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Soiree does afternoon high tea just right in Fargo

Forum food critic Eric Daeuber says the north Fargo business brings back the charm, if not the primness, of the English afternoon tea. It’s quiet, relaxed and unhurried, he says.

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Cheesecake and lavender fudge complement the tea at Soiree Victorian Tea Room & Antique Caffe in north Fargo.
Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic
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FARGO — Call it the "Downton Abbey" effect, or perhaps America has reclaimed something of its monarchical past when semi-royals Harry and Meghan settled in Montecito — whatever the reason, high tea may be making a comeback.

Even the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum, a place not known for celebrating autocracy, was said to have hosted an afternoon high tea. Since 1773, America has had a strained relationship with tea. But some form of formal tea traditions exists in much of the world. The elaborate 21-step gongfu tea ceremony in China, the homey Russian zavarka tea service and the intimate Argentinian yerba mate etiquette all reflect the tradition and familiarity that surrounds teatime.

In Fargo, Soiree, a traditional English Victorian tearoom, brings back the charm, if not the primness, of the English afternoon tea. In a sense, it more closely resembles the original atmosphere and intent of English tea than the touristy versions one encounters in London. It’s quiet, relaxed and unhurried. And it includes the attention of a proprietor who understands tea and is intent on making one feel at home in the strip-mall dining room that looks remarkably like an English parlor.

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The interior of north Fargo's Soiree.
Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

The experience is formal but relaxed. And, perhaps, that’s the best way to describe it. It’s less of a meal or a coffee break and more of an experience. You can count on an hour and a half, or longer, and you can leave your coffee shop Macbook at home. It’s all about conversation and commitment and not about making the best use of your time.

It starts with tea, usually Indian tea in keeping with England’s imperial, although somewhat checkered, past. You can smell the varieties in advance, and everyone gets their own pot for the duration, so choose wisely.

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Cucumber and salmon matcha finger sandwiches at Soiree.
Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

After a time enjoying tea, a tray of sandwiches arrives. If you’re a bit impatient, you can (and I’m not making this up) ring a crystal bell that you’ll find on your table. A menu is provided mostly to tell you what’s coming rather than to give you a selection, but, if you have dietary issues or special requests, be sure to ask when you place your initial order for tea.

No English tea can call itself English without scones, and no conversation over scones can happen without a lively debate over the difference between scones and biscuits. Scones are made with eggs. Done. Now you can use your time to talk about more important things. The scones come with house-made clotted cream and jam and really excellent lemon curd.

Read more of Forum food critic Eric Daeuber's restaurant reviews and essays by clicking here.

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Soiree boasts an impressive dessert tray.
Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

The final tray includes desserts — in our case, cheesecake, lavender fudge and a dense chocolate wedge that, were it rectangular, would be called a terrine. It’s dark, rich and incredibly delicious.

Tea at Soiree is an experience, and it will be what you make of it. It can be formal or casual and, if you like, there are hats that you can borrow if you want to recognize that strange English requirement that women must wear hats at all official occasions and ought to wear them whenever it seems right, such as afternoon tea.

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Soiree has hats that women can borrow if they want to recognize that strange English requirement that women must wear hats at all official occasions and ought to wear them whenever it seems right, such as afternoon tea.
Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

And it takes time — about an hour and a half — and your company will determine how fast that time goes. So, like your tea, choose wisely.

And it’s not cheap. The full tea service will set you back $37 per person. You may not think it a full meal, but you will very likely think it an experience.

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A scone with jam, clotted cream and mascarpone at Soiree in north Fargo.
Eric Daeuber / Forum food critic

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Soiree Victorian Tea Room & Antique Caffe

Where: 1414 12th Ave. N., Suite J, Fargo
Cuisine: tea and English finger food
Hours: noon to 6 p.m. Thursday to Sunday
Reservations accepted: yes
Alcohol: no
Phone: 701-367-8616
Website: www.fargotearoom.com

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.
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