I came across the tea room Barruel by chance, before heading into a shopping expedition in Palermo Soho one afternoon. My thoughts were interrupted by something equally as shiny and pretty: an impeccable life-sized dollhouse evoking old-time British luxury. The daintiness of this tea room—the glistening china sets, white garden chairs and plush sofas—beckoned me through the glass windows.
Curious and enchanted, I wanted to see more. A stack of built-in shelves right by the staircase accommodated an antique radio stuck in between books that looked just as old. A few steps further in, a white coffee table stood, surrounded by a white leather sofette and upholstered armchairs with brass finishing. A vase of fresh lilies rested atop a mahogany commode, and towards the back, a glass cabinet showcased pristine tea sets. A large crystal chandelier cast a warm orange glow over the scene. A cozy and harmonious mixing and matching of décor.
Sufficiently tantalized, I chose a table for myself, and ordered the “Tea Yorkshire” for one. The sheer amount of food overwhelmed me as I was barraged with a succession of scones and toast, tuna and grilled chicken finger sandwiches, and cakes and tarts. The order could certainly satisfy a sweet tooth for four people! And at $AR45, it would make a more economical alternative. Besides, I preferred the simple toast and scones with my Earl Grey tea.
As European as some elements may be, Barruel has daily food specials that betray its Argentine roots: milanesa (breaded and fried meat), bife de costilla (T-bone steak), asado de tira (ribs), and hamburger with ham and cheese (Argentines love their ham and cheese on pizza, omelettes, empanadas, etc.).
El Último Beso, also in Palermo Viejo (of which Palermo Soho is a sub-division), extends a similar vibe: a real-life dollhouse carved out of someone’s romantic imagination and flawlessly executed interior design. I appreciated every detail, down to the red rose petals strewn inside a bath tub filled with water and a stone fountain with a statue of a voluptuous robed woman in the garden. Interestingly, one of the salons serves as a colorful shop selling bohemian-style apparel and jewelry.
The tea menu states that it is “inspired by the romanticism that history’s greatest loves instill,” matching each tea with a love story and a kiss from film classics. I gently flipped through each perfectly crafted page: Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman from Casablanca symbolized a Moroccan blend of green tea, mint and roses from Fez while Robert Redford and Demi Moore from Indecent Proposal was a spicy blend of Chinese herbs and Jamaican pepper that “leaves the transgressive taste in the mouth.” A fan of white tea, I preferred the “Gone with the Wind” with Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, a Chinese Kekecha variety with touches of jasmine.
The food also was creatively concocted (though to a lesser degree): the succulent mustard lomo (tenderloin steak) came with mashed potatoes and sautéed shitake and bacon; the sweetbreads flambéed in syrup with a brie cheese croquette; and a salad of Cornish hen with honey and a plum compote. I have also yet to try the lemon grass creme brulee with mint syrup. According to the menu, all the vegetables have been picked from a natural organic garden.
Despite the precious cuteness of both tea houses, the most popular session of afternoon tea in Buenos Aires occurs everyday at L´Orangerie at the Alvear Palace Hotel. Befitting its name, the place certainly transports you into a palatial fantasy replete with costumed musicians in powdered wigs and puffy dresses while playing a set program of music by Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart and white-gloved wait staff pouring endless glasses of champagne. One can easily forget that the tea is protagonist here. The $AR75 prix fixe menu comprises a cannonade of food that comes to your royal self course after course. Like Barruel, the menu possesses an essentially Argentine twist to the British custom. Finger sandwiches of avocado and “salsa golf” (a blend of ketchup and mayonnaise); hearts of palm (a very popular ingredient here in various dishes); and of course, baked beef, which was my favorite. I also liked the smoked venison in olive bread with arugula and truffled butter.
Tea time in Buenos Aires serves a delightful culmination of cultural and stylistic facets: a meticulously exquisite interior design, a British custom, and staple Argentine dishes. All in all, these three tea rooms most certainly propose a confectionary treat for both the eyes and the tongue.
Uriarte 1830, Palermo Soho
Tel: 4777- 0877
El Último Beso
Nicaragua 4880, Palermo Viejo
L’Orangerie (Alvear Palace Hotel)
Alvear, Av. 1891, Recoleta
Tel: 4808-2100 ext.1643