L’Ermitage, a Viceroy boutique hotel located on a tree-lined residential street in Beverly Hills, embodies the spirit of both swanky club and dignified home, with private corridors leading to each guestroom and old-fashioned locks. Its name promises a retreat from the nearby frenetic environs that attract celebrities and VIPs from around the world. Seclusion is illusory, however, as Rodeo Drive, an epicenter of luxury, entertainment, and fashion, is a short stroll away.
It can be a challenge to stand out from the crowd in this posh fantasyland. But Livello, the hotel’s Italian osteria, is getting attention for its modern tea service. And that is no oxymoron. With Chef de Cuisine Roger Thomas at the helm, the restaurant has strayed from its European roots to offer an experience that captivates guests of all ages.
Named Wicked Tea, a play on words from the song “No Rest for the Wicked,” this is a classy culinary experience with a naughty twist born from a team brainstorming session held five months before last April’s launch. Not a replacement for an existing tea program, the original plan was to offer it until the end of June. But its success to date suggests it may enjoy an open-ended run.
Expect the Unexpected
Put aside the image of the traditional afternoon tea—generally a bridge between lunch and dinner that offers cucumber sandwiches, bread and butter, jam, biscuits, and a pot of hot tea such as Earl Gray or Darjeeling. The attraction here is tea-infused Champagne cocktails crafted by mixologist Michael Arballo: hibiscus and chamomile and strawberry tea Pimm’s Cup.
“This is a tea-infused Pimm’s Cup with peaches and strawberries,” says Arballo. “I took the classic recipe for a Pimm’s Cup and slightly modified some of the ingredients. I wanted this drink to jump out and be refreshing. I could have gone for something hot, but with the heat in full swing for summer, I went with something cool.”
Wicked Tea is not offered in a designated space but served in the cozy lounge or on the tranquil garden patio with a fireplace, waterfall, and lush greenery.
“I like that it’s not served in a private, closed space,” says Chef Thomas. “It creates more visibility and expands the ‘wow’ factor. But it’s still an intimate experience for guests, allowing for private chats among friends or couples.”
Unlike a proper tea, hours are currently every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This could change over time, possibly becoming a weekend-only event at some point. For now, reservations must be made at least 72 hours in advance, paid in full at $75 per guest, and cancelled no later than 72 hours before the reservation.
“This is necessary because it’s all made to order,” Thomas says. “There’s a lot of care and planning that goes into such a bountiful assortment of food, with preparation beginning about five hours in advance. Each drink, for example, is made individually.”
It took months to create the menu, to correlate the food items with drinks and end up with the right flavor profiles. “We, learned, for example, we need to use misters to create a fine spray of alcohol so it doesn’t overpower the other ingredients,” Thomas says.
Except for the beignets, everything is presented simultaneously on clear glass tiered servers, one for the sweet and one for the savory. But, behind the scenes, preparations are paced.
Most guests begin with sandwiches: smoked salmon with dill on Fernet- Branca pumpernickel and fluffy egg salad with elderflower liqueur and lemon aioli on a soft pullman loaf. “This goes really well with the Pimm,” says Thomas. “And the leek-and-mushroom gratin, infused with Armagnac brandy and served with toast points, provides a unique texture that complements the sweetness of the drinks.”
The edible sweets promise to beat that late afternoon letdown. “Chocolate brownies drizzled with Cognac and caramel are extremely popular… and the chocolate macaroons infused with passion fruit liqueur are proof everything is housemade,” says Thomas. “We are still working on their shape.” This is a minor point, especially when the warm cinnamon beignets served with Calvados apple cider arrive. And there is more.
Thomas reveals that “the scones are the items we must protect from staff.” Two types, cranberry and gin and bacon and bourbon, both served with butter and jam, are baked just before serving so they come out warm.
A cup of hot tea is available on request. The selection includes herbal, oolong, black, and green served with an innovative single-use tea infuser made of biodegradable white birch raw veneer.
“We’re learning as we go,” says Thomas. “Fortunately, our guests provide valuable feedback, like the size of the sandwiches. They said we were making them too big, so we changed to hors d’oeuvres or single-bite size.”
Although Wicked Tea is available as early as 11a.m., most guests arrive after lunch, closer to traditional tea time, and usually stay for about two hours, sometimes stretching it to three or four. There are no supplemental menu items, but extra cocktails can be purchased for an additional $15 each.
“The tea has not affected our lunch numbers,” says Chef Thomas. “They remain the same.”
Wicked Tea attracts mothers, daughters, and grandmothers, but not many grandchildren. It appeals more to a young, sophisticated clientele especially interested in the cocktails. Mother’s Day was popular, but it occurred early in the launch, and the numbers are much bigger now and growing weekly.
“We do four to 12 teas per week and have hosted groups up to 10,” says Assistant F&B Manager Sean Van Straatum. “We could do more and serve bigger groups and certainly will. But the goal is to keep it exclusive and avoid a mass-produced feel. They might seem low, but we’re happy with these numbers.
“Comments have been only positive: ‘It’s wonderful,’ ‘It’s unique’ …” says Van Straatum. “It might seem a little pricey but includes two cocktails with lots of food. We’re giving our five-star clients a five-star experience. It’s what they expect. And it will continue to evolve. The sky is the limit.”
Margaret Rose Caro, a hospitality writer and editor based in Washington, D. C., is founding editor of Hotel F&B.
bacon & bourbon scones
cranberry, gin & orange scones
Cognac & caramel chocolate brownie
passion fruit liqueur & chocolate macaron
Calvados apple cider with warm cinnamon beignet
smoked salmon with dill on fernet branca pumpernickel
bun egg salad with elderflower liquor lemon aioli on soft pullman loaf
Amagnac, leeks & mushroom gratin
Tea-Infused Champagne Cocktails
hibiscus & chamomile
strawberry tea Pimm’s Cup
(includes Champagne cocktail or hot tea)
Chef Roger Thomas
CALVADOS APPLE CIDER
1 quart apple cider
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole cloves
½ cup calvados
Warm the apple cider, sugar, cinnamon, and cloves in a non-reactive pan to just below boiling point, stirring well. Turn off heat and allow to infuse for 15 minutes. Add Calvados and stir. Strain the cider into a serving vessel, and discard the cinnamon and cloves.
1/2 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces butter, melted
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-2/3 cup flour, plus more for table
Oil for deep frying
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Allow to become foamy, and then stir in butter, cinnamon, and eggs. Place flour and salt in a mixer bowl, add the yeast mixture, and use the dough hook to mix into soft dough. Add very small amounts of flour or warm water until the dough just starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Cover loosely and allow to rise to double volume, about 1-1/2 hours.
Dust a clean surface with flour, and place dough on surface. Gently pat dough into 1-inch thickness, then use a 1-1/2 inch round cookie cutter to cut the beignets. The scraps of dough can be pushed together, patted into 1-inch thickness, and cut again. Loosely cover the beignets with a clean towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Heat 3 inches vegetable oil in a deep pot over medium heat until it reaches 360° F. Use a slotted spoon to gently lower the beignets into the oil four at a time. Use the spoon to gently roll the beignets in the oil to brown all sides. Fry the beignets for 3–4 minutes, until nicely browned and cooked through. Remove the beignets with the slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining beignets until all are done. Toss with cinnamon sugar in a large bowl before serving. Makes 10–12 beignets.