With couture gowns by Alexander McQueen and Yves Saint Laurent greeting guests upon arrival, the lobby of the Toronto Shangri-La—located a six-minute walk from the Toronto International Film Festival—is dressed to impress. The latest addition to their fashion collection is the luxurious, 55-pound yellow gown that Rihanna wore to the 2015 Met Gala, which the hotel debuted on September 8 in celebration of TIFF’s opening night. Towering above the lobby lounge, with its long fur-trimmed cape spilling over the electric fireplace, Rihanna’s mesmerizing gown (which took Chinese designer Guo Pei 6,000 hours to make) sets the tone for a regal afternoon tea service below.
While high tea conjures images of the British service with its finger sandwiches and scones, afternoon tea here is anything but traditional. The service begins with a glass of bubbly, followed by an impressive three-tiered tray of imaginative snacks that pay homage to the experience of going to the movies, accompanied by your choice of tea, of course.
When you think of traditional concession stand meals, hot dogs and nachos are the first to come to mind. But here, the ‘Hot Dog Brioche’ surprises with a spicy kick from the jalapeno hot dog, smothered in cheddar cheese sauce, homemade ketchup and pickled onions. The ‘Napolean of Nachos’ cools the palette with creamy burrata and mint resting atop a crispy “nacho” of phyllo pastry.
Then there’s the ‘Foie Gras Donut’—a soft mini-donut (what Canadians would call a ‘timbit’) filled with a decadent foie gras mousse, glazed with maple and sprinkled with cracked black pepper and maple sugar. Striking a balance of smokey, savory and sweet, each bite of the donut transports guests to a Canadian sugar shack, harvesting maple syrup next to the campfire.
Even the scones—arguably the most quintessential high tea food—come with a twist. They’re served with clotted cream and a jam made of figs—the fruit commonly found in Syria, where the protagonist sisters of the TIFF opening film The Swimmers flee to become athletes at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Every snack ties back to the movies.
On the sweet side, traditional chocolate bars are elevated with luxurious ingredients. The ‘Peanut Butter Cup’ is not your average Reese’s: a delicate milk chocolate shell is filled with a gooey peanut gel and passion fruit caramel, and topped with crystallized peanuts and praline for crunch. The ‘Chocolate Bar’ kicks the Mars bar concept out of the park with fluffy vanilla marshmallow layered with miso caramel and truffle ganache, enveloped in blonde chocolate and sprinkled with crunchy pine nuts.
Of course no movie theatre-inspired spread would be complete without popcorn. Here, the crunchy kernels are coated in honey comb caramel and tossed with fleur de sel. Even the candy is elevated: each gummy bear has been soaked in booze to conjure the taste of cocktails like a negroni and rum and coke.
Those craving a real cocktail, will want to revisit the hotel in the evening to taste their TIFF-inspired drinks. The Shangri-La’s bartenders used their favorite films from this year’s festival as their drawing board, like the aforementioned opening film The Swimmers, which inspired a cocktail infused with Syrian flavors of cardamom, arak and anise. ‘The Swimmers’ drink is bright yellow, a color that represents hope.
Guests can travel to Greece too, with ‘The Glass Onion’ inspired by the Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery in which southern detective Benit Blanc (played by Daniel Craig) travels to Greece for his latest case. Served in a hanging glass fixture and decorated with flowers unique to the island of Mykonos, the purple elixir captures the mysterious essence of the film with cachaça, laphroaig and vanilla rooibos.
‘The Billy’ cocktail inspired by Bros—a rom-com about the relationship between a witty podcaster and earnest lawyer—captures New York City’s vibrant queer culture with its smoky presentation in a terrarium with savory garnishes and a rainbow painted on the side of the glass. While ‘The Women King’ features the bold flavors of ginger, lemongrass and lime, ingredients found in Dahomey, the African kingdom that Viola Davis’ character is tasked with protecting in the film Woman King.
With the Shangri-La being one of several Toronto hotels to see and be seen during TIFF—the newly opened W Toronto and the Ace Hotel are also on the list—you have until Sunday to catch a celebrity sighting during your afternoon tea or cocktail hour. But even if you don’t, can still celebrate cinema in the company of Rihanna’s glowing golden cape—the tea and cocktail service runs to the end of the month.