A Teatime Triumph

Kirsty Walker visits B-Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Doha for the ultimate Asian afternoon tea.

Imagine an afternoon tea. What comes to mind? If you had asked me a week ago, I might have described miniature finger sandwiches, crumbly scones smothered in thick, yellow clotted cream, and a Victoria sponge. All politely ingested in near silence, surrounded by stiff furniture and stuffy waiters.

It’s safe to say my perspective has shifted, and my taste buds have been re-educated. Think British tradition meets Asian luxury, interwoven with the luxurious opulence for which Qatar is famed. This is the B-Lounge Afternoon Tea. Forget stiff and stuffy, we’re talking smooth and sumptuous.

The Ritz-Carlton, Doha radiates familiar grandeur from the azure waters between The Pearl and Lusail. Yet B-Lounge has a story all of its own. Rattan-backed chairs and vibrant foliage make me feel I’m at a breezy cocktail bar on a tropical island, while the marble-topped tables and crystal glasses keep me rooted in Qatar. No palm-fringed beach beyond the restaurant’s wide wooden deck, but stunning views over the hotel’s private marina.

My guest and I settle into our seats by the vast windows. Soft, downtempo music encourages us to slow down and savour what is to come. Within seconds, an iced kefir lime and matcha refreshment with ginger and rose is delivered by our charming waiter. On his excellent advice, we avoid classic Earl Grey and order a pot of jasmine green tea. This is, after all, an Asian affair.

Afternoon tea is a double-edged sword for the indecisive. We get what we are given, yet are given free rein on where to start nibbling. When the three-tiered platter arrives in front of us, with a bamboo basket full of dim sum, we must decide where to start. Sweet? Savoury? Steamed or iced? Golden bao, chocolate caviar, roasted sesame… each item crafted with care, and each beautiful.

We demolish the dumplings first. My favourite is the lobster. A generous, warmly wrapped slice of the delicate meat, topped by red caviar and a dash of the famous Hong Kong XO sauce. Alongside the crustacean is a crystal vegetable dumpling with a wonderfully sweet, sharp crunch; then a chicken shumai with shitake mushroom and truffle-paste atop.

We throw the afternoon tea etiquette book out the window and into the marina, and tuck into our three-tiered bounty as we please, mixing salty and sweet and savouring bursts of flavour. There are two of everything, so friends can remain friends. Casting aside my chopsticks, I reach for a crispy vegetable ‘money bag’ with a hint of passion fruit chili and a delightful, charred taste. Next comes light and crunchy prawn toast with a traditional sesame crust, followed by a less traditional and chewier sesame – this time sandwiching a chilled sweet matcha ganache.

Now that my sweet-tooth has been formally tempted, I alternate between awarding-winning dark chocolate and truffle macaroons and double-baked cassava cake, whose burnt-caramel crisp on the outside and shredded fruit within are perfectly balanced by a sip of jasmine tea. A coconut mousse perched on a French sable biscuit and covered in deep red, tart passionfruit gel, caught my eye, and disappeared in seconds.

It is exhilarating, but far from over. Catching the scent of roasted duck bao, I mentally reserve the chocolate caviar, cake and hazelnut praline for later, and make space for the marinated bird. Lightly fried, crisp with a golden hue – it’s gone in three bites. My delicious beef katsu sandwich meets the same fate. Its faultless texture is balanced by a hot touch of Japanese curried mayonnaise. And there’s more to come!

B-Lounge has orchestrated the ultimate Asian afternoon tea experience. Being British, it’s been both unorthodox and fabulous, and I will gladly return. I glance up at my guest. Like a champion, she’s already demolished her half and waits impatiently, eyeing my chocolate caviar and praline. What was that about friends remaining friends?