velouté.  It's quite an impressive little party trick, you know, laying out a sizable buffet and then having a waiter present a discrete item in a single portion, as if to emphasise how special this "something" is, and how lucky you are to get it as a bonus.  Well, it would be an odd soul who would consider him or herself lucky to chomp on frozen corn kernels, frozen peas and literally not a single smidgin of lobster.  And the presentation is atrocious; look at that scatter of recalcitrant paprika and puff pastry crumbs on the plate.  The velouté is the Liberal Democrats of sauces: I'm not sure what it really means to achieve or seeks to represent.  It tastes like it may have had a lobster waved over it at some stage, albeit not too recently.  Awful.

Rum Baba

Now it must be said that some of the desserts aren't too bad.  I am a total slut for a good rum baba, and the one here is actually pretty good.  Serving a cylindrical yeast cake in a martini glass, however, is the kind of daffy idea proposed by a food stylist who has never had to try to eat any of the food they are plating.  On the savoury side, however, a shot glass of foie gras mousse with a passionfruit glaze is a guilty and tasty pleasure.

So I hope I have made the point that if you are looking for an afternoon of good food, afternoon tea at the St Regis will likely disappoint you.  But saying that entirely misses the point of afternoon tea.  It was never about the cucumber sandwiches (which aren't served here, incidentally) or the quality of any other dish.  It was about taking a civilised moment with friends in pleasant surroundings, enjoying tea, company and conversation and forgetting about life's worries for a few hours.  Viewed from that perspective, the St Regis Singapore provides a gorgeous setting for afternoon tea, and you would probably struggle to find any better on the island.  Just don't expect anything from the food.

THE AFTERNOON TEA EXPERIENCE AT BRASSERIE LES SAVEURS
St Regis Singapore
29 Tanglin Rd Singapore
Tel: +65 6506 6888
www.stregissingapore.com
Budget from SGD 49++ per person on weekdays.  Discounts available for Starwood Preferred Guest members.

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