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afternoon tea- L'espalier vs. The Bristol

I'm thinking of treating my bf to afternoon tea as a Valentine's day gift and I am debating between L'espalier and The Bristol. I've read the other threads on this subject and am still undecided, mostly due to the lack of reviews of the afternoon tea at L'espalier. Atmosphere (as it is a Valentine's day treat), tea and food quality are all considerations. Any preferences?

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  1. I have only attended the Bristol and enjoyed it--- good quality food and tea-- knowledgeable staff too. Not sure what the decor would be for Valentine's day-- if they would change anything--
    I have never attended L'Espalier-- maybe go yourself ahead and then choose-- would that be so bad ; )

    2 Replies
    1. re: Salbert

      I would love to go by myself ahead of time and choose! Unfortunately on a med student's budget that is not possible. Also, I probably should have mentioned that I'm planning on doing this the Sunday after Valentine's day (he already has plans for us that night) so it's more about the general decor and atmosphere.

      1. re: AnjLM

        I go every year to the tea at the Four Seasons and really like it. I haven't been since the remodel but in the past I've always requested the couches near the fireplace which in February is just about perfect. :) Enjoy!

    2. I went to afternoon tea at L'Espalier in September and LOVED it. I have also been to the Bristol a while ago and liked it too, but they are two different experiences. I would recommend L'Espalier for a Valentine's treat.

      I think of Bristol as more of a "ladies who lunch" type place where you are sitting on couches and they wheel out a tray with lots of pastries and some small sandwiches -- I remember being in sugar shock by the time we left. Excellent tea, good food, I would describe the atmosphere as a bit dainty.

      L'Espalier is more of a restaurant feel (but, I don't know if you've been there before, it is in a historical house) with very attentive servers. Food is great, with more savory options than Bristol if I recall. We also got the cheese plate which I highly recommend and which helps to offset the sweetness of the tea and pastries. They bring you cups of tea which they pour at the table, unlike the Bristol which leaves you with the entire teapot, but the advantage is that when you finish your cup, you can try a different tea.

      1. Another few options -- the Taj (formerly Ritz) offers a gorgeous afternoon tea selection with alcoholic beverage and savory options.

        Upstairs on the Square also offers tea Saturday and Sunday.

        Learn from my mistake -- book early if you have a particular day in mind. I tried to make a reservation for me and a friend this week and both the Taj and the Bristol are booked until 12/30. I'll be going in January instead.

        10 Replies
        1. re: yumyum

          Yes, places do book up early.

          Had a nice tea at Upstairs on the Square with 8 friends on Saturday but had booked several weeks in advance after lesson learned last year. Hard to beat the holiday decorations and fireplace but food-wise it wasn't as good as Four Seasons or Boston Harbor Hotel/Intrigue Cafe. Good assortment of teas in pots. Liked most of the savory items, although a few were not so exciting (mozzarella and sad tomato on not-so-fresh foccacia, a smoked salmon sandwich). Eggsalad with truffle oil was nice as well as a tuna tea sandwich. A tiny mocha chocolate cupcake was the best dessert but most others were of a heavy brownie-type variety. Service was delightful, and they often have music at this time of year. We had a wonderful time and enjoyed being there, but the food just wasn't quite up to some other teas in the area. I'd say if decor & atmosphere are what you are looking for, and you are on a budget, Upstairs is an excellent option. Aside from the standard tea-tray menu, they have some a la carte options.

          The tea at Boston HH is a lovely atmosphere, with views of water, and has more delicate desserts, as I recall, but feels more staid. Lots of ladies who lunch with big hats (which is kind of fun). Both Upstairs on the Sq and Boston HH (and many others) have option to add champagne, etc.

          1. re: sifsw

            Oh Thanks, that's really good to know about the tea-accompanying food at Upstairs. I'm going soon for lunch and hope it's up to snuff. Not sure if they serve the burger at lunch .. I should go back and look at the menu.

            Your BHH idea reminded me to ask ... have you (or anyone else reading along) done the tea at the Langham hotel? I really like the looks of the tea menu at the Taj but am open to other suggestions.

            1. re: yumyum

              I'm not sure if they serve the burger at lunch, but I know they don't during tea-time (at least at this time of year on Saturdays). We arrived at 3:00 on Saturday, and a couple stopped in wanting lunch and were told that the tea menu was the only option. They were hungry so went elsewhere. I haven't heard anything about the Langham but a friend liked the Taj a lot. That menu does look tasty.

              1. re: sifsw

                As an aside, they do serve the burger at lunch .. it was delicious.

                (Hope this post is not too self-congratulatory.)

                1. re: yumyum

                  Thanks--that's good to know. I'm sorry that my post that you refer to caused any offense. That wasn't my intention at all. I think Boston Hounds are amazing--kind, adventurous, passionate, funny, well-informed, etc. but that message was lost in my post. My intention was to point out why sometimes--just sometimes-- new people may be deterred from contributing. I didn't realize the tone that came across in offering that perspective. Again, I'm sorry and thanks to all for much learned and your care and inspiration.

                  1. re: sifsw

                    Thanks for the apology. If they hadn't locked down that thread, we would be having this discussion over there on site talk, but this post means a lot. The last thing I want CH to be is exclusionary ... I've met some of my best friends here. I hope that the closeness of our IRL relationships doesn't deter anyone from posting or joining an open chowdown, or planning one themselves.

                    Ok -- they'll yank this soon enough. But in the meantime --- keep on posting! I want to hear from YOU!

                    1. re: yumyum

                      One can always revel in being the black sheep of the site, it's fun.

            2. re: sifsw

              You are one of the Hounds who mentioned "lots of ladies". I would like to go for tea with my wife, but am not interested in a "ladies only-type" place. Which ones of the tea places would a man feel most comfortable in? Also, I have been to tea in several establishments (England, Grand Floridian, etc.) where they serve a "Man's Tea" as an option - pate, port, etc. Anything like that in this area?

              1. re: rockpile

                While there may indeed be "ladies who lunch" at the Brigham, and often lots of young kids are out for a treat, I think of the space itself as pretty masculine. I think tea time in general is more of a gal thing and personally would direct you to the Bristol for the general feel of the place. Not sure if places around here serve a "man's tea".

                1. re: rockpile

                  I don't know about a man's tea around here, but pate and port--sign me up. I think the atmosphere at Bristol would be fine.
                  http://www.fourseasons.com/boston/din...

            3. Thanks for all the input so far. I had considered the Taj but previous reviewers had said the atmosphere was too "stuffy". Any opinions on this?

              6 Replies
              1. re: AnjLM

                yes - totally stuffy. It's not bad but very "old school".

                1. re: AnjLM

                  Go to L'Espalier since that space won't be around too long into next year.

                  1. re: Joanie

                    I think I am leaning towards L'espalier. I really liked it the time I went for lunch...excellent food, impeccable service. Their menu for afternoon tea also looks delicious.

                    1. re: AnjLM

                      Without a doubt, L'Espalier.
                      They don't do as many covers as the Bristol, so there's way more personal attention, and the cheese plate option is worth the trip whether it's Valentine's Day or garbage day. They're also moving to the Mandarin in June, so get there while the gettin's good!
                      One tiny problem...you mentioned you want reservations for a sunday, and they only do Saturday tea. Maybe they'll do something special that weekend...

                      1. re: otme

                        I've done all three, 4 if you include when it was the Ritz.
                        I would go with L'espalier. It will be the most satisfying by far. The brownstone, see if you can get a window seat, and options are great. stuffy, a little, but they leave you alone. I like that

                        I LOVED the Ritz but I find the Taj to be lacking in the character of the staff. The old Ritz staff for tea was amazing. I remember being there for tea on a day with over a foot of snow. we were two of maybe 5 people there. one lady could not get her car out, so the server asked us if it would be ok to leave us while she took the lady home and another server would take care of us. THAT is the Ritz. I feel like the Taj is going thru the motions because it has to.

                        Bristol is not as nice in my opinion. You don't feel indulgent or particularly like there is anything special. that is my opinion.

                        All three serve great options, and expect a sugar high and caffeine high. BTW, if there is something you really like, ask for more, they will bring it. Ya know if you want a few extra cucumber sandwiches!

                        1. re: marthayou

                          Thanks for chiming in with a comparison of all these places. Very helpful.