It all started in England in the 1880s when the Duchess of Bedford decided she just couldn’t wait until dinner for her next meal. Her attendants began serving her small sandwiches or cakes in the afternoon, and she clearly considered her idea so revolutionary that she started to invite her friends over to join her. The practice soon expanded out of the boudoir and into upscale dining establishments, and so afternoon tea was born.

No longer the sole preserve of the aristocracy, today afternoon tea has become synonymous with a couple of hours spent trying to maintain eye contact over a three-tier cake stand in the echoing lobby of a ritzy hotel. The people behind Basil Restaurant decided Beijing was in need of something different, so the obvious solution was to create the city’s only afternoon tea served in a bird cage (RMB 268 per couple).

Unlocking the cage releases a panoply of tiny treats. While the Duchess probably would have fired her chef for the bland savory sandwiches, the delicate selection of desserts is certainly fit for a refined lady (or gentleman). The selection rotates weekly, but you might come across a tiny cup of crisp-shelled crème brûlée, or a smooth heart-shaped chocolate mousse. If they happen to have it in stock, don’t miss the gooey chocolate fudge cake, a world away from the dry, fluffy cakes so often found in Beijing’s cake shops.

Some may find that the décor and concept at Basil errs on the chintzy side, but step past the gilded peacock standing lamps (yes, really) and out onto the grassy terrace, and you will find a perfect spot for a quiet afternoon tea, sheltered by the high walls from the frenetic world outside.

Basil Restaurant
Daily 10.30am-midnight. 8 Chaoyang Gongyuan Lu, Chaoyang District (6585 0889)
紫苏融合餐厅:朝阳区朝阳公园路8号八号公馆内

Photo: Sui


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