As one would expect of a town sporting such heavy British influences, the tea scene is flowing strong in Victoria. Often referred to as the tea capital of Canada, the British Columbia capital is home to plenty of shops selling loose leaf teas and restaurants offering classic high tea experiences. The most renowned, the Fairmont Empress, serves afternoon tea with serious class, and at a premium price.
If shelling out major bucks at upscale Fairmont isn’t your thing — or if you simply can’t snag a coveted reservation — Venus Sophia is a delightful alternative. Rather than a massive, high-end tea room with white table cloths and ornate décor, Venus Sophia skews toward vintage art and mismatched tea cups. It balances a down-to-earth approach with the elegance befitting an afternoon tea experience. The food and service are well executed, but you won’t feel out of place in jeans.
The tea room, opened by husband-and-wife team Alain and Sallie El Alaily in 2011, is situated in Victoria’s historic Chinatown. The food is entirely vegetarian and as local and organic as possible, though meat lovers won’t leave feeling hungry. A tower of finger sandwiches, scones and desserts ordered at high tea is filled with well executed bites that are as filling as they are eye catching. All the food is made from scratch, and there’s an entire gluten-free high tea service option, too.
If an elaborate afternoon tea isn’t your speed, Venus Sophia also serves a traditional lunch as well as dessert. Options include mushroom quiche, a daily panini on house-baked focaccia and a quinoa vegetable bowl with lemon-tahini dressing. Dessert options range from tiramusu to cheesecake to a variety of baked goods.
As for the tea, the expansive yet manageable menu includes many organic and fair trade options of traditional black, herbal, green, and rooibos teas, plus several proprietary blends. There’s a custom chai blend with jasmine, rose, lavender, clove, ginger, nutmeg, black pepper, coriander and cardamom, and a house tea blend of Golden Assam, Sri Lanka Ceylon and Royal Darjeeling with lavender and rose.