‘Tis the Season at the Hotel Macdonald: Nutcracker Tea and Tour

There are few places in Edmonton that get decked out for the holidays like the Hotel Macdonald. You only need to walk into their lobby to get whisked away in the Christmas spirit – between the bedazzled fifteen foot tree and the twinkly gingerbread rendition of the building, the Hotel Mac does it right.

Hotel Macdonald

Gingerbread Hotel Macdonald

Their holiday season offerings range from special dinners on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, to themed meals like the Dickens buffet (a nineteenth century, English-style lunch) and Nutcracker Tea and Tour. The latter is a festive take on their respected Royal Tea and Tour, featuring a holiday-inspired menu and some other surprises. Mack and I took his Grandma Male for tea on Saturday. We had been meaning to take her for some time – Grandma Male actually worked at the hotel switchboard in the 1950s, and she hadn’t been back to the building since.

Reservations were accepted for 2:30pm in the Harvest Room. Although it wasn’t quite a full house, the families, friends and couples who gathered had all dressed up for the occasion.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Grandma Male and Mack

We started off with a glass of sparkling wine, a nice touch for the holidays, and shortly after, were presented with the tea selection. I was anticipating that all of the teas would have been loose, as is traditional, but there was a mix of tea bags and loose teas. Grandma Male and I both chose a nice Buckingham Palace orange pekoe.

Our first treats arrived warm from the oven – classic scones and candied pecan-eggnog scones. They were absolutely delicious, though to be honest, I think I used the scones as a vessel to consume as much Devonshire cream and port cranberry compote as possible.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour


The tiered trays contained both savoury and sweet bites. No cucumber sandwiches to be seen, the selection included oven roasted turkey with citrus sage aioli on a mini navette. Our favourite on the savoury side was the applewood smoked cheddar, ham and grainy dijon aioli on an adorable mini bagel.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Beautiful presentation

The kitchen did a great job accommodating Mack’s nut allergy, making substitutions when necessary, such as ensuring the white chocolate and pistachio mousse was nowhere to be seen on his tray. While we enjoyed all of the dainty confections, the ginger orange madeleine was the pronounced favourite.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Photobombing tea service

The only misstep that afternoon was the fact that we were only told about the timing of the tour about ten minutes prior to its start. Although we weren’t rushed through tea service, it would have been nice to know the flow in advance. Otherwise, the service was impeccable, as is standard at the Hotel Macdonald.

We assembled in the Wedgewood Room for a special performance by some of the dancers from Clara’s Dream. Shumka’s Ukrainian version of The Nutcracker, the preview showcased the music and the energy you would expect from a fusion of dance styles. Clara’s Dream runs December 29-30, 2015 at the Jubilee Auditorium.

Nutcracker Tea & Tour

Dancers from Clara’s Dream

Afterwards, Carlos, a staff of the Hotel Macdonald, led us on a brief tour of the building. This wasn’t my first tour of the Hotel Macdonald, but what I always appreciate is how personal each tour is, coloured by the individual experience of each staff member. In this case, Carlos shared that he had worked as Queen Elizabeth’s butler when she stayed at the Hotel Macdonald back in 2005, commenting on her strong appetite and desire to know how her food was prepared. On this tour, we weren’t able to visit the Queen Elizabeth Suite, as the top two floors of the hotel are currently undergoing renovations, and aren’t set to reopen until April.

Hotel Macdonald

The Empire Ballroom

Carlos also informed us about the Hotel Macdonald’s reputation among the Fairmont properties – although being the second smallest, it hosts the most weddings of all. With as many as six weddings per day in the summer, he jokes to the grooms to ensure they go home with the right bride at the end of the night, and to the brides that in order to have their dream wedding at the castle on the river, that they should book their wedding date and then go out and find the right groom.

Hotel Macdonald

With Grandma Male

The Nutcracker Tea and Tour is a great way to celebrate the holidays. It runs every Saturday and Sunday until December 27, with the only other preview of Clara’s Dream to take place at the December 19 tea. The cost is $49 per person, with reservations recommended. Happy holidays!

An Afternoon of Nibbles and Sweets: Cally’s Teas

Cally’s Teas is Grandma Male’s favourite place to purchase tea in the city, but since moving to their expanded digs on Whyte Avenue, they have been able to sell much more than just tea. With a kitchen, Cally’s is now equipped to sell baked goods, and even better, offer a full lunch service, including the option of high tea! Mack, Thom and I took Grandma Male to Cally’s just before Christmas to give their expanded menu a try.

Cally's Teas

Ready for high tea!

The shop itself is charming, shelves brimming with lovely handmade gifts (we spotted Veekee Workshop’s tea towels, for instance), and of course, their show stopping wall of teas. The dining area takes its place at the rear of the shop, anchored by a counter that resembled a wet bar for tea. Because there isn’t a distinct break between the shop and the dining space, we weren’t sure if it would be a bit awkward holding a conversation while those around us browsed for last-minute Christmas gifts, but it turned out we needn’t have worried. With seating comprised of mismatched vintage furniture, it felt a bit like we were having lunch in a friend’s warm and funky kitchen.

Cally's Teas

Tea bar

I will say that it was a bit odd that we weren’t actually given a menu to peruse after we were seated, but instead were asked as we were removing our winter gear which of the two afternoon tea options we wanted to choose. Given this was our first time, we would have appreciated some time to acquaint ourselves with the menu, but perhaps the staff were just cognizant of time and wanted to ensure the kitchen was prepared to expedite our order. Based on the recommendation of the server, we opted for the $25/person high tea option, which added a savoury quiche or bread pudding to round out the small bites and scones offered through the $20/person afternoon tea. Though we did enjoy our experience, it is worth noting that we did think it was a bit on the pricey side, given our bill registered over $100.

We started off the meal by each choosing a tea from the aforementioned tea wall. A server was available to provide guidance, helpful given the overwhelming number of choices. Grandma Male decided on Formosa oolong, while I stuck with a traditional earl grey, and Mack and Thom shared a pot of seasonal egg nog tea.

Cally's Teas

Perusing the “Great Wall of Tea”

As expected, the china at Cally’s is absolutely beautiful, radiant pieces almost too pretty to use. The tiered servers were dainty but functional, a sturdy handle at the top more than capable of supporting the buttery heft at each level.

Cally's Teas

My gorgeous and festive tea cup

As we nibbled our way through the food, we were reminded of how social high tea is, because of the sharing (and passing) of communal trays of small bites.

The homemade crackers with goat cheese were a hit around the table, the mild spread melding nicely with its buttery base. Mack and I aren’t usual fans of cucumber sandwiches, but Cally’s version featured the inclusion of fragrant lemon zest, which added a zip of freshness to the tea staple. The quiche was meant to be a savoury item, but it could have almost passed for dessert – the onions had been caramelized into submission, while the tomato added another layer of sweetness. The pastry was also very well prepared, crispy and flaky.

Cally's Teas

Savoury bites

Without a doubt, the scones were the standout. Oh so buttery and slightly sweet, they were consumed as a dessert, served with jam and whipped cream. We were all plum full by this time, but didn’t let the last few bites of scone go to waste. Mack and I agreed that we would be back for these. The dessert tray also featured some tea-studded shortbread cookies. We packed them up for later, and enjoyed them at home. The tea aroma was noticeable on the nose, but less so on the palate.

Cally's Teas

Sweet bites

Service throughout our meal was quite attentive, though we probably interacted with four different staff/servers that afternoon. In that way it felt a little less formal than high tea services at other establishments in Edmonton, which suited us just fine.

If you’re looking for a different kind of lunch experience, or, just feel like nibbling your way through an afternoon, I’d highly recommend high tea at Cally’s!

Cally’s Teas
10151 Whyte Avenue
(780) 757-8944