tea south beach-style at villa by barton g. (versace mansion)November 10th, 2011No Comments »
along south beach’s ocean drive, drinks are typically alcoholic and super-sized. but behind the gates of the villa by barton g. (commonly known as the versace mansion), the more refined experience of afternoon tea awaits during miami’s high season.
the mansion, a representation of columbus’ residence which was built in santo domingo in the 1500s) is one of the most-photographed residences in america (after the white house and possibly graceland). it was home to gianni versace and a celebrity playground for the likes of madonna and elton john. but today, it is a luxurious 10-suite boutique hotel and restaurant run by barton g. weiss, with a stylish afternoon tea that would make versace proud.
weiss’ resume includes competitive figure skater, set designer, costume designer, choreographer, restaurateur, and hotelier. his company, barton g., combines experience, talent, imagination and panache to offer events management, destination management and culinary services through a staff of more than 400. with a reputation as one of the most important concept designers in the country, barton g.’s corporate goal is one of “delivering clients’ visions well beyond their expectations.” tea at the mansion is an experience that does in fact deliver.
the villa’s staff offers afternoon tea on saturday and sunday afternoons, november through april, on a terrace overlooking a fabulously bright and brilliant mosaic pool (versace had italian mosaic craftsmen living at the mansion for three years during extensive renovations). but before you get to the tea, a butler at villa by barton g. will greet you, make you welcome, and take you on a tour, explaining the architecture, history and relevance of the mansion.
on this particular day, preparations for a wedding were underway, and the guest rooms were occupied and therefore off-tour. however, executive butler joe was generous with his time and attention and walked us through the hotel guest experience, which borrows from weiss’ luxurious european travels. it quickly became clear that a special tea experience would follow our visit through the courtyard, the dining room, the bar, versace’s former library and the pool area.
up the stairs from the pool, the mosaic-floored terrace is surrounded by black ironwork. we settled into dark rattan chairs. rose-pink tablecloths are topped with white cutwork tablecloths, and pink-and-gold versace china graces the table. the table itself (except for that versace brand on the bottom of the cups and saucers) is traditional, with a small vase of freesia, mums and baby’s breath. but once our champagne was served and our teas were chosen (one beautiful pink versace pot of earl grey ceylon and one beautiful pink versace pot of first flush darjeeling), joe explained that all of the butlers love afternoon tea but that theirs isn’t a typical english tea. with one of barton g.’s restaurants serving macaroni and cheese on a mousetrap, we weren’t sure what to expect, but joe’s promise that it would be good left no doubt.
our three-tiered china tray was laden with sweets and savories: tea sandwiches including lobster with mango relish, pumpernickel cucumber sandwiches with saffron aioli, vodka-cured salmon with crème fraiche and capers, foie gras mousse, seared tuna and daikon radish, and beef roulade with peppadews topped with fig compote and caviar. even with this breadth of assortment, the presentation was impeccable, and the combinations were truly amazing. we enjoyed every morsel. and then we moved on to the candied orange scones with clotted cream, lemon curd and strawberry jam. fabulous, but not to be outdone by brownies, pistachio macaron, strawberry macaron, key lime tarts, fruit tarts, chocolate cookies and chocolate kiss.
this was gourmet afternoon tea, artfully prepared and presented. the staff was superb, the setting was exquisite, and as one of the butlers snapped our photo as we walked back through those famous iron gates on ocean drive, we felt a little celebrity status ourselves.
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