A proper cup of tea at Hotel Imperial Vienna

A proper cup of tea at Hotel Imperial Vienna

Our spirits needed brightening up on a cold rainy afternoon in Vienna in May.  The sparkle of the chandeliers at the Hotel Imperial added the glamour we needed for our ladies’ tea outing. We arrived stressed and wet having dashed out of the office in the pouring rain.  One thing I am not fussy about is getting wet.  MadFrenchLady was of course properly equipped with an elegant umbrella. We took the tram.  An elderly Austrian lady in the tram remonstrated with MadFrenchLady.  “Madam, your umbrella is wet” she said. “And yours is dry?” I asked.  “Well, no, but hers is wet.” What can you do?  This is another of  the joys of an expat.  You never quite learn all the subtle rules. MadFrenchLady wisely  stayed silent. We laughed and wondered how we should manage to keep our umbrellas dry in future. CraftyLinguist was waiting in the lobby surrounded by shopping bags from the exclusive stores nearby. It was time for tea.

The tea

Hotel Imperial has its own tea blend and a small selection of other teas. CraftyLinguist ordered their own blend, MadFrenchLady opted for green tea and I, prompted by the advice of a reader of our Palais Hansen report, took the Assam and anticipated toffee. The tea is served in a little porcelain pot, loose leaves in a bag, with a jug of hot water and a little dish for the bag. Milk was not offered. The Hotel Imperial blend is fragrant and delicate. CraftyLinguist conceded that milk would probably have spoiled it. The green tea and the Assam were both fine. So, Imperialtorte is the one to try, and CraftyLinguist ordered a teensy slice.  She had skipped lunch in the hope of a full afternoon tea, but it is not on offer, so she plotted a dinner out instead. MadFrenchLady seems to like cakes built up in layers and ordered Esterhazyschnitte, which is a layered hazelnut cake with some kind of vanilla buttercream between the layers and icing on top. It turned out she was expecting something more millefeuille like. She pronounced the Esterhazyschnitte to be too rich, but ate it anyway. In general we found the cake selection to be in line with what a tourist would expect to find and probably sufficient to feed the preferences of the locals, but, all in all, nothing to get excited about.


The service

We were welcomed by a waiter who is probably an institution in his own right. There were a couple of young men assisting. They were polite and discrete, but spoke readily and with confidence when we asked them questions about the ongoing renovation project. We stayed long enough to slide into the cocktail hour and I was tempted by a Bloody Mary, which my sort-of-nephew CocktailBanker describes as “basically just vodka with pasta sauce.”  I asked the waiter if I could expect a proper Bloody Mary or the CocktailBanker version. He was not keen to declare, so I ordered it anyway and CraftyLinguist ordered a Virgin Mary. It came down more on the CocktailBanker side. The waiter returned to ask our opinion and was apologetic when we guessed that the tomato juice was the cheap supermarket brand. He promised to “pass it on to the kitchen.”  Anyway, the relaxed friendly service continued and we were happy.

cup of tea

tea and table

The ambience

There’s something for everyone at the Hotel Imperial. The cafe is recently renovated and has two rooms, one of which is in the classic Viennese coffee-house style and the other is a modern interpretation of the same theme. The lobby lounge is olde worlde charm in the best tradition of the house and it was here that we took our tea. The seating is in groups of traditionally upholstered armchairs and sofas. The mirrored fireplace and the rather strange false bookshelves at the top of the walls spoil the effect of an otherwise charming room. The beautiful chandeliers are the inspiration for the Christmas lights used along Vienna’s Graben.imperial_chandeliers

Other guests

When we arrived, the lounge was rather empty. Four sole business men had placed themselves far apart in the cafe and were working on their ipads and laptops. In the lobby lounge a group of serious looking deal making men occupied one of the sofa groups and we chose the far corner to have a better overview of proceedings. Soon, two ladies arrived and one of them greeted us in the manner of a famous person graciously acknowledging the presence of her adoring public. None of us recognised her, but that did not seem to matter. HM the Queen stayed at the Imperial when she came to Vienna and other heads of state seem to like it too.  Many of the musicians playing at the Musikverein also stay there as they can just slip out of the back door and be right at the stage door of the concert hall.

A pianist played popular classics and songs that everyone knows. As the afternoon went on, he must have decided to have some fun and as new guests arrived, he would try to guess their nationality and then play a few ditties.  And so we heard some Russian, Japanese and American music. The “Russian” gentlemen headed straight for the mirrored fireplace seats.

mirrored fireplace

lobby lounge

The facilities

There is renovation work on the ground floor, so the facilities are upstairs for now.  The staircase is impressive and Kaiser Franz Josef stands at the top in imperial splendour. The facilities are rather modest and furnished with pieces which have been decommissioned from bedrooms. To our amazement, the standard of cleanliness was not quite as one would expect, even though MadFrenchLady had spotted a cleaning lady in action who was dressed just like a parlour maid from Upstairs Downstairs. That’s “Haus am Eaton Place” for the German speakers out there. There was dust on a ledge and behind the door of the cubicle.


facilities imperial

What my companions thought of it

Those translations again. This time, CraftyLinguist was even more emphatic in her condemnation because, as well as the poor quality tranlations, there were inappropriate capital letters sprinkled throughout the menu and, horror of horrors, an exclamation mark. I think it is fair to say that it is never, ever right to put an exclamation mark in a menu. Or maybe there is just one exclamation mark that might have pleased her:  if she had found a page with the title “Yes, we do offer afternoon tea, complete with scones and clotted cream!” MadFrenchLady declared herself unfit to evaluate tea, but when pressed, she grudgingly pronounced that it was drinkable because “at least the water did not have bleach in it, like it does in France.”  She said I must visit France again and  promised to show me a nice Salon de thé where the cakes and other little delicacies will compensate for the bleach drenched dust they call thé.

Final recommendation

Our overall experience in Hotel Imperial was good. There is a relaxing atmosphere, the service is attentive but not fussy and the tea is certainly drinkable.  So, again, it’s four little teapots out of a possible five.

imperial cafe

imperial menu

 staircase with franz josef




A proper cup of tea at Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna

Palais Hansen Kempinski

What better thing to do on a spring afternoon than to search for a proper cup of tea on Vienna’s Ring.  For our first test, we chose Palais Hansen Kempinski, one of a dozen or so 5 star establishments on the Ring.

Tea and drinks are served in the lobby lounge which is furnished comfortably. I arrived with MadFrenchLady and the young competent staff welcomed us and were attentive without being overbearing.  We decided to wait for CraftyLinguist before ordering our tea and we used the waiting time to take in the menu and the surroundings.

Entrance to the lobby lounge


The tea

There is a reasonable selection of teas to choose from, but as this was my first visit I opted for a Darjeeling, and my friends were equally conservative in their choices.  The menu gives advice as to how long the leaves should stay in the tea.  Tea is served on a little tray with a small metal pot, which the waiter then fills with hot water at the table.  The tea leaves are in a conical metal strainer in the pot and a little dish is provided to put the strainer into when the “steeping time” is over.  I shall say more about “steeping” later. I am not convinced that this water is hot enough for a proper cup of tea, but at least it is not a glass of lukewarm liquid with some coloured dust in a bag on a string.  The cups are fine German porcelain and almost teacup shaped.  A small florentine biscuit was served with the tea.

teaMadFrenchLady had selected a cake from the display – called a Cremeschnitte, but reminiscent of the millefueilles of her home.  CraftyLinguist agreed to check out the Topfenstrudel with creme anglaise – she’s generous that way.  I am even fussier about cake than I am about tea, so I did not take any cake.  Both sweet selections passed the taste test and CraftyLinguist assured us that the strudel was freshly dusted because when she poured the creme anglaise over it, it rolled down without sticking to the top.


The service

The staff were young and attentive.  A few of them were German.  That’s not such a surprise since it is a German chain and I had read a few days earlier that they are proud of their apprentice scheme which allows the young trainees to travel and work in other hotels in other cities.

The ambience

It would not be Vienna without a chandelier or two.  As well as those in the entrance, Palais Hansen Kempinski has this tall and imposing chandelier style standard lamp in the middle of the lounge.  The furnishings were not 100% to my taste.  Some of the seating groups are satin covered, but I suppose that appeals to a certain part of their target market.

Chandelier style lamp

Other guests

It was reasonably quiet  in the lobby lounge that day, just a few tourists, some elderly Viennese gentlemen and a small group of business travellers.

The facilities

Being fussy, I like to inspect the facilities and my companions duly agreed to check my findings.  The room itself is very nicely furnished and it was clean.  We were all a bit surprised that we had to touch the beautiful taps to wash our hands.  CraftyLinguist prefers Dyson Blade hand drying.  However, I am fond of a pile of freshly laundered proper towels.  We were all ever so slightly upset by a lamp hanging squint.

the facilities

Guest reviewer comments….

 The translation

We are all able to manage the menus in the German original, but at the suggestion of CraftyLinguist, we decided to check the translated menu.  A non-German speaker would certainly be able to get the gist of what was on offer since the menu was in two languages.  However, we feared that it may have been translated by a machine, or by a school child with a dictionary.  The first term to give us trouble was “steeping time” since all teas had a recommended number of minutes.  Where I come from we steep badly stained clothes before washing and tea is “infused” or “brewed”, however some research revealed that it may well be that “steep” is the term used in US English.  What we definitely do not have in US or UK English is “leach rolls”  It took us some time to work out what this could be since the German original indicated  “Jourgebäck” which is a dainty form of the usual range of bread rolls.  “Leach rolls” being, presumably, the type which is soaked in a lye to give a crust of the type you would find on a German Breze.  So, we would recommend a revision by a competent native speaker so that the standard of translation is consistent with the overall high standard of the hotel.

Final recommendation

Watch out for the evaluation scheme in  future posts where I will try to assess the various aspects separately.  I did not note the prices, but our cup of tea was not prohibitively expensive.

For now, we can give Palais Hansen Kempinski 4 little teapots out of a possible 5.