Teabag Party: High Tea at The Phoenician vs. The Ritz

Here at New Times, we're not exactly the tea-and-scones crowd. You're more likely to spot a tattoo or a death metal t-shirt than a frilly floral dress on one of our contributors -- and ninety percent of us have no clue which fork to use when or that Miss Manners strictly forbids twirling spaghetti with a fork (What are we supposed to do, suck it up whole ala Lady and the Tramp?).

Still, there's something alluring about high tea. Call us old-fashioned, but we're fans of anything that gives you permission to lounge your afternoon away nibbling tea sandwiches and scones while being waited on hand and foot. I indulged in two local afternoon tea services in hopes of finding one that will make you feel like a queen (or king).

In One Corner: The Phoenician
6000 E. Camelback Rd. in Scottsdale

High tea at the Phoenician is an elegant affair.

The Phoenician is like the Audrey Hepburn of local boutique hotels -- classy, refined and elegant enough to always be in style. Everything is bathed in shades of neutral ivory, from the

stone floor tiles to the updated glass chandelier, sitting couches and table linens. High tea is served from 2-3 p.m. daily in the Lobby Tea Court, a sectioned-off area overlooking the marble fountain in the hotel's main lobby. A larger area step-down dining room with glass windows offering panoramic views of the mountains offers more seating and a live pianist to accompany teatime.

Armed with a mystery novel and a camera, I arrived fifteen minutes prior to my scheduled appointment and was immediately seated. Score one for The Phoenician: no waiting. The hostess seated me at a small table for one. Yes, the second oversized armchair was removed, making it glaringly obvious that I was alooooone.  Sympathetic glances passed back and forth between the two large birthday party tables that I was sandwiched between, making me the creamy white center in a giant Pity Oreo. "I should've worn cream so I would blend into the furniture," I thought.

From the large tea menu I selected a berry white blend, which arrived in a lovely floral patterned china teapot a few minutes later. My server must've assumed I'd know through past experience or intuition to use the tea strainer. Instead, I experienced the joy of learning by doing it wrong the first time and ended up with a mouthful of tea leaves.

There's no teabagging allowed at The Phoenician.
​Minus the bitter leaves of the first cup, the tea was lovely; lightly sweet and refreshing, with a strong blueberry flavor and undertones of blackberry and honey. It was the kind of delicate, mild tea that you can drink a large amount of -- good thing, too, because I had a whole pot to myself. 

The server came around with a tray of two-bite finger sandwiches in five traditional varieties including smoked salmon, egg salad and cucumber with cream cheese. Chicken salad on marble rye was a little heavy on the mayo, but the egg salad was fresh and the cucumber atop the cream cheese and white bread round crisp and pure. The smoked salmon was my least favorite, the sharp flavor of the salmon giving the sandwich an artificial taste that was too much like cleaning fluid for my palate.

Another issue was the pace at which the sandwiches were served. I was barely a page or two into my book when a server showed up with another sandwich tray in hand. The second I'd finish a sandwich, the tray would show up and I'd lose my place in the novel. And my stomach had no time to settle before the next course landed on my table.

​Up next were traditional buttermilk and cranberry scones -- one of each, served with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and raspberry preserves. This was the most delicious and dangerous course. The scones were expectedly dry, but moist enough to hold together under the weight of the accompaniments. The curd was a brilliant balance of sweet and tart, with a rich texture that balanced well with the lighter Devonshire cream. The seeded preserves seemed pedestrian (and teeth-clogging!) in comparison.

Already feeling stuffed from the scones, barely ten pages into my book, the dessert tray showed up and two requested pastries were plopped on my plate. Stop this thing, can my stomach get off??!! It was worth the boa-constrictor-pants feeling to indulge in a glazed doughnut-like pastry with Bavarian cream filling, and the decadent chocolate round with chocolate ganache was mouthwateringly bittersweet, with a hint of hazelnut.

"Take your time," my server said when she delivered the check. It was the only time I didn't feel rushed during the one-hour meal.

Location Info

The Phoenician, Scottsdale

6000 E. Camelback Road, Scottsdale, AZ

Category: General

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Although I have been to The Phoenician, The Biltmore, and The Ritz for tea and they are all nice...I have to agree with Wynter. The Ritz just feels like a proper tea room setting. I felt like I was whisked away to another time and place. I enjoyed the food, but I find most tea food to be just good not great. However, the part that makes the Ritz really standout is the amazing music from Nicole Pesce and their host/server Jeffrey Hattrick. They both personalize the afternoon like no other restaurant I have ever been. Two thumbs up.


Jeffrey at the Ritz knows what service is all about. He's the reason tea at the Ritz Carlton is the winner. Every time I have been there, he impresses my guests and they talk about it for years. He isn't an employee, or mere server...he's a professional. And speaking of pro's...Nicole Pesce is an incredible pianist. I have been going there for Afternoon Tea and other functions since 2000. She and Jeffrey are still there and have perfected the experience. Go! Now!

Patsy R
Patsy R

Having had high tea at the Phoenician, Ritz-Carlton, & the Biltmore, I'd say my top favorite was the Phoenician, followed closely by the Biltmore. The service at the Phoenician was phenomenal, & I much prefer their finger sandwich offerings over the Ritz. I have also been to other tea rooms throughout the Valley, but quite frankly, none of them could compare to the Phoenician or Biltmore in terms of quality of food and authenticity of the traditional tea service itself.


the phonecian will actually serve you for hours and hours. they come refill your plate (yes, they are all-you-can-eat) if your plate is empty. the point of afternoon tea is to eat slowly and socialize. they work at your pace. the experience is not the same if you shovel down yourself like lunch at subway. with the "dry and tasteless" chicken salad and the "metallic" lemon curd at the ritz, i'm not sure how the winner was decided. slow service wins over good food and attentive staff i suppose...

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