Afternoon Tea at Dalvay by the Sea

Afternoon Tea didn't get off to the best start.

But first, let's back up a little and talk about Dalvay by the Sea and why it's worth visiting. It was built in 1895 as a private "cottage" for an American named Alexander Macdonald, proving that there is a long and proud history of Yankees building gaudy houses on the island.  At least Macdonald  had a name that fit right in - being Scots-born - and for the next ten years, the $50,000 house continued to help the local economy, with operating costs running about $10,000 per summer. After Macdonald passed away, his family lost their money and the house, and it went through a series of investors before being sold to, and turned into a hotel by the Canadian government in 1938.

More recently, Dalvay by the Sea has stood in for the White Sands Hotel in the sequel to the Anne of Green Gables movie, securing a place in the heart of a legion of 70s and 80s-born fangirls. In 2011, Will and Kate visited on their royal tour of Canada, winning over the populace with a boat race on the nearby lake. 

Having wanted to visit for several summers, and finally being in a position to take my mother out for tea, I made reservations. I was less than thrilled to see that Tripadvisor reviews were mediocre, saying that there was upheaval in the kitchen and that the experience had sharply declined over the past few seasons. (The hotel is open for the summer; tea is served in July and August.)

We arrived a bit early, using our tea-date as an excuse to roam the ground (not that you need one) and explore the lower level of the hotel.  Checking the time, we headed over to the dining room - and were told that there was no record of our reservation.


Luckily, there was plenty of space in the dining room. We were seated quickly and our server was lovely and attentive. To start, we had a choice between a Rooibos (meh), Darjeeling, and a blend called 'Lady's Slipper', which featured bergamot (yay) and vanilla (meh). Mom and I both ordered the latter, though given my doubts about vanilla in tea, I probably should have stuck with the Darjeeling. 

Our tea and goodies were placed before us. From the bottom up, we were given:

Ribbon sandwiches served on a selection of house-made bread and rolls.
-prosciutto, baby argula, brie
-tandoori chicken, cucumber
-smoked salmon, olive mascarpone, micro greens
-PEI lobster salad, baby arugula
-confit pork belly, apple and blueberry compote

Mini-quiches and tartlettes.
-smoked salmon, fresh dill, goat cheese
-local wild mushrooms, thyme
-brie, carmelized pear tart

Scones with Devonshire cream and local blueberry and raspberry preserves.

And for dessert...
-shortbread cookies
-mini eclairs

-date sticky pudding

The Pros: In general, I really liked the savories. I feel sandwiches choice can easily make or break a tea, and for the most part, Dalvay did a good job. I appreciated that they included macaroons - point for being on trend, PEI! And our tea set was mismatching but cute.

The Cons: PEI was having an unusually warm summer, but the room was really stuffy. We cracked a window, as most of the diners around us had done. While I liked most of the savories, the crust for the tartlettes was too sweet and cookie-like. The scones weren't memorable and the jam and cream provided was fit for one serving, not two. Mom thought the sticky pudding was a bit heavy at the end of the meal, I was okay with it. 

My Suggestions: Bump the brie and pear tartlette to the dessert level, nix the salmon, and put the mushroom and thyme on a cracker. Varying the types of bread that the savories are served on would go a long way as well. Also, double the jam and cream, and make sure your reservation system actually works. 

It was a satisfying experience - could be great, with a little more effort. This review is pretty critical, as my bar for afternoon tea in a 'grand' hotel has been set rather high. Overall, I enjoyed a nice afternoon out with my mom.

Afterwards, rather than play a game of petanque or croquet, we headed over to the Cavendish Boardwalk (horrendously touristy and nowhere near the beach) to buy a few souvenirs. A friend of mine recently had a little girl and I wanted to send a small gift - since my friend loves reading as much as I do, I bought a plush Anne doll and the Rifle Paper Company's edition of Anne of Green Gables. (I'd already bought her preschool-aged son a hoodie and lobster-shaped candy in Nova Scotia, which was a hit.) After poking around all the stores, we decided to drop by Avonlea Village as well. While this is probably the most complete Anne-themed gift store in Cavendish, I didn't find anything better than what I'd already bought.

We headed home - just driving around the island with my parents is one of those things I treasure, now that they live so far away. The day was a nice coda to my visit this year. As always, though the weather has turned and my parents are at home in Texas, I'm already wishing myself back. 


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