(Afternoon tea, anyone? Photo courtesy of Prince Tea House VB.)
By Marisa Marsey
When someone says tea house, what do you picture? A stiff upper-lipped British parlor, fine bone china, crustless watercress sandwiches and clotted cream? Perhaps your thoughts race to a graceful geisha performing a centuries-old ritual or even further back to dynastic tea parties in the Forbidden City.
Whatever your answer, wings probably don’t spring to mind.
Yet at just-opened Prince Tea House, a franchise situated squarely in Virginia Beach’s Strand shopping plaza between Lidl and Christian Brothers Automotive, you can have it all – from a splendid tea replete with finger sandwiches, scones and delectable sweets to full-blown turkey sammies, fried squid tails, sweet potato fries and, yes, buffalo wings.
“It’s a mix of vibes and aesthetics,” says staffer John Botin. He points out seniors daintily sipping hot beverages while teens hang out with passion fruit slushes, mango smoothies and twister fries, grinning for Instagram shots in front of the decorative cherry blossoms. It’s a lovely setting for colleagues to socialize over lunch or for a first date (albeit a dry one, Prince serves enticing mocktails but no alcohol).
“In my free time, I come here,” admits Botin. The 19-year-old aims to work his way through the entire menu, no small feat given its near-Cheesecake Factory volume. Scan the QR code for an astonishing array of teas, appetizers, salads, sandwiches, waffles and ice cream. “But I always seem to get the salted crispy chicken,” he says sheepishly. “I crave it. Then I smell the desserts being made…”
That might be skyscraper-high, impossibly striated green tea mille crepe cake, molten lava cake or fruit tarts. Potted plant milk teas (gussied up bobas among them) could qualify as meal-enders or afternoon pick-me-ups. Adorned with foam, mint sprigs and crushed Oreos, they’re reminiscent of playful dirt cakes in flower pots. The gluten-free can avail themselves of ube (purple yam) soufflé, tofu cheesecake, crème brûlée, and all the salads except for the crabmeat.
Tea House isn’t a misnomer, the requisite three-tiered stands abound (sandwiches on the bottom, scones midrange and confections such as macarons, eclairs and financiers on top), it’s just that the title undersells what Prince has to offer. Further confounding matters, the modern corporate office façade belies its elegant interior. You’ll feel you’ve been whisked off to an Asian-accented Paris or Vienna with French salon chairs, demi-circular banquettes and a relaxed, refined air. You needn’t dress up but if you feel like swapping those sweat pants for something spiffier, this could be your spot.
“It’s universal,” says Jason Jiang, whose wife Shirley Song owns this location, underscoring the multifaceted menu, influences from China, Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, Europe and more, and the comfortable environment whatever your heritage. Seating 75, it’s available for semi-private events like bridal parties and baby showers with a screen to divide the room for groups of up to 50.
Still, Jiang acknowledges that you can’t please everyone. Like the ladies who came to tea and asked why the tables weren’t draped in white linen. Despite that omission, there’s no dearth of niceties, be it the orchids centered on each table, custom-made tea cups, candle-lit bases to keep teapots warm, and LED lighting cycling through a rainbow of colors for a magical aura.
And no nicety is as imperative as attentive service. It thrives here thanks to Botin and his teammates. Thoughtfulness extends right down to the level of sweetness in your tea; you dictate your preference as a percentage. One hundred percent is average so those with a sweet tooth ask for more, those less-inclined dip under, akin to degree of spiciness options at many Asian-inspired restaurants.
And, unlike other establishments serving tea (rare as they are), it’s always teatime at Prince. So whether you subscribe to afternoon tea (a.k.a. low tea, so-called because it was taken amidst low tables and settees), prefer high tea (traditionally 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Britain at the dining – or high – table) or merely get peckish in-between, you can partake here.
Of course, it could take an hour just to choose among the green, black, white, fruit and sans-caffeine tea varieties. There are 30 in all, with Longjing, cherry blossom and jasmine green tea among the most popular.
The Prince Tea House concept launched several years ago in New York City, and this is one of 11 (and counting). Along with the founding locations scattered around New York’s boroughs, others are in Philadelphia and New Jersey, making this the southernmost outpost to date. Virginia Beach’s early embrace of such a novel chain, coming on the heels of Barcelona-based Granier European Bakery & Café opening in Hilltop several months ago (the first in the U.S. except for a few in Florida), signals our area’s vibrant multiculturalism and well-traveled population with the resultant expanded palate.
East meets West at Prince Tea House. You’ll want to meet – and eat – here, too.
3244 Holland Road, Suite 110, Virginia Beach. 757-301-8829. Open daily from noon to 10 p.m. Most items $5-11, tea for one $28/tea for two $54/tea for three $78. Online ordering and takeout available. princeteahouse.com