Brunch at the Chinese Tea House is a unique experience in Newport RI
As the holiday season kicks into high gear, let’s take a minute to salute the Preservation Society of Newport County.
They are the ones who protect and safeguard Newport’s famous mansions and make it a memorable destination for millions of visitors each year. Not only do they preserve these beautiful and historic architectural structures, but their work also attracts many visitors to our island.
The Preservation Society is about to get very busy, welcoming tourists looking for a taste of the Golden Age, so it seems high time to thank them for all they do.
The Preservation Society is a good friend of the hospitality community. As well as bringing all those tourists to town, they also host special events, like last weekend’s Flower Show at Rosecliff, special nights with celebrities like “Downton Abbey” creator Lord Julian Fellowes, and the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival held annually in September. .
The more events the company sponsors, the more people come to town. And when they come, they come hungry. And of course, when the mansions are rented out for private business, local caterers reap the benefits. Blackstone Caterers, Gourmet Galley, Russell Morin Catering & Events and The Catered Affair are all top mansion caterers.
Every private event is an opportunity for more potential business. It’s a sympathetic relationship if there ever was one.
The Preservation Society also has a partnership with Stoneacre Restaurants that allows you to experience a unique Newport adventure. From Friday to Sunday, the Stoneacre team offers brunch and afternoon tea in the Chinese Tea House, located behind The Marble House.
This is your chance to sit in this distinct clifftop structure and watch the waves crash while indulging in a brunch worthy of a Vanderbilt or Astor. This is another example of the Preservation Society using a partnership with our hospitality community to create a unique experience in Newport.
Before brunch, consider taking a tour of the Marble House so you can approach your meal with some knowledge of your surroundings. When Marble House was completed in 1892, it was considered the most lavish home in America.
It was built by William Kissam Vanderbilt and given to his wife Alva as a 39th birthday present (just like I gave my wife on her birthday). When Alva and William separated in 1895 because of Willie’s adventures, Alva was able to keep the “summer cottage”, since it had been offered to her.
She then married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont and lived with him at his mansion down the road, Belcourt. When Belmont died in 1908, Alva returned to Marble House and had the Chinese Tea House built on the seaside cliff on the property.
It is inspired by a 12th century Song dynasty temple, probably inspired by his travels around the world. Alva used the Tea Hose building to hold rallies for her life’s work: women’s suffrage. Like all Newport mansions, the walls of the Tea House could tell great stories.
The Tea House menu is a pre-fix combination that starts with a stacked tea tower with small sandwiches and thoughtful tastes. Nibble on a Cucumber and Boursin Tea Sandwich then move on to a Ricotta Tartlet with peas and mint.
The butter biscuits with cream and Devonshire jam are outstanding, as is the ham toast with goat cheese and date puree. There’s also a nice beer and wine offering, plus brunch cocktails like Bloody Marys and Mimosas. Genmaicha green tea comes with the tea tray.
As you sit and sip a glass of rosé and choose delicacies from the food tower, the waves crashing on Cliff Walk, you begin to feel like you’ve ventured into another era. You start looking for Alva – or at least her butler – to come say hello.
The starter selection following the tea tray is yours to choose. Maybe you fancy a slice of fresh quiche with caramelized onions, cauliflower and greens. Maybe an order of wild mushroom toast with black garlic and arugula is more your style. Or maybe pork belly with polenta and pickled pearl onions is your jam.
Each selection is bursting with fresh seasonal flavors. Naturally, there’s also dessert – a sample of four sweet treats, which includes two types of freshly baked macarons, a gluten-free chocolate brownie and a deliciously crispy snickerdoodle cookie.
Everything is prepared on site in the makeshift kitchen that the Stoneacre team has set up on the lower level of the Tea House. Everything is served with the friendly, attentive service we’ve come to expect from any restaurant in Stoneacre.
Inside the tea house there is a corner set up for beverage service and there is a walk-in area on the porch where you can grab a coffee or cold drink to enjoy on the grounds of Marble House . It’s a bit pricey, but for the quality and effort it takes to turn a building built in the early 1900s into a functional kitchen, it’s well worth it.
It’s an experience you won’t get anywhere. It’s so unique to Newport.
Thanks to the Preservation Society of Newport County for bringing the tourists and bringing the Golden Age to the world. The hotel community is grateful. Together we make Newport a special place to visit. While most of our ‘summer cottages’ aren’t as extravagant as the Newport mansions, our meals are!
Dan Lederer is a Middletown resident with 30 years experience in the restaurant industry throughout New England. He continues to work locally behind the scenes in the industry and remains a dedicated fan of all things restaurant and hospitality. His column appears on newportri.com and Thursdays in The Daily News. Cheers!